Our website’s March article of the month features a wonderful story about a social enterprise named First Book. Their organization provides tens of millions of books a year to the underserved by taking contributions from publishers and then charging modest shipping charges to send them on to qualified organizations. First Book makes enough from modest shipping charges to keep the organization going and growing.
My favorite quote in the article is from its founder, Kyle Zimmer, who says:
“Like probably every social entrepreneur in the world, I have that split where my head is fundamentally private sector and my heart is social sector.”
I’ve operated with that head/heart split since we started our foundation in 1997, perhaps even since I came of age. It is fascinating, fun and frustrating, all at the same time. And while the foundation is now driven by our young tigers, the rest of my time in this mortal coil will be used up finding and activating more “Kyle Zimmers and more Tim McCarthys”. That is, I speak around the country in order to find folks with an irresistible urge to serve both their head and their heart.
Balancing our head and our heart is a never ending struggle. A great business model reduces that struggle. First Book, Ms. Zimmer says consists of two “jet engines”: one, large scale, generous publishers and two, service organizations that feed the educational needs of the underserved. Said simply, her model has built-in balance; profit/non-profit, win/win. That helps a lot.
The most successful concepts The Business of Good supports have similar built-in head/heart balance:
- IPM, an international mission organization who makes money from adventurous donors who travel to their projects on “immersion trips”. These trips cover much of its (total) organizational cost and create long term connections with those who travel and their organization.
- ECDI, Bad Girl Ventures and NEOFund, lenders who make money on interest and fees then use that money to train, support and lend to “unbankable” entrepreneurs
- MentorcliQ, a software developer who makes money on their mentoring platform that connects first generation college students with those who’ve “been there, done that”. The result: higher graduation rates (and eventually) more mentors who’ve been there, did that.
I’ve never been one to be satisfied with just making all the money I can. Nor could I fully engage in non-profit service the rest of my life. I admire those who choose one or the other but I’ve never been able to sustain either pursuit to the exclusion of the other. And I think most of us are that way.
Keep an inventory of what you’re doing currently for your head…and what you’re doing for your heart. They both require constant feeding.
A friend, Tony Wells, says, “we’ll know we’ve arrived as a society when our children can pursue financial independence and social change…in the same career”.
To people like Ms. Zimmer and me, that’s the ultimate “head and heart”.