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Profit and Purpose? Philanthropy’s relationship with business

In this episode we take a deep dive into the relationship between philanthropy and business. Commercial ventures have always played a key role in generating wealth for people to give away through philanthropy, but is there more to it than that? And what are the promises and pitfalls of trying to combine profit with purpose?


  • Does philanthropy need to be “more business-like”? What does this actually mean, and why has the idea  continued to be so influential?
  • What can the history of fundraising show us about how charities have sometimes pioneered new commercial techniques?
  • What sort of template do the Quaker business leaders of the C19th offer for how we can combine business with philanthropy?
  • Why have marginalised communities often led the way in blurring the lines between commerce and philanthropy?
  • Why did Milton Friedman object so strongly to the idea that businesses have social responsibilities, and how influential have his ideas been?
  • Does the emergence of new corporate forms such as the B Corp suggest a new golden age of combining profit and purpose?
  • Should we be wary of the claims of tech company owners that their commercial ventures produce more social good than traditional philanthropy?
  • Will Yvonne Chouinard’s decision to hand Patagonia over to non-profit ownership start a new trend among business-owner philanthropists?
  • What can history and global context tell us about the pros and cons of non-profit business ownership?
  • The surprisingly long history of social finance: what can Pliny the Younger’s land deals, the collapse of the C18th Charitable Corporation and C19th scepticism about Octavia Hill’s affordable housing plans tell us about the good and potential bad of impact investing today?

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Learn from our past to better understand our future.

Philanthropy has a long and varied history. We’ve created bite-size chapters that you can jump in and out of to better understand philanthropy.