Making art AND money.
July 2, 2011 7:18 AM   Subscribe

What are some genre-breaking companies that blur the line between for-proft and non-profit in imaginative ways?

I would eventually like to start a business, and am looking for inspiration in organisations that operate in the marketplace in conceptually unusual ways.

Examples would be Dave Eggers' Pirate Store/826 Valencia, which uses a decoy storefront to legitimise a non-profit tutoring centre for kids in a commercial zone; Conflict Kitchen, which serves cuisine from countries that the US is in conflict with; and The Waffle Shop, which produces and broadcasts a live-streaming talk show with its customers and operates a changeable storytelling billboard on its roof.

Suggestions in the vein of Superflex (artists who make economic interventions), and Sky Blue Sky Sandwich Company (Wilco-themed sandwich company) are also welcome.
posted by finders keepers to Work & Money (17 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
The Georgia Justice Project offered legal defense and social work services, and ran a landscaping business. But its website says it had to close the landscaping business this year. :-(
posted by southern_sky at 7:28 AM on July 2, 2011

Roberta's, a restaurant in Bushwick, Brooklyn, has spawned an internet radio station and a rooftop farm, among other things.
posted by neroli at 7:41 AM on July 2, 2011

Best answer: Homeboy Industries in California has had some success running a cafe, a diner, a bakery, a screen printing business, and a maintenance company exclusively with ex-gang members as its labor force, while offering its employees counseling, education and social rehabilitation opportunities, along with job experience. They don't make art so much as remove art (in the form of voluntarily removing gang tattoos from members, and removing gang graffiti in their maintenance division), however.
posted by paulsc at 7:56 AM on July 2, 2011 [3 favorites]

The Pilobolus dance company recently expanded. It now has three branches: the dance company, an educational group, and a creative services group. The creative services group creates movement pieces for advertising and media companies. At one point I believe they also aspired to doing executive coaching and corporate trainings on creativity, though I can't find any references to that on the web.

The original Pilobolus was and is a non-profit, and I expect the educational organization is. The creative services group may be for-profit.

Here's the [really cumbersome] Pilobolus web site.
posted by alms at 8:10 AM on July 2, 2011

There's the idea of pay-what-you-can restaurants.
posted by cider at 8:14 AM on July 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Be careful with the whole non-profit thing: in many places, even if you put all your energy into creating a public benefit corporation, you can't take any of what you've made away with you when you're ready to move on, or select just anyone to continue your work. It all must be conveyed to another public benefit corporation that is registered with your state as doing nearly identical charitable work, and what's conveyed is not just the physical assets of the non-profit, but also the intellectual property. With this in mind, my husband and I run our for-profit cultural tourism business with many of the creative attributes of a non-profit, but none of the book-keeping obligations. We frequently run into people who are perplexed that we are not a non-profit, since we behave so much like one.
posted by Scram at 9:12 AM on July 2, 2011

Another non-profit restaurant philosophy comes from Common Table in Bend, OR. They use purchasable tokens to be given away for meals.
posted by persona at 9:12 AM on July 2, 2011

Atira Women's Resource Society runs women's shelters but owns Atira Property Management.
posted by metaname at 12:13 PM on July 2, 2011

Omidyar, Dreamwidth (more), and all the for-profit software consulting firms that contribute to open source software.
posted by brainwane at 3:06 PM on July 2, 2011

Response by poster: These are all great. Thanks, guys!
posted by finders keepers at 4:15 AM on July 3, 2011

The standard term for this kind of mixing of social and traditional business methods is "social entrepreneurship." You might find these resources interesting:
Skoll Foundation
Center for Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship at Duke
posted by aka burlap at 9:36 AM on July 3, 2011

* mixing of social goals and traditional business methods, i mean
posted by aka burlap at 9:36 AM on July 3, 2011

TOMS is a shoe company that donates a pair of shoes to needy children for every pair that someone buys. They were part of an AT&T ad a few years ago, and they recently expanded into glasses too.
posted by lilac girl at 2:26 PM on July 3, 2011

Best answer: Just to add a bit of nuance. Some people here are conflating two different - but closely related - ideas. As aka burlap pointed out above, "social enterprise" is the word for various kinds of companies/organizations that combine profit with mission focus. In some cases, that means a business and nonprofit that are closely aligned with each other, have the same board of directors, etc. (this model is sometimes the object of criticism in the nonprofit community), and in others, it simply means a company prioritizes social impact (triple bottom line is a catchphrase that's sometimes used to describe this sort of company).

That's different from an earned income model, which means a nonprofit gets most of its income from some other source besides grants and donations. Rainbow Grocery, for example.

826 isn't really either of those things. It's a nonprofit that uses its storefronts as a marketing hook and as one income source, but the stores aren't the source of funding.
posted by roll truck roll at 2:21 PM on July 5, 2011

The stores aren't the primary source of funding, that is.
posted by roll truck roll at 2:24 PM on July 5, 2011

I got curious, so I looked up 826 Valencia's 990 (from 2008). Almost a million dollars in donations and grants, and just over 50,000 in sales. The real value of the pirate store is giving the center a fun, welcoming exterior that's inviting to kids and reassuring to parents.
posted by roll truck roll at 4:09 PM on July 5, 2011

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