Friday, March 28, 2008

Competition, nonprofit style 2

In this week's previous post, I asked a general question regarding nonprofit organizations' abilities to patent and sue on behalf of innovations they make. In also used "nonprofit organization" interchangeably with "social justice movements" and will be more careful in this post to make the distinction.

I haven't read INCITE's The Revolution Will Not Be Funded (yet), but did read Gerard Alexander's (2007, April 23) "The Nonprofit Industrial Complex" from the Weekly Standard. Alexander's conservative orientations lead him to critique nonprofits (or otherwise termed the independent sector) for their left-wing tendencies, but he makes some salient points, namely:

  • Nonprofit endowments or foundations invest around $1 trillion annually
  • Nonprofits are largely unregulated, either by government or stakeholders in the organizations, like clients or government (this critique coming from a neoconservative, no less!)
  • Nonprofits can become unofficial extensions of government agencies
  • Foundational influence can decrease over time given newfound corporate influx in philanthropic giving and changes in the nonprofit sector itself, with specific transitions for hospitals and educational institutions into profitable enterprises (i.e. Blue Shield, University of Phoenix)

I'm going to exclude universities from my discussion of nonprofits and intellectual property as it should be self-evident what that relationship is.

But I will still open discussion regarding intellectual property rights for the nonprofits I am especially interested in, like those involved in youth social programs. Tangentially, here's a good case study.

Other countries, for example, were able to replicate the core business model of this agency. The core business model, however—a marketplace-style mode of matching donors and project proposals—was contingent on software that could produce matches and facilitate the proposal fulfillment process. I have no idea how sophisticated or expensive this software was to develop, but I am sure that the donation by Yahoo! of technical assistance (months of volunteering by engineers) amounts to a significant outlay of time, expertise, and would have been completely inviable without the donation. This agency, modelled as the primo example of social entrepreneurship, seeks to become self-sufficient through a user's fee paid out by donors, but I am not sure to what extent the agency currently is self-sufficient. I will be interested as the woes of this recession play out.

Indeed, anyone in the nonprofit world should be so concerned.

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