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June 30, 2010, 09:30 AM ET

Facebook's Founder: Nonprofit Groups Can't Change the World

Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of the social-networking site Facebook, has helped change the way people interact online. But can he change the world?

In a recent interview on the blog Inside Facebook, Mr. Zuckerberg explains why he believes companies like Facebook are better equipped to tackle society's problems than nonprofit groups.

"I think building a company is the best way to change the world, because it’s the best way to align the interests of a lot of smart people and a lot of partners to build something that’s great and that serves people," Mr. Zuckerberg said in the interview. "You can’t do that if you’re an individual because it’s just you and there’s no one to align, and you can’t do it if you’re a nonprofit because you have no resources and you’re constantly out trying to raise money instead of generating it and being self-sufficient."

Another Facebook founder has been in the news recently for work related to charity.

Chris Hughes, who worked with Mr. Zuckerberg to create Facebook, is building a new social network set to start in the fall that will help people find causes and nonprofit organizations that they care about.

Is Mr. Zuckerberg right—or should he stick to helping people connect with old high-school friends? Post a comment to share your thoughts.


1. nonprofitorgs - June 30, 2010 at 11:58 am

Wow... coming from a site that can barely find the time to post a couple of Status Updates to promote nonprofits on Facebook:

2. hildyg - June 30, 2010 at 12:42 pm

There are too many interesting twists to post in one comment. First, the comments by Nestle's CEO re: the legal mandate that publicly held corporations maximize shareholder value. Current legal constructs are pretty clear - "changing the world" has to directly tie to maximizing shareholder value to be of any consideration.

As to Facebook itself, if they are the symbol of what the world will look like when it is changed, I'm not so sure that model brings any comfort. We "little people" are made happy by our ability to connect with one another, while Big Brother uses our personal information for their own monetary gain (talk about the mandate to maximize shareholder value vs. walk nobly in the world...)

In our own research and experimenting over the past 12 years to determine what it is that creates significant social change, we found the evidence to be pretty consistent. Those organizations that focus first and primarily on creating visionary change - focusing on the end results for which they will hold themselves accountable - they are the ones who achieve change.

Once those organizations are focused on the change for which they will hold themselves accountable, their ability to make it happen relies in large part on their ability to model those values to others - walking a talk we would all want to aspire to.

Facebook has showed it is about making money as its primary (and secondary and then some) motivation. And as for the talk they are walking - well sadly, Mr. Zuckerberg proves that daily in the number of mea culpa's he is forced to utter.

Sorry, Mark. Not so much...

3. steven_p_smith - June 30, 2010 at 01:11 pm

I'd like to know how Mr. Zuckerberg came to this conclusion on the value the nonprofit sector adds (or not) to the community. I love Facebook and get its value in the realm of social media. Maybe he needs a sit-down with Bill Gates, whose foundation is doing good worldwide, but who shares a certain arrogance of perspective that needs to get in sync with the real world. Lots of us who advise NPO's of all size and stripe encourage leaders to look at value of social media in expanding nonprofit networks. Mr. Z needs to take some time to read Peter Drucker and open his mind to the value 3rd Sector brings to our world. Sheesh. I wonder how narrowness of thinking finds its way into brains capable of high levels of creativity. Maybe he's turned off his litening device.

4. actuallygiving - June 30, 2010 at 01:21 pm

Nonprofit v. business is pretty much a false argument. It's not an either/or. It's not even the right framework. Trying to answer the question of "how to save the world" by looking at different structural institutions is like trying to solve a math problem with only words and no numbers. You're using a different language than the one that's needed.

Essentially, it's Compassion that will save the world.

5. eobrien7 - June 30, 2010 at 02:22 pm

Mark Zuckerberg shows (and often reeks of) his ignorance on a constant basis. Smart companies realize that working WITH nonprofits isn't just the right thing to do - ethically - it's also good business. He ought to spend some time with Muhammad Yunus, who recently headed the 1st Annual Social Business Day.

This is no different than companies who were slow to realize LAST millenium that, say, RECYCLING wasn't just the "nice" thing to do, but the smart thing. How long will it take Mr. Z to get a clue?

6. mheneise - June 30, 2010 at 03:48 pm

I imagine its more about placing the appropriate incentives, strategically and responsibly, to catalyze change and integral community growth. But incentives can't just be placed based on economic models ... they have to be morally grounded. And its not even a marriage, really - because you need the public sector in there too - a kind-of threesome, if you like. human ingenuity, collaboration in solidarity, and equilibrium. Mark's gifts fall largely into one of these camps, i think

7. lahaas - June 30, 2010 at 04:27 pm

One - Nonprofits have already changed the world (both of which actually existed BEFORE Facebook).

Two - Like many people, Mark is confusing CAN (capable of) with WILL (actually does). Many companies CAN and DO. Many companies CAN but DON'T. And many companies CAN but actually make change for the worse (think Gulf of Mexico).

8. danielpallotta - June 30, 2010 at 05:41 pm

err, I might be wrong but I don't think facebook has turned a profit yet...

9. iaskm - June 30, 2010 at 05:43 pm

Mr Zuckerbergs remarks are wrong on so many levels and he is so misinformed. How sad for him.

10. charlieahern - June 30, 2010 at 05:50 pm

Based on a quick look at Wikipedia, investors have given Facebook about $350 million in the past six years. Facebook claimed to have been cash flow positive for the first time(!) last September. Mark Z needs a little more track record before he brags about "generating (money) and being self-sufficient." Of course, he is right that if you can raise $240 million with one ask (Microsoft) an organization doesn't have to be "constantly out trying to raise money."

On second thought, don't businesses have to raise money from customers _every_day_ by proving the value of their products and services?

11. dwightarthur - June 30, 2010 at 06:24 pm

I wonder if Mark has noticed that Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, two individuals clearly familiar with the idea of building business that change the world, turned to the philanthropy model when they wanted to change the world for the better.

12. fredlane - June 30, 2010 at 06:39 pm

Mr. Z is right -- and wrong. It takes ALL THREE sectors to change society in fundamental ways: government, business, and nonprofits. What Mr. Z seems to miss is the important roles of nonprofits as organizers, service providers, and advocates. It is true that the Third Sector is highly differentiated, but there are many societal benefits from this disorder. As with so much in social change, progress toward racial and gender equality -- just for example -- did not start with business or government; rather, it started with nonprofits.

13. dcrowley - July 01, 2010 at 06:32 am

Clearly companies, such as those in the tech space like Facebook or Google, effect significant change in the way we lead our lives. But to suggest they are far better positioned than other sectors to tackle specific social problems is quite a stretch. As other comments above note, nonprofits have historically been a driving force for positive social change. The civil rights movement was the first example I thought of, but observers going back to Tocqueville have appreciated the crucial role of the voluntary sector in American civic life.

14. jeffh - July 01, 2010 at 12:11 pm

There is truth to what Mark is saying. Add up all the money that has been spent in the nonprofit sector over the last twenty years, on all social causes, and then look at the impact that has been made. The truth is, it's nothing to get excited about. Why? Because the nonprofit sector, for the most part, is not solving problems, it's sustaining them. It's feeding them. We don't "cure" hunger, we feed the hungry. We don't solve the diabetes problem, we find treatment for it. There are hundreds of homeless shelters all over the nation and a LOT of homeless people to "serve". Where is the change?

Pharmaceuticals are for-profits. How many tv commercials do you see every day for products that treat fairly common ailments? If those funds had been given to nonprofits and restricted -- ie., no big salaries for really smart people, no sharing in the potential success of the company, and definitely no marketing allowed -- half of those products probably wouldn't exist. And if they did, you and I probably wouldn't know about them.

The problem is that nonprofits' hands are tied by their funders. Most funds come with restrictions that limit the organization's potential for success. Most funders don't realize how the restrictions and rules hamper their grantees' ability to make change. And most nonprofits are too scared to say anything for fear of being cut off completely.

Apple stock goes up, Steve Jobs and the stockholders get richer, and everyone celebrates. Even the media. A nonprofit Executive Director who's goal is to solve the problem of homelessness asks for six figures and she's accused of stealing from the poor.

Let's get real here; profit solves problems.

The people who choose to work for a nonprofit are often the most passionate people you'll find about their work and their cause. Give them for-profit incentives and watch change happen in a way that Mark Zuckerberg can't imagine.

15. jeffh - July 01, 2010 at 12:29 pm

@dan... I just posted your post!! And even though FB isn't profitable, even the potential for profit in a for-profit can benefit the world; Mark Zuckerberg could easily be a philanthropist despite his company's lack of profit.

16. comfoundbham - July 01, 2010 at 03:07 pm

We love to work with folks like Mark who are innovative in their work plan and can challenge us to think in creative ways about how to transform a situation through philanthropy. Partnerships between for-profit and nonprofit entities are particularly powerful because of the different perspectives they bring. You hear the "but" coming? Wouldn't Mark use the best research and experience possible before making a business investment? If so, he should do the same before investing in social change, and he will find many nonprofit organizations, including his local Community Foundation, ready and more than willing to help.

17. susancauses - July 01, 2010 at 08:03 pm

At the end of the day, changing the world is not limited to any sector. At Causes, the application on Facebook that builds tools for nonprofits and activists, we think that the nonprofit sector is in the process of changing the world, that it has in the past, and that it will continue to in the future. We think we can make a lot of change as a for-profit company, but we choose to invest in building tools for nonprofits for a reason. By any definition of what 'changing the world' means, nonprofits are doing it - from charity:water to the Elders, local animal shelters to global aid organizations, nonprofits are changing the world in big and significant ways.

While I'm not sure exactly what he meant by that comment, Mark points to the nonprofit sector's lack or resources and need to raise money as the reason they can't change the world. Do I wish that nonprofits could spend less time and fewer resources raising money? Absolutely. But every day, I see nonprofits staffed with smart people, doing great things that serve people, being innovative, and having significant impact. Yes, their development departments are hard at work but so are their programming offices. And their funders are looking at their impact measures just like Facebook shareholders are looking at their bottom line.

18. mattdenner - July 02, 2010 at 11:35 am

How does this sound: "Facebook can't change the world because they're too busy finding new ways to alienate their user base and then apologizing to them." Does that sound any less simplistic and close-minded, Zuckerberg?

19. replicounts - July 02, 2010 at 11:49 am

No one knows what will change the world.

20. foodandwater - July 02, 2010 at 12:44 pm

This comment is another example of the breath-taking arrogance and ignorance of the corporate mindset. Business is essential for the world - Government is essential for the world - Civil Society is essential for the world. The world gets into trouble when one of these segments becomes too dominant and the corporate sector has been out-of-control for decades. "Market-based solutions" are only good for concentrating wealth into fewer hands. Yes, they can - and have - changed the world, but, as anyone can see, not for the better. As long as people treat business leaders like kings, then they will behave that way. It's time that people stand up for themselves and stop aquiesing to the broken and deluded mindset before it's too late.

21. shirat - July 06, 2010 at 03:51 pm

I suppose it depends on one's definition of "change."

22. laurher - July 07, 2010 at 02:12 pm

The premise that I'd like to debate in Mark Zuckerberg's statement is :
" can't do it if you're a nonprofit because you have no resources and you're constantly out trying to raise money instead of generating it and being self-sufficient."

As Giving USA reported in June of this year, in 2009 individuals in the US gave away $227 billion, the same as in 2008. There are abundant funding resources available to good missions -well articulated. The opportunity of fundraising is for organizations to enroll members of our society (millions of humans) to support their cause. Clearly, millions will give money and many will give their wisdom, their labor, their passion, their testimonials, and their insights, as well. One could say that money and other philanthropic giving is simply the vehicle for important enrollment conversations. Receiving money and volunteer labor is a practical measure that you're doing well at enrollments.

The misnomer "nonprofit" is an indicator of the value our profit seeking society has placed on these organizations. It's my belief that Social Profit Organizations are a gift to individuals who want to see positive change made in the world. Being a donor is a privilege as it allows us to manifest the world we want. Most philanthropic individuals feel great joy and satisfaction in their giving. Further, no social change movement has EVER occurred without philanthropic support. The civil rights movement, the rights of women to vote, and the rights of gay and lesbian couples to marry in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts have all occurred because there was a plan to make social change happen and there were funders who supported that plan. (People often think that Rosa Parks was just some random tired woman.... not true....there was a plan to make change happen and people funded lawyers to make it happen).

To quote Institute for Policy Studies senior scholar Chuck Collins: “On the surface, social change movements appear to be spontaneous bursts of energy, a sweep of people, outraged, rising to demand a change. But in truth they flow from careful organizing, massive public education, and at times, inspired collaborations across the divides of race, gender, and class. These movements are driven by human energy, intelligence, courage - and money.”

For an organization being "self sufficient" is NOT a good thing. For more on this way of thinking visit

23. dhagenbuch - July 09, 2010 at 01:05 pm

I'm not sure that it's either/or between Facebook and the nonprofit sector. From working closely with hundreds of social innovators and nonprofits, we are Commongood Careers have seen many of our clients leverage new media tools like Facebook to promote their causes, raise money and recruit new talent. Facebook is a platform that can only be as savvy as the people who use it; technology is nothing without the talent that makes it useful and productive.

24. sequimseniorcenter - July 19, 2010 at 03:59 pm

How old is Mr. Zuckerberg? 26? How long has he been an adult on this planet? As a senior center director, what kind of business model should I have Mr. Zuckerman, to make sure I don't have to go out and raise money? How can I charge my seniors who can't afford food and medication to have the services we provide them? You may have started a business, but you have put corporate foot in mouth WAY too many times to tell other people how to run their businesses. My seniors would say, "You have smarts, but at 26 no wisdom yet, sonny!"

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