A Focus on Purpose, not Tax Status

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What’s in a name? Organizations like Greenlights used to be called “charities.” Today they’re called “nonprofits.” If you’re in the social sector like us, it can be awkward to describe the work we do in terms of what it is not – as in “not for profit” or “nonprofit.”

Can’t we do better than “nonprofit?”

In a recent article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, Henry Mintzberg argues that our nonprofit sector needs to scrap such antiquated terms that do a poor job of describing what we do in favor of a new name that allows our sector to “take its rightful place” alongside public and private: the plural sector.

Though we may not be advocating for the “plural” sector moniker anytime soon, we believe Mintzberg makes two important points: 1) these old “terms of art” and divisions are no longer useful for describing this “robust” sector we’re in, and 2) all three sectors need to be involved in creating a healthy society, together. One idea that unites all the organizations and people in our sector is that they’re on a mission to improve society and people’s lives. We should focus on the purpose, not the tax status, of these mission-driven organizations.

Calling all mission-driven people

That’s where Mission Driven, the Austin area’s first-ever summit for social innovation, comes in. Mission Driven aims to change the conversation and seed new ways of thinking and acting for social change.

Greenlights believes that we need innovative doers, thinkers and leaders from all walks of life – nonprofit staff and board leaders, to be sure, but also funders and investors in social change, government officials and for-profit social entrepreneurs as well – to get engaged if real progress is to be made. It will take all of these mission-driven leaders to successfully put shoulder to the wheel of our most daunting social challenges.

So it’s time to step out of our roles! We believe the leaders in these different domains are interested in and can benefit from intentional collisions with people who are passionate about similar ends, but are using different means (impact investing, community organizing, collective impact, grant making, nonprofit service provision) to get there. Mission Driven represents a unique opportunity to collaborate in pursuit of these common ends.

Do you consider yourself to be a mission-driven leader? Are you ready to challenge yourself to think differently about your leadership in what featured keynoter Bill Eggers calls the solution economy that is converging across the sectors? If so, I hope you’ll add your voice to the Mission Driven dialogue and join us at our inaugural conference on September 10-11 (Register now! Earlybird rates expire June 30).


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