This is an excerpt from Empower: How to Co-Create the Future. The full 200+ page book is available by donation!

“We are not getting out of our nonprofits what I think most people want and expect”

-Alex Bogusky

excerpt from book

David Passiak:  You went from building some of the biggest brands in the world and being awarded Creative Director of the Decade from 2000-2010, to applying those same skill sets to nonprofits and climate change. It seems like now companies are trying to have a more positive impact on the world, while many nonprofits struggle to make a difference that really breaks through to public consciousness. Can you reflect on your experience building brands across the entire spectrum?

Alex Bogusky: Nonprofits are way more fucked up than the for-profit space, and fucked up in a way that would surprise most people. You think they would be more cooperative than for-profits, but it is absolutely the opposite. You see much more cooperation between for-profit companies than nonprofits. The reason is the way both are funded.

Big foundations and endowments have big pools of money and evaluate nonprofits based on their success. Not the audacity of what they took on or their incremental progress, but “We said we’d do this and we did it. And we told you last year we’d do this and we did it.” As a result, nonprofits promise to hit minute little goals that measure success and are on a funding treadmill. They can’t cooperate with other nonprofits because they all fight over the same pool of money, and they can’t take on real issues because if they fail then funding will not get renewed.

There are fewer and fewer examples of nonprofits like Greenpeace willing to take on impossible challenges, like driving your boat between the harpoons and the whales, and chaining yourself to trees, or like taking on the Keystone Pipeline. When you think of the nonprofit space, you imagine an attitude of “It doesn’t matter if we win; we have to try” but in practice most nonprofits only focus on things that they can win because of the way that fundraising works. We are not getting out of our nonprofits what I think most people want and expect.

ALEX BOGUSKY’S career began over 20 years ago when he joined a 16-person ad agency called Crispin and Porter. Under Alex’s direction, Crispin Porter + Bogusky grew to more than 1,000 employees with offices in Miami, Boulder, Los Angeles, London, and Sweden, and with annual billings over $1 billion. During Alex’s leadership, CP+B became the world’s most awarded advertising agency, and in 2010, Alex received the rare honor of being named “Creative Director of the Decade” by Adweek magazine.

Always drawn towards a cause, Alex created groundbreaking initiatives such as the “Truth” campaign, which was named the most successful social advertising campaign in U.S. history. His work with Vice President Al Gore debunked the notion of “Clean Coal.” And in 2011, Alex rebranded The Climate Reality Project and launched 24 Hours of Reality—the most highly viewed streaming web program of its time.

Since leaving CP+B in 2010, he and his wife, Ana, keep busy investing and advising in over 40 advertising and tech firms including his investor/advisor role for Lyft, the ride-share platform; investor/advisor in Fearless Unlimited, an agency dedicated to positive social change, where he continues his work on climate change with Al Gore; investor/founder in MadeMovement, an ad agency with a focus on clients that create U.S. jobs; investor/advisor in Humanaut, a marketing agency in Chattanooga; investor/founder at HealthySkoop an organic plant-based nutrition company; founder of Boomtown, a tech-startup accelerator; and general partner in Erli Ventures, an early-stage tech fund.