Ah, Symbiosis

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on June 2nd, 2008 in Thoughts & Commentary

1 comment

“Are you biased?” asked the MBA student the first night of our Nonprofit Management class offered as an elective in La Salle University’s School of Business MBA program. Good question!

The basis of our question: Do I think nonprofits are better than for-profits? Do I prefer nonprofits to for-profits? Let’s not equate enthusiasm with bias. My mindset isn’t one of opposition, competition and tension, but one of symbiosis.

How often do you read somewhere in the literature of nonprofits that part of the reason they are pursuing their mission is “to improve the communities in which we live and work?” Quite often, if you are me. But if, on average, only one in 12 jobs is in a nonprofit, then most of the people working in the communities are working for a for-profit. Symbiosis.

If the boards of nonprofits want to bring to the board different perspectives or specialized talents such as finance or human resources, where do they look? The for-profit sector. And where do for-profits look for valuable but inexpensive professional development opportunities for their junior and up-and-coming executives? To serve on nonprofit boards of directors. Symbiosis!

In this world where competition seems to dominate, far too many people are setting up nonprofits and for-profits as enemies instead of allies. The communities in which we live and work are better when there are viable, healthy nonprofits and for-profits. When people earn enough money to buy large homes on big lots, patronize specialty and boutique stores and restaurants, pay full-freight for the theatre, and donate to charities, our communities are better as they have a healthy tax base, a diverse community, etc. And when corporations can demonstrate that the communities in which they operate have strong schools, arts and culture organizations, and social services to support every possible need, including providing drug and alcohol counseling to employees, our communities are enriched. Each brings to the table something the other lacks, and in that complimentarity, all are enriched. Perfect symbiosis!It should not be about competition, one being better than the other, but about how the for-profit and nonprofit worlds can work together to make communities stronger and better for all the residents.All of that said, perhaps what the student was picking up on was not a bias, but a personal preference: personally, I could never work in a for-profit; I’m simply not wired that way. This is not a judgment, merely a statement of fact.



The opinions expressed in Nonprofit University Blog are those of writer and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of La Salle University or any other institution or individual.