Every once in while we meet people who respond to us with a peeved “how can you be a nonprofit, you act like a business!” The next line tends to be – “if you’re a nonprofit, why aren’t your services free?”
Unfortunately “free” simply does not exist, not even for nonprofits. What’s “free” to you is free at the expense of someone else – a sponsor hoping for positive publicity, a foundation channeling funds to serve its intended purpose, a government agency distributing tax dollars, a donor hoping to make a difference, a volunteer committing time and sweat. And the more “free” services nonprofits offer, the more dependent they become on the charity of these participants.
There is a saying in German - “Only death is free, and it will cost you your life.”
eSpindle is aiming to create a self-sustaining system that empowers our public benefit mission without depending on donations and grants.The business-nonprofit hybrid model you see at work in eSpindle is also commonly referred to as social entrepreneurship.
As you can easily imagine, the development effort behind eSpindle was tremendous.
Custom editing a 100,000 word database (including live recording single words and about 20,000 sample sentences), developing a refined and now patent-pending technology to provide the highly differentiated instructional technology, and building a name in the world of education, all required and still involves a team of brilliant people contributing their unique talents along with lots of time.
Honoring this effort we decided, from the start, to accept the challenge of growing and sustaining the organization by “real world” rules – the rules of the market place. And fortunately, our unique application allows us to do this because it is of value to a diverse audience – both those who can easily pay $80-100 for a year of tutoring, and those who can’t.
By incorporating both for-profit and non-profit best practices we believe that eSpindle will be a stronger organization in the long term, than if we allowed reliance on the comfort and protection of charity grants.
Contrary to common perception, nonprofits are free to do anything a regular business does – including selling products and services, licensing, collaborating with both for-profit and non-profit ventures, etc.
The main difference is that nobody at eSpindle owns the company or any surplus created. Every effort we undertake is focused on our mission:
To empower people by helping them build a broad vocabulary as a foundation for critical thinking, confident communication and success in life.
From the start we have committed to match every paid membership with a free license to a disadvantaged student, and our current ratio (of which we are very proud of) is six scholarships per paid membership.
These free licenses are given to other nonprofits, literacy organizations and title 1 schools who approach us for help, and if you have ever seen the challenges that students in underserved neighborhoods face, you will know why we are delighted to support teachers who dedicate themselves to making a difference for these students.