Does School Reform Need A For-Profit Philanthropy?

For many folks in the education and philanthropy worlds, non-profit status is considered somethin akin to a "good housekeepking" seal. It means you're a do-gooder. One of us.

But, as many foundation staffers and nonprofit EDs will tell you, being nonprofit has its drawbacks, not all of which can be bridged through "venture philanthropy," social entrepreneurship, and other nontraditional approaches to funding worthy efforts that have popped up with varying degrees of success in the foundation world. (Just as the folks at the New Schools Venture Fund, for example -- but remind them to invite me to their fancy annual confab next year while you're at it.)

Now, according to a very enthusiastic article in the NYT, comes Google.org, a new, for-profit foundation that -- not limited by its nonprofit status -- can do all sorts of things other philanthropies can't (Philanthropy Google’s Way). For example, it can start a company, finance a for-profit venture, give money to individuals, and -- perhaps most notably -- lobby governmental officials.

The focus for Google.org isn't on education, alas. But the approach sounds pretty interesting, if you ask me. Maybe some of the next wave of education funders will think about for-profit status and get to play more broadly in the world they're trying to reform, or some frustrated nonprofit funder will decide to ditch the nonprofit shackles and go for it.


Anonymous NYC Educator said...

I'm not as optimistic as you are. Visions of the guy who started Edison Schools and Channel One are what you've got dancing through my head.

6:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Alexander, where have you been. There has always been a "partnership" between non-profits and for-profits. Great example is in New Orleans where the non-profits get the charters to run the new schools (because they are "do gooders" as you put it. Then they sub-contract to the for-profits who actually manage the schools. Greatest hustle of all time.

9:47 AM  
Blogger Alexander Russo said...

right -- i get that (and have written a fair amount about for profits in education). what i'm talking about here is for profit philanthropy, vs. for-profit consulting, management, vending, etc. the article made me wonder whether for profit philanthropy could do different or better things than standard issue nonprofit ones.

9:51 AM  

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