Nonprofiteers are capitalists, too

Written by Michael on November 2nd, 2009

Jeff Jarvis has been pooh-poohing news that’s subsidized by governments or do-gooders:

I see another danger … that not-for-profit ventures will delay or even choke off for-profit, sustainable entrepreneurship in news. I would prefer to see various of the many funders who gave funds to not-for-profit endeavors – note $5 million give to a new not-for-profit entity in the Bay area – instead had invested in for-profit companies that can build companies that support and sustain themselves rather than rely on hand-outs. That is God’s work.

Jarvis intends this as a paean to capitalism. But he’s got a weirdly non-capitalist way of thinking about nonprofits.

Jarvis’s notion that nonprofits are an anomaly in the market system — and therefore less “sustainable” — forgets the fact that nonprofits produce goods and function within the market system like anybody else.

Sometimes they produce public services for governments. Sometimes they produce warm fuzzies for rich donors.

Wherever the money comes from, a successful nonprofit has found a market for whatever it’s producing. That’s God’s work, too.


3 Comments so far ↓

  1. Michael says:

    By the way, I don’t think much of government subsidies, either. And I’ve been trying to push against the nonprofit assumption a bit in conversations about my local would-be nonprofit news startup. News entrepreneurs should never let “let’s make it nonprofit!” become code for “let’s worry about revenue some other time!”

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  2. Jeff Jarvis says:

    I agree on the value of a role for nonprofits (we included it in our projections of new business models for news at But I see news people being lazy about being of the market thinking they’ll get charities and foundations to just give them money and that’s that: no need to worry about the market. I think we’d agree that that’s not sustainable.

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  3. Michael says:

    Thanks a lot for the response, Jeff. I’ll take your CUNY study over Downie and Schudson’s any day of the week.

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