Moral imagination, according to philosopher Mark Johnson, means envisioning the full range of possibilities in a particular situation in order to solve an ethical challenge.

Margin & Mission Ignition, The Patterson Foundation’s “thrivability” focused initiative, partners local nonprofit organizations with consulting firm No Margin, No Mission for a learning lab process where they then have the opportunity to “opt-out” or proceed to business planning. Over the course of the partnership, the nonprofits execute a rigorous 30-month earned-income business planning and implementation process based on the theory that nonprofit is a tax status, not a business model.

But...wouldn’t moral imagination be the opposite of business planning? While traditionally moral imagination refers to ethical dilemmas, by working in the philanthropic field, we accept that our daily work revolves around stretching our moral imagination in order to address any range of ethical imperatives. Child hunger could be viewed as an economic problem, but really is an ethical dilemma. By defining something as a problem, we as a society have decided the status quo in that area is morally unacceptable.

There are thousands of organizations and millions of people involved in nonprofit work across the US with an equal array of missions. By exploring business planning, earned income, and the rigor that should accompany the process, nonprofit organizations in Florida’s Suncoast region are challenging their staff and boards to think more creatively about advancing mission.

There’s a myth that persists that nonprofits can’t “make money” like a private business. However, with proper planning and implementation, nonprofits can have an earned-income revenue stream that is funneled into advancing the mission in conjunction with the fundraising that already happens.

For example, Visual Arts Center of Punta Gorda (VAC) has implemented an art supply store where individuals can purchase top quality art supplies, pre-assembled supply kits for classes offered as well as snacks and gift items. By undertaking this earned income venture, VAC advances its mission to “Inspire, Explore, Create & Promote the Visual Arts,” in two clear ways. 1) Helping to improve the sustainability of the VAC overall by adding an additional revenue stream and 2) by offering an additional, top quality art resource to the community enabling them to become inspired, explore, and create new visual art.

Through stretching, we build muscle. The more our moral imaginations are strengthened through examining all possible methods to advance a mission, the closer an organization – and therefore the world – becomes to greater impact.

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