Athentikos Logo

In 2008, Athentikos was founded through a calling of authentic response to tell inspiring stories of hope through the art of story.  Over the years, we have sought to do so in a way that is self-sustaining.  But now, as we begin the process of marketing our second documentary, Becoming Fools, we are unfortunately little more self-sustaining than we were 5 years ago.  Why?  What role do we play in social innovation that brings positive change to the world around us while at the same time allows us to continue working in the way we feel called?  We have asked ourselves these questions so many times.  We have brainstormed for endless hours to develop new campaigns that will allow us to continue telling stories of hope.  And each time, we walk away with the same 3 solutions:  One, we need more money.  Two, we need more people.  And three, we need more time.  Other non-profit organizations we have met through our many endeavors face the same limiting and complicated roadblocks.  At times, it seems that in order to be a non-profit, your organization must face limited human and financial resources as well as time restraints.
BUT we haven’t lost hope.  And how could we?  Over the past 7 months throughout the editing process as I watched Becoming Fools, I was repeatedly reminded of the street kids’ hope in themselves, in the future, in the hope of something better, in the hope of change despite the odds stacked against them.  Then a few days ago, our good friend Joel Van Dyke sent us a video from TED Talks.  (I watched it immediately, as I fell in love with TED Talks after attending a TEDx Conference in Guatemala last year.)  This particular video Joel sent us was about social innovation, real social innovation.  The speaker, Dan Pallotta is an entrepreneur, philanthropist, author and social innovator himself.  His presentation challenged the audience on the role of the non-profit sector in the business world.
Pallotta began by posing the question:  Does the non-profit sector have a serious role to play in changing the world?  And if so, then why have non-profit organizations failed to make a large difference in the world?  Pallotta suggests that there is a double standard that prevents the non-profit sector from assuming a position powerful enough to reach large-scale social change.  He gives several staggering statistics to support his point:

  • In the US, giving to charities has remained at 2% of the GDP since the 1970s.
  • From 1970 to 2009, only 144 non-profit organizations crossed the $50 million annual revenue barriers while 46, 136 for-profit organizations crossed the same barrier.
  • Poverty has remained stuck at 12% of the US population for the past 40 years.

Pallotta suggests that there is one rulebook for the non-profit sector, and a contrasting one for the rest of the world. He supports this point by addressing 5 specific areas in which there is a discrepancy between what is expected or allowed from the non-profit sector in contrast with what is expected or allowed from the rest of the world.  The major limitations placed on non-profits fall into the categories of compensation, advertising/marketing, risk taking, time and profit.  In addition to these limitations forced upon the non-profit sector, Pallotta warns against our nation’s obsession with keeping the overhead of charities and non-profit organizations low.  He explains the limitation of this obsession by sharing the history of a largely successful for-profit business, Amazon.

Amazon went their first 6 years in business without returning any profit to investors.  The investors waited patiently because there was a long-term goal they knew they could reach.  But what would happen to a non-profit organization if they went 6 years building their infrastructure before giving any money to the poor?  Pallotta’s answers: crucifixion.

Pallotta ends his presentation by stating:  “Our generation does not want its epitaph to read, we kept charity overhead low.”  With laugher and applause the crowd shows their agreement with this statement.  Obsession with overhead prevents a for-profit business from growing their team and their reach, which in turn grows their profit and benefit to society.  The exact same is true for a non-profit organization. The focus shouldn’t be on an organization’s overhead, Pallotta argues, but rather charitable and generous giving to mark this generation’s contribution to social innovation and change.  But what will it take to transform our nation’s minds from demanding a different business plan for non-profit organization than that allowed to for-profit businesses?
This video from TED Talks gave me new insight into the world of non-profit organizations.  It gave me inspiration and hope for Athentikos, for our future, for something better, for social innovation, for change.  I believe our mission is simple: to tell inspiring stories of hope through the art of story.  And our goal is clear: to inspire people to authentically respond in order that change may occur in the lives of those they help as well as in their own life.  The only thing left to figure out then is: how do we become a successful, self-sustaining organization that can continue to live out our mission and pursue our goal?
Watch Dan Pallotta: The way we think about charity is dead wrong.

Click below to give a tax-deductible donation to Athentikos.
Give a tax-deductible donation.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *