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    Working for Social Profit: Six Tips

    When my family moved from Brooklyn to Long Island, my dad’s commute stretched to two hours each way. He was exhausted—a lot. Nevertheless, he would spring from the couch with renewed energy at any call for help. Whether it was to build a bookcase for a friend or to run someone to the airport, being helpful fulfilled him. I learned a lot about the beauty of duty and community from that man.

    Still, 25 years ago when I started my company CO:LAB, I did so without much sense of aligning what was work with what was meaningful. I’d watched the generation before me split the two and didn’t have a road map for doing it differently. Over time, the balance shifted. Now, the firm’s focus is on doing work to be helpful to people and organizations that are committed to the betterment of the human condition. My team and I learn something about being human every day, and we honor our learning by committing more of ourselves to the foot soldiers working for Good.

    Everyone can do this work. And I argue that everyone should do it. Here are a few tips:

    1. Be clear about how you measure your success. Compared to the other work CO:LAB has done, when we work for social profit our rewards are greater, our lives have more meaning, we sleep better and we honor what we model for our children.

    2. Only do what you believe will be helpful. Regardless of how we feel about a cause personally, if the strategy is flawed and we can’t find a collaborative way to make it impactful and meaningful, we turn down the work. This is harder than it sounds, but critical to our ultimate usefulness.

    3. Set clear goals with the social-profit organization. Know what you’re working toward and build in the time to shift tactics, if need be, to deliver on the strategy. Devotion to the human condition doesn’t align well with instant gratification. Think in terms of longevity: Double the time.

    4. Learn about nonprofit organizational structures. Do you know the ins and outs of funding, fund-raising and advocacy? The different roles of boards? What the social economy really means to our country? Join a nonprofit association and learn, learn, learn. (Or do what we did: Hire a bright star from a nonprofit organization). Right now, we can guide clients with limited budgets to means of increasing funding through grants and programs to get the job done right. Even if this were all we did, we would still be useful to these organizations.

    5. Act like you are working for a business, not a charity. All of the components of business apply. By focusing on the nonprofit’s sustainability, you’ll yield measurable results that will make them—and you—more valuable.

    6. Share the love. By collaborating with others on meaningful work, you share in the communion that is shifting our culture for the better.  There’s no real ownership in that paradigm—just what’s right and good and helpful.
    About the Author: I studied at Boston University undergrad followed by the Museum School in Boston, Masachusetts. About a year after graduating, I started a design firm which evolved into co:lab. The last phase of that evolution occurred 3 years ago when we formalized our intention to focus our work on social profit organizations and corporations working toward enriching communities and leading the charge for the greater good. All in all, I’ve been running this business for just shy of 25 years now. I work with a small crew that I consider design and community-building samurai. We’ve won a bunch of awards— over 200 in the past 3 years alone. Most of that work was for non-profit organizations, which makes us particularly honored. The award that has been the most significant to me was the Youth Service Leadership Award I received with my lead design director, Troy Monroe, for the work we did for the city of Middletown, Connecticut. It was given not so much for design or even results generation, but for inspiring optimism, maturity and a sense of self-respect in kids who had lost a hold of the rudder. I’m the president of AIGA Connecticut, the development director of Compass Youth Collaborative, a founding member of designislove.com, and a co-founder of Giv2, a teen service program through the U.C.C. I live in a moss house in West Hartford, Connecticut with my wife and 5 sons (well… technically 4 sons in the house as one is off to college). This probably explains why so much of my work is about youth, service and love.
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