A lot of people have been asking me lately about hybrid nonprofits. Where are they? How do they work? How do I start one? What’s the legality of it? In that spirit, I would like to share this book.
This tiny book was recommended to me by Clayton Gibson, publisher of “My Out Spirit” and it’s showing me a model of nonprofit success that I wanted to share with you. It’s called “Instructions to the Cook” by Bernard Glassman, abbot of the Zen center of Los Angeles and New York, and Rick Fields, author of “Chop Wood, Carry Water.”
Bernard Glassman tells the story of how he started a Zen bakery which was wildly successful.
He studied Zen even as he had a full time corporate job. He began to meditate more and more, until he went to a retreat in Japan, and came back and started programs in his Zen school. They opened a neighborhood clinic, started a publishing company, and a landscaping and carpentry business in Los Angeles.
He says, “All this activity might surprise people who think that Zen or spirituality represents a passive retreat from life. The insight and peace that can come from spiritual practice should open our eyes to the problems of people around us and make us more effective.”
Then in 1982 he moved to Yonkers, New York, and with almost no resources, started a bakery and a Zen community there. The Greyston bakery sells pastries, and employed the “unemployable” and homeless people in the neighborhood. People learned how to bake, how to hold down a job, and how to create goals for themselves. In 1989 they contracted with Ben & Jerry’s to make brownies for their ice cream. This for-profit bakery was so successful that the Zen center went on to found the Greyston Foundation, which then coordinated homeless people to found a construction company called the Greyston Builders, which then built the Greyston Family Inn, a homeless shelter run by the residents, an HIV/AIDS program, and the Greyston Family Inn Day Care Center.
People gained new cooperative living skills, as well as construction skills, basic life skills, entrepreneurship skills, and got out of the motel voucher cycle. Glassman described his surprise in assuming that one of the biggest barriers to homeless people getting a job was drugs, when more often it was lack of affordable childcare. Homeless children are tucked away in motels while parents go out trying to find work. Once they do, their money can be eaten up trying to take care of their children, and faced with this pressure, they often lose their jobs and can be back on the streets. It seemed like an inescapable situation until the Greyston Bakery decided to solve it for their workers. According to their 990, in 2007, their income was $6,846,764, and according to their wikipedia page, they hold $35,000,000 in land assets throughout Westchester County, NY. Although there are a few nonprofits in America with $35 Million in assets, it’s unlikely that they could be this successful simply by depending on donations and grants.
Imagine if our nonprofits encouraged homeless people to construct their own buildings, to become entrepreneurs, to employ themselves, to meditate, and actually engaged in as many profit-making activities as they could while still being nonprofit!
As a fundraiser, what this story teaches me is that the hybrid nonprofit model, and the cooperative decision making model is far more stable than the top down, chasing grants model that many nonprofits engage in.
This book was published in 1996. Why aren’t these hybrid for-profit/non-profits springing up everywhere?
Do you know of one I should be aware of?
Let me know in the comments!