Can a business be truly benevolent?


We all have to work and make money. The challenge is doing it in a way that nourishes our souls and makes us smile that happy, satisfied smile. Some of us do this by working for, or setting up, a charity / social enterprise, but should we have to be a charity / social enterprise, to ‘do good?’ Why can’t businesses be ‘good’ too? Does generating a profit mean you have to be blind to everything else, or is there a way for a business to be, well, nice?

That depends on one question: how do you define success? Is it by profit alone, or are there other factors to take into account, such as staff happiness, environmental concerns, transparency and accountability, having a positive impact on your local community, serving your customers well? If we want to do ‘good’ in our work, and nourish our souls and find that happy, satisfied smile, how do we do it, and how do we ensure we are recognised for it?

Considering the structure of your organisation can lead to profound and creative discussions about what it is you are trying to achieve, and how you can achieve it. Rather than being a daunting exercise, it can take you on a journey that will inspire and motivate you to stretch your understanding of what ‘success’ is; challenge your traditional views of what constitutes a ‘business’ or a ‘charity’; help you begin to do things you may have considered taboo such as running commercial enterprises within a charity structure; choose to work collaboratively with your ‘competitors’ to see where it takes you; consider what certifications exist to reward your good work such as becoming a B-Corp organisation (

There are hundreds of people doing hugely innovative things in Cornwall today. These trailblazers are stretching the boundaries of what it means to be a ‘business’, a ‘charity’, or a ‘public-sector organisation’; turning traditional structures on their head and blurring the distinctions between them. Ground breaking organisations such as Crowdfunder are redefining how we raise funds for projects, and fab little clothing companies such as Seasalt and Frugi are leading the way in how to be a ‘good’ business, by using organic materials, and supporting local suppliers and artists; generating profit through collaboration and a vision of shared success. There also seems to be a cross over taking place between the charity and business sectors, where charities are becoming more business-like (think Eden Project), while businesses are becoming more charitable in the way they operate (think Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen).

We’re living in exciting times where it feels like almost anything is possible. We have a uniquely supportive and collaborative business community here in Cornwall which understands that success for one means success for all. Whether you are a business, a charity, or a public-sector organisation, starting something new or trying to do something old in a new way, I urge you to challenge yourself, connect with others, ask yourself difficult questions, aim high, nourish your soul and find that happy, satisfied smile.

Nell Smirthwaite
The Benevolent Business, Founder


Nell Smirthwaite

Nell writes a blog in which she considers many of the issues raised above, by interviewing pioneers, leaders and thinkers in their field. Interviews include ‘Shifting Sands: Is it ok for a charity to make a profit?’ with David Harland from Eden Project; ‘Charity Funding: A Commercial Approach’ with Amy Parker from Afrikids; and ‘Running a Charity like a Business’ with Dominic Bond, from Sabre Education.


Next, she will be chatting to Matt Hocking from Leap. Design for Change, about the benefits of becoming a B-Corp organisation. Subscribe now to ensure you don’t miss it!


Nell offers consultancy packages to organisations from any sector who have an idea they want to turn into a reality. For further information call Nell Smirthwaite on 07828 091840 or email at

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