Good (and not so good?)


Lucy Bernholz

Lucy Bernholz

Lucy Bernholz

Huzzah to Brad Smith for this post on the Brave New World of Good. Stop. Go read it. Then come back here. (Please)

Brad does an important job of describing the new ‘sandbox’ of good. The tag line could read: ‘Good: It’s not just non-profits and philanthropy anymore’. It’s also social enterprise, impact investing, open government and data, and political giving…. This is the point I’ve been arguing in the last few years worth of Blueprints in which I describe it as the social economy. This is the term we’ve adopted at Stanford for describing all the ways we use private resources for public benefit.

Brad’s absolutely right – the world of good is diversifying and expanding I can add one more item to Brad’s list it that crossed my twitter feed today – market research on shoppers who ‘love shopping AND want responsible consumerism’ (italics intend irony, which is mine). This is the extreme example of wanting it all.

But, surprising me, Brad stops short of pointing out the tradeoffs, ironies, limits, or mutually exclusive intersections within this complicated sandbox of players. Here’s the thing – each of the different things in this social economy or sandbox of good may be individually ‘good’. But it’s the interactions between them that matter. In some cases those interactions are not so good and may lead to meaningful, negative consequences.

  • Want an example? Supporting political issues through social welfare organizations has put anonymous charitable giving on a crash course with norms of political transparency.
  • Want another? Open data that is used to threaten personal privacy or safety.
  • Another? Market-based incentives that devalue long-term community building or policy focused work.
  • Another? State financing of nonprofit organizations that effectively make those theoretically independent organizations less accountable distribution channels for public funds.
  • Another? When philanthropic dollars release public agencies from using public funds for public purposes.

With my colleagues Rob Reich and Chiara Cordelli I’ve written about some of the tradeoffs of ‘all this good’. The paper, Good Fences: The Importance of Institutional Boundaries in the Social Economy, is one of a series from the #ReCodingGood Project and the new Digital Civil Society Lab at Stanford.

We’re also trying to lay out the new policy issues – where the tradeoffs lie – that this new reality brings forth. That work is outlined in the Social Economy Policy Forecast 2013. I’d welcome your responses and suggestions to any or all of this work and hope you’ll help us think it through.

Lucy Bernholz is the author of the blog philanthropy2173, where this article first appeared

Tagged in: Impact investing Social economy social enterprise

Comments (1)

Rachael Barrett

It would seem that Mr. Smith also fails to see some of the ironies that are generated in his own sandbox. Mr. Smith applauds those sites that aggregate the data of the 990s or simply make that information accessible. Of course, this is the challenge with data, who has the time to sift through and analyze? The Foundation Center, where Mr. Smith works does an amazing job of sifting through the 990 data and creating robust profiles....for a price. Access to the full bounty of Foundation Center data requires a subscription (unless you are able to get to one of their offices and use their computers). So, I am not sure where he is heading with his claims...of urging us to follow the money? I either have to huddle down and do lots of sifting through data on 990s or I buy access to (again, FC's database is simply awesome) to a database (a smart revenue stream for a nonprofit...does the public really benefit from FC's nonprofit status?) and as we all know, time is money...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *