I sit on the board of a local non-profit and I happen to have a Masters in Business Administration. Yet only until very recently have I realized that how wrong this idea is. Up until this point, the mention of charitable or nonprofit work would conjure up in my mind humble mendicants in tattered frocks scrounging up donations to serve some underserved segment of society. It seemed natural to me that those do-gooders in the non-profit world would forego the material trappings of the world-at-large. After all, the term “non-profit” almost expressly says as much. However, I recently saw a video clip which completely changed my thinking on this issue, and I wanted to share it with you.
Video from TED Talks: The way we think about charity is dead wrong
If you have clicked on the link above, you can stop reading as the remainder of this article will basically be a summary of its contents. However, I wanted to pass this idea along as I think it is an important one.
The way that we think about charity in America is influenced in large degree by Puritanical beliefs. The Puritans came to America in search of religious freedom, but also in search of economic profits. In comparison to other colonists, the Puritans were extremely capitalistic. The Puritans were also Calvinists, and one of their core beliefs was that acting in self-interest was a one-way ticket to eternal damnation. One way the Puritans strove to reconcile these conflicting beliefs was through charitable work. They used charity as a method of doing penance for all of their profit-making. Necessarily, the charity could not make money as it was done specifically to counteract the spiritual effects of other profitable activities. Over time, the idea took root that charitable work should not or cannot result in financial gain. This idea has not changed in four centuries.