A Different Kind of Profit?


I just read a blog by the insightful American author and former business executive Seth Godin that got me thinking even before I'd finished my morning coffee. 

He wrote about the work we do as being profitable, difficult, or important.  As I read it I thought about all the incredible people I know who are doing the important and difficult work that is not always profitable in terms of generating a substantial paycheque.

Most of these people work in Canada's non profit sector (13.3% of Canada's GDP). So no, these people are not getting rich, they are instead working within a sector known for its resourcefulness, resilience, and determination to make sure the hungry are fed, children and families have a roof over their head, and seniors and those with special needs are safe and healthy.

These employees work shoulder to shoulder alongside volunteers in every single community in Canada to serve, train, advocate, mentor, protect, care, strengthen, develop, support, build, create, and entertain. They’re doing it within many areas of activity - social services, health, education and research, environment, development and housing, arts and culture, sports and recreation, advocacy and policy, international, religion, philanthropy and volunteerism.

They support us in our time of need, lobby for our rights, learn and teach new skills, build and maintain community halls and parks, look after our natural environment, plant gardens and trees, provide music, dance and put on shows, help us worship in prayer, offer advice and assistance, and facilitate our play and festivals.

Those within the non-profit or community sector are responsible for work that improves our quality of life through shared interactions, events, and celebrations, enables people from diverse backgrounds to join up and join in, provides opportunities for people to share responsibility, and ensures responsive and relevant services.

Today the sector responsible for this work is struggling with staff turnover that is the result of falling wages, as well as a growing gap in working conditions between the non-profit sector and the private and government sectors. These challenges are compounded by the unstable employment that is the result of less long term secure funding from government and foundations and more one-off project and contract funding. We’re already seeing a serious, negative impact on the capacity of these organizations to serve our communities.

The stories of these challenges don’t typically make headlines. Or, as Godin puts it, "Changing things for the better is rarely applauded by Wall Street".

So while we certainly need to focus on economic profits, we can't do it at the expense of the quality of life side of the ledger which is a different kind of profit. Without the jobs and services provided by those who work in the non-profit sector, we may not have the kind of communities where we want to live. Ultimately, like many things in life, it’s all about balance. Yes, we need to consider work that is profitable but perhaps we need to thinking about profit in a different way and do more to support the difficult and important work being done that contributes and adds value to everyone's quality of life.  


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