Part I: Is Social Consciousness Optional

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on February 8th, 2008 in Thoughts & Commentary


As a nonprofit, do we get to pick and choose when we will be socially conscious and when we won’t?  I never thought that being socially conscious was one of those concepts that was situational.  Isn’t it like being pregnant:  either you are or you aren’t?  But, a recent conversation made me wonder if others see as I do.  Is there a continuum of social responsibility that says we are more or less, depending upon the question being asked?

The recent conversation was about investment policies for those nonprofits savvy—and lucky–enough to have funds needing investing.  (As you can gather, my assumption is that, of course, any nonprofit with funds invested anywhere—a CD, the stock market, mutual funds, etc.–has codified investment policies.  Right?)  I asked this individual who has managed portfolios for foundations, among other nonprofits, how did socially responsibility influence his investment decisions?  To my surprise, he told me it didn’t.  His interest, he said, wasn’t in being socially responsible with his investments but ensuring that there was as much money as possible to distribute through the foundation’s funding process to charitable organizations.  If the average return from organizations on the Domini Index of socially responsible companies is 12% versus 14% for those funds that don’t make the grade, isn’t it better to get the 2% greater return so the foundations have more to donate?

But should we who work in the nonprofit sector, trying to make life better for everyone—from veterans and artists to the homeless and infirm—pay for our work with money made from companies whose products we don’t endorse? From companies who treat their personnel as we would never expect our clients or staff to be treated?  Do we have an obligation to say we will make up the 2% difference by working more effectively and efficiently rather than make the money from companies who conflict with our mission and core values?  Don’t we have a moral obligation to be as socially responsible with how we make our dollars as we are with how we spend them?

I know that there are many other scenarios I could raise where we as nonprofits face the question of just how socially responsible we will be.  Will we recycle?  Will we employ the ex-con or recovering drug addict?  But I’m not going there right now.  Right now I’m focused on this all important issue of social responsibility and the impact on our revenue. 

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.