I confess this week’s impassioned discussion of changing our self-identity from “nonprofits” to Community Benefit Organizations took me by surprise… in a good way. What thoughtful consideration of so many aspects to the term and its use!
My initial thought has always been that using the term “Community Benefit Organization” would not be a legal term – it would not replace IRS or other taxing entity language. It would just be what we call ourselves.
I’ve ranted about this for a long long time (like in this video that many of you have already seen). As an advocate for this sector’s ability to create massive visionary change in our world, my purpose in raising the issue everywhere I speak is all the points I posed in that post – that the term “nonprofit” is confusing, negative, and often downright debilitating.
Because empowerment of what are currently called “nonprofits” has been my primary purpose in suggesting the change, it has only been as an afterthought (and a powerful afterthought at that) that I have begun strongly considering the question that was raised by that post.
If the term is simply a self-identifier with no legal requirements, could such a language change help bridge the gap between the various types of legal entities who are all aiming their work at Community Benefit? If an entity chose to state that its primary purpose was Community Benefit, would its tax status really matter as much as its intent? And if so, why?
I confess that I haven’t thought it through entirely, and that my thinking might change. But for the life of me I cannot find a downside in having the term be used broadly by any entity whose self-defined primary purpose is Community Benefit.
A government health office whose primary focus is improving health outcomes in a community. A privately held business whose primary purpose is the same.
For me, the important thing is the end result we are aiming at. We all know we cannot build healthy, resilient, strong, engaged, compassionate communities if we are each working behind walled siloes. And yet I am struck by how often my suggestion that we tear down those walls is met with a clinging to the very walls we all say we abhor!
If an entity is dedicated to building healthy, vibrant, engaged, humane, equitable communities – and if that entity happens to make a profit by doing it – does that matter? If so why?
And if the term has no bearing from a legal / tax perspective, and is simply the term we use to define the purpose of our work – is there a reason such a well-meaning business / organization should not call itself a Community Benefit Organization?