The New Prophet of Nonprofits

The right way to fund the battle against hunger, says activist Bill Shore, isn’t just to redistribute wealth — it’s to create it.

He’s the guy behind the American Express commercials reminding you that every time you used your AmEx card during last year’s holiday season, two cents went to help eradicate the scourge of hunger in the world’s richest country.


And he’s the originator of the annual taste-fests, where the best young chefs in more than 100 cities offer their signature dishes to the well-dressed and well-off, with the proceeds going to local food banks and soup kitchens.

In fact, Bill Shore’s Washington, D.C.-based hunger-fighting operation, Share Our Strength (SOS), has already distributed more than $26 million in its 11 years of operation. It’s growing so fast it expects to reach the second $26 million within three years. Now the 41-year-old Shore, who cuts his teeth as a political operative for former U.S. Senator Gary Hart, has something even bigger in mind. He means to turn Share Our Strength into the model of modern social enterprise, a hybrid that combines the efficiency and drive of a for-profit company with the social goals of a nonprofit. Shore’s crusade these days — in person and in his new book, “Revolution of the Heart” (Riverhead books, 1995) is to convince his fellow do-gooders to get on with the task of creating wealth, not just redistributing it.

“The non-profit sector of society is in the impossible position of trying to solve the most complex human problem — poverty — from a tiny corner of the economy known as leftover wealth,” says Shore, sitting in his spartan office two blocks away from the White House.

The people he has met in the nonprofit world, Shore explains, are caught in a zero-sum trap in which they are forced to compete against each other for a limited pool of grants, subsidies, volunteers, and charitable contributions. Shore sees a better way: the nonprofits mix it up with the “real” economy and carve out for themselves a share of the market for goods and services, forming strategic alliances that both make money and also generate resources to feed the hungry.

Shore started down this road in 1984 after reading about starvation in Ethiopia; but his nonprofit business model began to change from a humanitarian impulse to an entrepreneurial dynamo when he first forged a mutually rewarding partnership with American Express in 1991.

The company’s problem was purely business: a group of restaurateurs around the country had staged an open rebellion against AmEx, protesting what they claimed were high fees and low service. Shore’s proposal was a hybrid of business and social responsibility: by sponsoring the national SOS Taste of the Nation, AmEx could get back in the good graces of restaurateurs who had signed up for the event — and Shore would get a bigger response for his battle against hunger. The relationship blossomed. Now the Charge Against Hunger gives AmEx a crucial edge in the holiday buying season and generates $5 million a year for hunger relief.


With that success, Shore branched out. Last spring he struck a deal with E&J Gallo Winery. Seeking to move upscale, the winery agreed to donate $2 for every case of Gallo Sonoma and Copperidge it sold during a 60-day period to participating restaurants. The program boosted sales by an estimated 90,000 cases per year, helped get the wines on about 4,000 restaurant wine list — and contributed new revenues to Shore’s fight against hunger.

From wine it was a short jump to pots and pans. The Commercial Aluminum Cookware Co., which makes Calphalon pots, recently teamed up with Bloomingdale’s to sponsor special in-store events: every pot that sells means a dollar or two for hunger relief.

Add to that the SOS publishing and entertainment ventures: Writers such as Scott Turow and Maya Angelou donate a story, which SOS puts out in an anthology. The publishers earn their normal profits but turn over the royalties to SOS; the authors do their part by coming to special charity events to promote the books; proceeds go to SOS.

All this adds up to an anti-hunger Japanese-style keiretsu, or web of affiliated companies, at the center of which sits an innovative, pragmatic revolutionary named Bill Shore, who’s convinced that the big problems of the world are beyond the reach of government — or the private sector. So he’s experimenting with a new model in the broad middle ground between government and business, where people live and work and raise their families and, he hopes, rebuild a share sense of community.