June 4, 2017; Inc.
In the category of least-well-anchored conversations in the sector, I would say that discussions of social enterprise, a vague term used interchangeably apparently with social innovation, win the grand prize. The latest proof of its staying power as a unboundaried mess comes from this Inc. Magazine article, which starts out as a kind of love letter to Chicago’s entrepreneurial community and to its unique personality, which the writer describes as being somewhere in the middle between New York’s impatient grittiness and Los Angeles’ generalized wackiness, termed here as “eccentric personalities.” (My family is from Chicago, and I would venture that it can match each in eccentricity and grittiness. But I digress.)
The author, Nicolas Cole, goes on to talk about the city’s storied and strong nonprofit sector (true) that is fully capable of supporting meaningful social entrepreneurship (true). All is well until he launches into an ill-informed rave about a social entrepreneurship startup that sounds eerily familiar but appears to be lauded as a breakthrough.
Shopping.Gives is a local startup disrupting the old industry of fundraising for nonprofits. Instead of asking people to donate, organizations can create a campaign page with Shopping.Gives and have their fans, followers, and even friends shop over 750 of the top brands online, with a portion of the proceeds of what they buy going back to the campaign (up to 40 percent).
In a nutshell: Instead of buying that new pair of Nike shoes online, and then on a separate day donating some money to a fundraising campaign that matters to you, buy that pair of shoes through Shopping.Gives and a portion of the sale will be donated on your behalf.
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Pretty cool concept.
Shopping.Gives’s founder, Ronny Sage, said:
Here in Chicago, we believe a lot in helping people. But the nonprofit sector is outdated, and unfortunately a lot of great causes struggle to raise money—even though when you tell people about them, they love the idea and want to be involved. We created Shopping.Gives as a way to make more people’s everyday habits, like online shopping, meaningful. This way, more money is raised for causes that matter, fundraising efforts online can be streamlined, and big brands that want to be more socially responsible can not only be involved, but actually reach more customers. It’s a win, win, win.
Outdated? The article does not even give a nod to the fact that nonprofits all over Illinois have had their contract payments impossibly delayed for lack of a state budget for these past two years and have miraculously managed to treat the whole situation as a challenge to be faced squarely on behalf of their constituents.
This is the kind of article we just hate. We are given no numbers and the effort is treated as a new, cool concept with no mention of other similar efforts—of which there are many—or more generalized success and failure rates. In other words, as with many social enterprise puff pieces, there is nothing here to look at. Would this pass muster as an Inc. article about a for-profit business? I don’t think so, but you tell me.—Ruth McCambridge