A Revenue Generating Non-profit

One peculiar thing about Raleigh City Farm is that we are a non-profit who aims to sustain ourselves on our own revenue. This makes many in the non-profit world nervous. Generating revenue or, making money, to drop the euphemism, seems dangerous. After all, hasn’t the quest to make money led so many for-profit endeavors to exploit and oppress and so on? Probably so.

But like so many attempts to correct human behavior we swing pendulum-like to the other extreme. So is born the non-profit who absolves itself of all money-making motivations. Surely this will keep them pure, they think. Surely this will keep them championing a cause without the corrupting interference of greed.

Then an unexpected thing happens. The non-profit organization, still in need of money, is forced to find income anyway — and so turns to grants and donations. Ok so far. There are many good and generous people in the world. Till one day, along comes a donor whose goals or motivations aren’t in line with the non-profit’s mission or whose ethics are different or missing. Maybe it’s a wasteful and polluting company that wants to green-wash itself by putting their logo on your website. Or maybe it’s a government agency whose burdensome deliverables and misaligned requirements continually distract you from the real task at hand. [1]

Quickly the non-profit, in dire need of funds, finds itself facing such dilemmas; consumed with navigating a quagmire of compromise. Weren’t able to take the high-road for very long, were we?

But now, having as a society explored unbridled profiteering as well as dogmatic opposition to revenue, a middle ground emerges. What if we threw ourselves at making money but just not as our top priority? What if we took it out of the number one slot and moved it down to second or third — right below the higher priorities of yielding social and ecological profits.

Excitingly, Raleigh City Farm is the perfect candidate for just such an experiment. As an urban farm we have the capability to generate revenue, not indirectly through products unrelated to our benevolent goals, but directly as a result of producing and selling a socially responsible product: ultra-nutritious food, hyper-locally grown.

All this isn’t to say we aren’t grateful for and in need of your donations now to get this off the ground. Against the juggernaut of the industrial food system, lorded over by some of the world’s largest and most misguided companies; against bad policy such as the untouchable, interminable, and now deleterious Farm Bill; stands a tiny but stouthearted grassroots urban farming movement — and it needs a boost from you to help even the playing field so we that can compete.

Just know that our goal is to not have to depend on the largesse of others indefinitely. Because while profit, pursued above all else, is disastrous, income pursued responsibly, subjugated to higher principles, pursued down there safely in third place, can give an organization the power to do what is right, even when no one else agrees.

[1] Case in point: there are shockingly few government grants for the starting of urban farms, but numerous grants to study urban farms. Taking the money means more time writing papers about urban farms than starting one.