The Nonprofit Company of the Future

The Nonprofit Company of the Future

By Rolf Jensen and Mika Aaltonen

Rolf Jensen is chief imagination officer at Dream Co., a Copenhagen-based management consultancy. Mika Aaltonen is co-founder and partner at the Helsinki Sustainability Center. From The Renaissance Society: How the Shift From Dream Society to the Age of Individual Control Will Change the Way You Do Business (McGraw-Hill). ©2013

When more and more people leave the valley of materialism, companies will still need some profit in order to exist, but they will do it with an idea—a nonmaterial one. It could be superior craftsmanship, animal welfare, or helping the local community or the world’s poor. It could be that the company’s purpose is to empower people, to allow them to thrive in their lives. The company will still have a product or a service to sell, but that will really be a by-product. The real product will be the idea and the values it represents; that will be why people buy it, why employees love to work for the company, and why investors invest in it.

This movement has begun. Take just one example: Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia with tens of thousands of contributors. Why are these people doing this? Why not make it into a for-profit company? The “employees” (the volunteers) do it for reasons other than money. After millennia of striving for material things, this is a fantastic change of logic. When the respected U.S. business magazine Fortune chooses to change its title to Thriving, it will have happened, but this may take some time.

For the next ten years, the vast majority of the companies in this world will remain for-profit companies, especially in the emerging economies. Gradually, however, companies in the West will choose to appeal to the new nonmaterial consumers and employees. This has already started softly, with ads telling consumers that the company supports this or that charity or that it respects nature and the environment, but gradually this will increase and the nonmaterial raison d’être will dominate marketing and corporate culture. It will be a gradual thing, since the transformation will be of a magnitude never experienced before.

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