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Making a Profit Can Also Mean Helping the World

Social emotional learning company Move This World began as a non profit. That model didn’t fit, but the company still pursues its goal of helping teachers and students.

In 2008, the largest banks and financial institutions in the country oversaw the collapse of the world economy in a catastrophe known as the Great Recession. Millions of people lost their homes, jobs, and life savings overnight. Since then, income inequality has skyrocketed, and rates of suicide and drug addiction have increased.

In that context, “profit” became a bit of a dirty word. People who wanted to help the world didn’t want to be aligned with people who put their personal profit over the economic wellbeing of everyone else.

In fact, applications to start nonprofit organizations rose 10% in 2009, despite a significantly worse climate for charitable donations.

Move This World was a part of this trend. We incorporated as a nonprofit in 2010, designed to deliver our work with impact first. We were continually trying to answer this question: How can we most effectively strengthen the mental, emotional and social wellness in the greatest number of students and teachers?

We learned a lot of lessons along the way, but most of them stem from a simple truth: the legal structure of your organization will dictate how you spend your time, and how you spend your time will determine how much impact your organization can have. Let’s break it down.

By 2014, our model of providing direct service to schools was showing significant results. As we worked to scale our impact, despite generating revenue, it was clear that we needed more funds; How else could we train qualified trainers to deliver our program across the country? So I focused my time and energy raising philanthropic capital, which caused a series of disconnects that were counterproductive to scaling our work.

First, I started feeling guilty doing site visits, going to schools, and visiting with teachers and students. I felt like I was supposed to spend my time raising money in order to serve the mission of Move This World. And yet, feedback from teachers and students was critical to improving and advancing the work. Rather than having deep, engaging conversations with our target audience – the kind of conversations that are really necessary when dealing with complex emotional work – I wasn’t fully present due to the nagging feeling that I wasn’t spending my time effectively.

Then my creativity suffered. I was spending my days raising money and managing a board, not working on the curriculum and the program. As an artist and a dancer, the creative practices are what make me come alive and why our work is so effective. I lost the opportunity to practice my own creative pursuits or flex the creative muscles that keep Move This World innovative and fresh.

I also became distant from our mission. I founded Move This World because I was committed to solving a particular problem: helping people to engage in and express their emotions in a healthy way. But I wasn’t working directly on that problem anymore, I was working on fundraising. I felt stuck.

All of these issues prevented us from accomplishing our main goal: to have the largest impact possible.

As we entered 2015, it was clear we had to revisit our original question: How can we most effectively strengthen the mental, emotional and social wellness in the greatest number of students and teachers?

Despite the fact that we had a working model, it was stagnant, and so was the organization. Throughout the year, we analyzed every aspect of the company. It was uncomfortable, difficult, and provoked anxiety, but our core group of supporters knew this was a necessary undertaking and gave us the space to explore what we needed to do.

Learn more about our transition in part two.

This article was originally published by EdWeek Market Brief on October 5th, 2018.  

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