What makes a corporation (or non-profit) tick?

Over the weekend I watched the excellent documentary, The Corporation. It did a great job of covering everything from, “What is a corporation?” to the political issues, environmental impacts, sweatshops and some chilling case-studies on press cover-ups and controversy, such as bovine growth hormone. It never felt like they were trying to tackle too much, by hitting these seemingly disparate subjects. The way it was presented, it was frightening how inter-connected all of the pieces are. The underlying argument seemed to be that the original purpose of the corporation has been lost over the years as capitalism has exploded, and some of the laws originally designed to protect small corporations are now the biggest points of exploitation in the system. In the end the question that’s asked is, how can we re-align the priorities of these behemoths, so that the environment, the public, and the stockholders are all equally important?

Later in the same day I started reading the feature article from last week’s Stranger, The Nonprofit Motive (there’s a longer version available here). The article does a great job of explaining the basics of non-profits vs. for-profit companies , all explained within the simple framework of, “Pretend you’re running a lemonade stand.” It makes the setup easy to understand, and when it gets to specific examples, you understand how things work. In the end, the author presents an idea for restructuring the non-profit only benefits, so that for-profit organizations could essentially create a non-profit division under their roof. This opens up a world new possibilities for keeping independent, struggling non-profits alive, and promoting the foundation of new ones. The article clearly lists the auditing nightmare of this setup, but the possible benefits to the company and to the public could certainly be worth it.

This non-profit idea (not without it’s flaws) seems like part of the answer to the question raised by The Corporation. It suddenly gives a for-profit company true incentive to think of others and actually benefit from it. At least on paper. Greed is a very powerful force and may continue to hinder any valuable change.

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