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Social Good: How Ben Rattray's Change.org Redefined The For-Profit Sector
Social Change | May 15, 2013

Social Good: How Ben Rattray's Change.org Redefined The For-Profit Sector

Change.org, the online petition platform founded by social change speaker Ben Rattray, has all the makings of a non-profit advocacy organization. However, despite it's humanitarian roots, and its commitment to changing the world, the business actually operates on a for-profit model. It may not be easy to generate revenue from petitions, but Rattray is convinced that it's possible to make a difference in the world while turning a profit at the same time. That's why he refers to Change.org as a new breed of company: "A social good business."

"We're a business that is dedicated not to maximizing profits, but maximizing the impact that we have on the world," he tells Fortune in an interview. He continues: "It's using business for social good, where we don't look at just shareholders, but rather the stakeholders surrounding us: the community impact that we have, the environmental impact, impacting the lives of our own employees. And by taking a broader perspective on the utility of business, what business can do for the world, we have much more impact than we could frankly if we were a nonprofit." He says it's important to be self-sustainable and for Change.org to show that businesses focused on social good can also be profitable. And, as the site's revenues increase, so too can their staff, the resources at their disposal, and their ability to help people mobilize more effectively for local, specialized social change.

One of the elements of the site Rattray's currently working on involves a way to provide two-way communication between the people signing petitions and the companies or organizations they want to facilitate that change. "Just receiving a response, even if it doesn't immediately comply with the demands of the petition signers, it's actually -- it's really empowering," Rattray says. "To get a response from a major company just because you and a bunch of your friends and network signed a petition, it's a validation about the impact that you can have." As the company's revenue increases, so too can initiatives like this one. At the end of the day, the goal of the company is to better empower citizens—not to make as much profit as possible. In his talks, Rattray charts the rising popularity of Change.org to show audiences the potential that social business has to make a difference. He shares stories of successful campaigns that have achieved positive social change, and he inspires audiences to do what they can to do good in the world, as well.
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