New Book on Changing the Way We Think about Charity

Today Tufts University Press is releasing a new book - "Uncharitable"- which challenges us to re-consider the whole way we've been taught to think about charity. I met author Dan Pallotta recently (he's also a BFP member), who says he is “committed to having this book fundamentally liberate the nonprofit sector from the irrational constraints that keep it from achieving its full potential to address the great social problems that confront us.” Pallotta is a seasoned fundraising veteran, having created the AIDS Rides and the Breast Cancer 3-Days charity events, netting a remarkable $305 million for these two causes in eight years. He’s now on a crusade to improve the effectiveness of the non-profit sector by exposing the major constraints put on non-profits that are holding back progress towards solving the most urgent social issues.
Dan Pallotta's Member Profile on Business Fights Poverty

Here’s a synopsis of Pallotta’s’s main argument in the book:

Uncharitable explores unchartered territory where the management books on the nonprofit sector have not ventured. Where other texts suggest ways to optimize performance inside the existing paradigm, Uncharitable suggests that the paradigm itself is the problem and calls into question our fundamental canons about charity.

Author Dan Pallotta argues that society's nonprofit ethic acts as a strict regulatory mechanism on the natural economic law. It creates an economic apartheid that denies the nonprofit sector critical tools and permissions that the for-profit sector is allowed to use without restraint (e.g., no risk-reward incentives, no profit, counterproductive limits on compensation, and moral objections to the use of donated dollars for anything other than program expenditures). These double-standards place the nonprofit sector at extreme disadvantage to the for profit sector on every level. While the for profit sector is permitted to use all the tools of capitalism to advance the sale of consumer goods, the nonprofit sector is prohibited from using any of them to fight hunger or disease.

Capitalism is blamed for creating the inequities in our society, but charity is prohibited from using the tools of capitalism to rectify them. Ironically, this is all done in the name of charity, but it is a charity whose principal benefit flows to the for-profit sector and one that denies the nonprofit sector the tools and incentives that have built virtually everything of value in society. The very ethic we have cherished as the hallmark of our compassion is in fact what undermines it.


"Dan Pallotta has written the clearest and most articulate critique I have read of the system of values that our charities and other nonprofit organizations are supposed to follow. He explains in graphic detail how these values undercut what charities are trying to do and prevent them from accomplishing all that they might. Not everyone may agree with his position, but the nonprofit world will surely benefit from a vigorous discussion of his arguments."--Derek Bok, Former President of Harvard University

"Challenging hallowed premises is difficult; challenging the foundational premises underlying our understanding of charity is even more so. Dan Pallotta has done exactly that and, in doing so, requires us all to rethink the very nature of what it means to be charitable and how charity actually functions. He liberates charity from its Puritan constraints and cogently attaches it to entrepreneurship in a way that should make us all take two steps back and imagine a new philosophy and theory of charity itself. This is nothing less than a revolutionary work."--Gary Hart, Former United States Senator and Scholar in Residence, University of Colorado

"Uncharitable is the most courageous and necessary of all of the recent books that have been written about philanthropy and the nonprofit sector. Dan Pallotta understands that being faithful to those that charities are designed to serve requires more than generosity and good management. It requires taking risks, confronting antiquated notions of politically correct charity, and most of all remembering that nonprofit efficiency should be a means to an end not an end in itself. Uncharitable charts a new path that if followed, could finally create the incentives needed to unleash the enormous potential of nonprofits to change the world."--Bill Shore, Founder & Executive Director, Share Our Strength

"What scales would our nonprofit organizations have to achieve to eradicate the great social problems that confront us, and how do our traditions and beliefs about charity stand in their way? Dan Pallotta has elevated the questions we need to be asking. His book provocatively challenges traditional views of how charities should operate and provides a thought-provoking alternative."--Dr. David Ho, Time Magazine Man of the Year, 1997, Director, Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center

--Alexis Sampson
Business Fights Poverty

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Comment by Michael Blondino on December 4, 2008 at 4:34
Thanks for the review. The issue that beats down on non-profits, is that they are just that, not intended to profit in the good they do. People don't trust people sadly. Many fantastic visionaries could be making millions, but have that grip on their heart that makes them stick to their cause long after the money runs out.

I agree that bonuses and higher compensation are reasonable and vital. We should also remember that big money and big talent don't necessarily equate with big change in the world. Mother Theresa is a great example of what makes charity great and inspiring. Bonuses are a tool when there are objectives hanging in the balance. They often do.

The trends in philanthropy regarding capital and cash reserves especially in economic development is utterly out of step. Maybe it's time for some new foundations with business minded leadership. Foundations and donors are desperately in need who focus on non-profit capacity in the field, in the office, and in the public eye. We already have programs that spend it all, and leave nothing behind. How about trying to generate return so that programs are sustainable - what a novel idea! Rather than ask "how much goes to the field" we should be asking "how much with this donation grow?"

It's a fantastic that Pallotta has opened up a dialog.

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