Separating Morality, Frugality, Charity and Doing Real Good

ted_logoThere’s a Ted Talk on charitable giving and misconceptions about non-profit work (really, about non-profit “overhead”) that’s getting a lot of attention.

To quote the Ted Talks page on why you should listen to Dan Pallotta talk about non-profits:

“The nonprofit sector is critical to our dream of changing the world. Yet there is no greater injustice than the double standard that exists between the for-profit and nonprofit sectors. One gets to feast on marketing, risk-taking, capital and financial incentive, the other is sentenced to begging,” Dan Pallotta says in discussing his latest book, Charity Case. This economic starvation of our nonprofits is why he believes we are not moving the needle on great social problems. “My goal … is to fundamentally transform the way the public thinks about charity within 10 years.”

I think you should listen to the whole talk, but it’s okay to start at about minute 13:00 and really think about what he’s saying.

We have no operations grant at work. We have no money given to us so we can buy pens, rent office space, have phones and email and paper and desks.

We have no support staff. No-one to answer simple questions or schedule a meeting when our executive director is not available to answer his own phone. No-one to proofread our newsletters. No-one to attend to the business of our work except those of us who are trying to get our work done. We are, daily, hamstrung by our lack of simple resources. It’s a wonder we get done the things we do get done.

There is no funding that supports the work part of the work non-profits do. No-one wants to pay for the health insurance of the development director. No-one wants to give money so the project manager can have an assistant to manage the volunteer database, meeting coordination and data entry. No-one wants to buy our computers or pay for our webdesign.

People who “give to charity” want to feel responsible for the food the starving person eats, for the shoes the poor child is wearing. They are even okay funding the brief that wins a civil rights case or the proposed legislation that corrects a bad law.

What they don’t want when they “give to charity” is to pay for the shit they see every day in their own offices.

Paying for new computers, for salaries, for the things that make non-profit jobs available and sustainable for good minds and talented professionals does not scratch anyone’s charitable itch.

And that’s wrong.

Let Dan Pallotta explain why. Let him convince you that funding non-profits like the meaningful business that they are is a great service. Then spread the word.

“Our generation does not want its epitaph to read, ‘We kept charity overhead low.’ We want it to read that we changed the world.”

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