If you want to build generosity into the core logic of your organization, the best way to do this — by far — is to build generosity right into your business model.

(Originally published on AuthentiOrganizaitons.com in 2016)

By making sure that your ownership structure, your revenue generating systems, your profit/revenue sharing systems, and your legal obligations all support a generous orientation towards your stakeholder network, you can make sure that generosity is always ‘how you do business’.  It’s not as hard as you might imagine to retrofit your business model or to build your startup on top of one. m

Business models as a concept feel rather dry, so even though generous business models are a *huge* opportunity for an organization seeking to be generous, they can be hard to talk about in ways people find interesting.  Sure, you dedicated and curious readers might relish a few hundred words about cooperatives, employee-owned corporations, B Corps, social enterprises, and “For Purpose” businesses per se.  But to capture the attention of most readers, I’ve been relying on somewhat dramatic examples. Like the norm-challenging MLNP.tv, or the heart-full LoveWithFood. I imagine that the novelty of these companies is part of what draws readers in, so I’ve been wanting to use fresh, new examples of companies people don’t know about.

That’s why I was both excited and nervous to see a profile of Stocksy in the New York Times last month.  I’m excited because I love the company, and I’m nervous because I worry that by the time I get the book published everyone will have heard about Stocksy and its qualities won’t seem novel and exciting to readers any more. (Actually, I worry about this with all of my examples. Once upon a time, I had to explain what Airbnb was… !)

Stocksy is one of the very best examples of a company with a business model built on generosity.

It’s not just its legal model (a co-op), its ownership structure (tiers of owners, including managers, artists, and employees), or its revenue model (50/50 split) but also it’s the company’s collaborative decision making structure, its artistic purpose, and its efforts to lead the stock photo industry, that make Stocksy a thoroughly generous business. And, it’s been financially successful too.

Stocksy’s got it all going on.

I first got wind of Stocksy back in March of 2014, around its first birthday.  I was looking online for some nice stock photos for AuPairMom.com, and I followed a link from a photo that I’d admired on another blog. As is probably true for many of their customers, I was attracted by the aesthetics of the photos it offers — so much more hip, more lovely, and more evocative than the generic imagery that’s available elsewhere. From Stocksy’s About page, I learned it was a coop… and I’ve been following the company ever since.

In November, I got to hear CEO Brianna Wetlaufer talk about Stocksy’s cooperative structure at the Platform Cooperativism Conference at The New School, NYC, last November.

[[The platform cooperative movement advocates for new ownership structures for digitally-based businesses. “Platform” cooperativism is premised on the idea that, when users are creating the content and the data that drive the profits of a company, these users should be recognized as co-creators and share in the profits, the decision-making, and the ownership of the company. Users are, after all, indispensable to the production process, so why shouldn’t they also own some of the means of value production?]]

What I particularly love about Stocksy’s approach is that they’ve got a “Multi-stakeholder” shared ownership structure, with three different groups of stakeholders all sharing ownership and decision-making. Participant artists, managers/founders, and employees each have a class of stock and a set of responsibilities for their own work as well as for the company at large. Stocksy also has a self-designed, continually evolving conversation and decision-making processes to encourage participation and transparency.

Stocksy is a terrific example of a company built around MPFollett’s classic concept of “power with”.

If you’d like to see more about Stocksy, you can read the rough draft of a section from Give To Grow on Generous Business Models (note dec 2022– not sure where this link is… email me ify ou want the chapter!).  Here’s the article from the NYT.   I’d love to know what strikes you as exciting, or confusing, or worth hearing more about.

Stocksy is proof that alternative, generous business models exist and that they offer a foundation for a company and its stakeholders to flourish together.