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: Rich Hollant is the principal, strategist, and design director at CO:LAB in Connecticut, a firm he started In 1988. After nearly two decades developing brand and product launches for Fortune 500 corporations, he now works exclusively on initiatives with social value that are in the public interest. An interdisciplinary major from Boston University and a media major from the Museum School of Fine Arts, Hollant’s approach blends comprehensive strategic thinking with tightly orchestrated execution. Hollant has been featured in Business Weekly and Communications Arts, and was named one of GDUSA’s 20 People to Watch and by Fast Company as one of the top 11 designers creating social value. He’s a past president of AIGA Connecticut and current member of AIGA’s national board of directors.