Second Vermont Republic

A citizen movement committed to restoring Vermont to an independent republic, free to pursue life, liberty and happiness unimpeded by the demands of an imperial, corrupt and disintegrating United States.

Business and Benevolence: The Social Profit Handbook, by David Grant (BOOK REVIEW)

2VR-David GrantWhen walking into an introductory business course, the first question college students are asked is along the lines of, “What does a business care about most?” Of course, by business, professors are speaking of stakeholders: owners, investors, management. The answer is always the same. In our capitalist society, businesses exist to generate profit.

It’s not a new concept. Money is a tool of trade, and when the game of life involves buying groceries, a home, and an education, it’s a necessary means of survival. Although a new type of profit is emerging that may change the way we think about company performance. Social profit, defined as ” anything that benefits people and their places and the planet we live on”, is the topic of David Grant’s The Social Profit Handbook: The Essential Guide to Setting Goals, Assessing Outcomes, and Achieving Success for Mission-Driven Organizations” (Grant, 2). Among organizations in the social sector, this emerging category of profit has been around for decades. However, there is an overall lack of ability to measure success. When financial statements do not directly correlate with the mission of a business, how do we measure achievement? With a passion for learning about how the tools of business can educate and ignite positive change, I find brilliance in Grant’s writing. It is clear, focused, and forward-thinking. He creates a guide for readers of all backgrounds to follow in order to assess the illusive idea of social profit.

Our 21st century world faces the trials of climate change, poverty, disease, and war, among other adversities. A business that moves beyond cash transactions to exchange products that benefit society is one taking on a great challenge. Too often, these organizations are undervalued or not given adequate funding to attain a set goal. There is a reliance on outside capital that is distributed among those in the business of creating social change. The first mistake, however, is in the way that donors decide where their money would best be placed. Grant describes the difference between summative and formative assessment, one with which all students are familiar with. Summative assessment involves “judging outcomes at the end,” while formative assessment is focused on “improving outcomes rather than judging them” (Grant, 4). In this way, money is donated based on past performance, rather than future potential. I felt that Grant’s approach to writing about this distinction was exemplary. He reeled me in and caused me to think about my past performance reviews from authoritative figures.  We have all been assessed by a teacher, coach, or boss, and given harsh feedback, such as “you performed poorly.” This statement will have no effect on the next time one completes a similar task. The author instead suggests a shift to focus on feedback such as: “Next time, speak more clearly to further engage the audience.” The social sector is not one that can be measured in “hard” numbers such as revenue or products sold. Qualitative measurements are more effective, and “can only be created and measured by those receiving [social profit]” (Grant, 24). Grant’s suggestion allows for key stakeholders to take part in defining their mission and factors in calculating accomplishments.

Another aspect of the business world is marketing. To persuade consumers, marketing uses the four p’s: product, promotion, price, and place. But what if there were new, better p’s to focus on? When a company agrees to move towards social change while still making a profit, they may use something called the triple bottom line. In this case, the three p’s are: people, profit, and the planet. Grant addresses this idea when describing the Emerald Cities Collaborative, a network that uses a triple bottom line to focus on sustainability (Grant, 98). Although the author mentions this effort, it would have been in his best interest to further the topic. Social profit is a wonderful idea, but most owners are still concerned about the monetary value of their business. A rubric which measures both is the perfect combination of tangible and intangible values.

Reflecting on personal experience, Grant offers guidelines to writing a rubric by storytelling about seminars he led.  Each time, he begins by asking what an ideal organization would look like 5 or 10 years down the road. He asked participants to be imaginative, and to reach for the best possible outcome in their particular setting. With this activity, his intention was to show that building a rubric is a team task. Rubrics are designed around the operating activities of a business, which allows them to be specifically tailored to the needs of a particular group or location. Once you know what the highest level of achievement looks like, you can aim for it (Grant, 69). To outline goals to strive for, step by step numbers are incorporated into rubrics. Readers will find that Grant’s use of anecdotal evidence relays his credibility. His techniques work in real-world settings!

Looking past assessment, an important measurement discussed is that of time. It is said that although time exists without humanity, it is humans who thought to count time. Not only do we have a lack of funding, we are currently experiencing “time scarcity,” a phenomenon that is especially prevalent in American culture. We work longer hours, take shorter breaks, and are convinced we have less time to do the things we’d like to do because of our habits and overwhelming array of 21st century leisure choices (The Economist, 2014). Grant stresses the importance of “mission time,” a period set aside to gather information, analyze strengths and weaknesses, and to have fun while doing so (Grant, 45). He includes a diagram that precisely illustrates the different ways in which we do not have enough time. Readers will be relieved to know that an expert acknowledges our lack of minutes in the day and even suggests scheduling space for reflection. The use of charts and visual aids throughout the book break up paragraphs and add value to his words.

The way in which Grant writes allows for his insight to be applied to anyone with a goal. He keeps in mind that his audience is those who work within the social sector, but does not give himself enough credit for the versatility of his argument. Rubrics, mission time, and formative assessment tools can be used in everyday life. As I write this review, I have included the word “draft” at the top. Grant suggests this step to remind us that we are always improving and re-creating things in a new light (Grant, 59). While he includes this tip in the section about writing rubrics, it’s important to note that like the rest of his guidelines, it can be used in any task we may stumble upon. His purpose is full of clarity: Define mission-driven organizations by what they are, “for social profit”, rather than by what they are not “non-profits.” He succeeds in producing a well-written book which guides readers to create goals, measure performance, and venture towards success in the social sector.

Book review by Burlington-based undergraduate Kassidy Snair.

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This entry was posted on September 17, 2015 by in Arts and tagged , , , .

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