Is this a Good Idea?

Is this a Good Idea?

Do we need yet another group organized to promote nonprofit organizations and defend their good name? Do we need a march to support “the cause of causes?”

Dan Pallotta, the controversial special events organizer and TED talk champion of nonprofit organizations’ need for such things as sufficient overhead and competent administration, has just formed the Charity Defense Council. Do we need Defense, or do we really need Offense?

The Council purpose is to create better, widespread public understanding of nonprofits’ need for appropriate overhead, for market compensation of workers and for greater public support for increased giving.

The CDC’s agenda is ambitious: 1. To correct erroneous information about the sector and educate the media; 2. To take out public ad campaigns to shed positive light on the sector; 3. To challenge laws and regulations that harm the sector or abridge its rights; 4. To work for favorable laws promoting the interests of “Charity and Social Enterprise.”  5. To organize nonprofits on a grassroots level, “town-by-town, state-by-state.”

The March from Maine to Massachusetts

The first activity to raise funds will be a 60 mile, three day “march” from Maine to Massachusetts in late June, 2015, somewhat reminiscent of the many walks Pallotta organized for nonprofits and how he made his living. The funds raised, through registrations and sponsorships of the marchers with a goal of at least $1M, will fund the CDC.

The nascent organization has an impressive Advisory Board and a small, inadequate but growing Board of Directors. See their website for a more complete picture of the organization.

This website sadly, defiantly, proclaims: “70% of Americans believe that charities waste money, according to a NYU survey. Our goal is singular: within ten years, to have 70% of Americans believe the opposite.”

The Predictable Reaction from the Establishment

Pallotta has been very controversial, and I would expect the many in the nonprofit would react to his assumption of this role. Is this what we need, in addition to all of the other work done by our trade associations, state associations, Independent Sectors, etc.? Is this competition a good thing?

Pallotta’s TED sermon did stir up the sector and cause a number of groups, including some self-nominated evaluators, to change their tune on overhead. Could we use more of that passion?

Some will say he’s taking money from the existing groups, weakening the sector. His methodology involves individuals signing up for a $99.00 tariff and the sponsored run. The very people called “overhead” are among those being recruited, along with others directly and indirectly involved in what I call the civil benefit sector.

I’m sure other larger sources will be solicited to sponsor, contribute and/or otherwise support the March and the CDC itself.

Many organizations may think self-promotion is not a good use of charitable contributions. I would largely agree. Here, if care is taken, much of the money will come directly from us, the folks who earn our living doing good.

What I need to know is how the money raised from the march will be spent. Who will be hired? Which groups will be paid? I know on what, but I do not know on who, what, when and why. Clearly none of the Board members should benefit directly or indirectly from this fund-raising.

Pallotta will be ahead and have better answers to these questions if he consulted with people like Bob Egger, who have thought out most of these questions, along with developing a solid agenda on how to do it.

Others will remember Pallotta’s past and cite “overhead” of all things as something to watch.  I urge that this particular event should be frugally managed, with most, if not all of the funds going to the cause.

Dan Pallotta: the outcome is for you to demonstrate. May you succeed and convince us  of the need, of the merit, and of the choice of CDC to actually represent us. It could be a good thing for our sector and we wait for you to show us.

  1. Susan Daily CFRE Says: August 29, 2014 at 3:23 pm

    The points that Pallotta made in his TED talk were relevant and important ones. As you pointed out, they have been made by many people before him. (In addition to Eggars, I would give a shout out to Nell Edgington of Social Velocity). Some of his attribution of the reason for the “nonprofit scarcity mentality” (Calvinism? wealthy noblesse oblige carried out by high status women?) are simplistic and personal. He is something of a strange advocate, given his past history and controversial capitalist orientation. Of course we need to pay salaries, and of course people who raise money, manage finances, manage people, manage functions and keep our agencies alive are vital and shouldn’t be dissed as “overhead”. I’m surprised that he even called his group “Charity Defense Fund” since he has expressed an anathema to the correlating of nonprofit work to “charity”. Some of us came to our work in nonprofits as a result of political ideals like social justice, commitment to a fairer democracy, dislike of racial and economic disparity, or identification with a group that felt it was being denied equality or opportunity. These nonprofit groups frequently did not think of themselves as “charities” even though they might also provide programs to feed hungry children, advocate for the voiceless, etc. These social change and advocacy groups were and are quite different from museums, hospitals, colleges, religious organizations, and a whole spectrum of other nonprofits. That, plus the fact that we are too often competing with one another for funding, donors, recognition and constituencies keeps us weak and not unified. It will take a whole lot more than one newly created entity (nonprofit?) declaring itself the protector of the sector to overcome the inherent differences between us, the scarcity (real not perceived) of dollars used (sometimes wisely and well and sometimes not) to overcome our societal illnesses like the ever increasing disparity between rich and poor. Sometimes when we think that changing perspectives is all that is required, a good public relations campaign looks like the hammer that can hit that nail. It’s an attractive idea that is almost certainly too weak for the weight of our needs. But go ahead – prove me wrong.

  2. Jim, you articulated my reservations very well. My mixed feeling really add nothing. I’ll be following their results and discussion with great interest.
    P.S. Their web site didn’t open when I clicked on it.

  3. James, thanks for sharing your point of view on this. You ask, “Do we need another national organization defending the honor of nonprofits?” I would like to flip this question to, “Who is advocating on the behalf of those who help others?” InsideNGO assisted the Charity Defense Council’s Board and Advisory Council just this past February, leading a full-day strategic planning retreat to help draft ChDC’s first year operating plan. The year one work will include the five points articulated on the organization’s website: .

    As good organizations are getting hammered by ineffective charity rating practices, the sector does, indeed, need to self-advocate. We have also partnered with the Wounded Warrior Project on an advocacy group called the Alliance for Charitable Trust (ACT), found here on LinkedIn: .

    We believe a healthy dialogue on these topics is good, and that Dan Pallotta, along with the Charity Defense Council, Advertising for Humanity, ACT and others will all help to shift the needle on charities being assessed solely on their inputs versus the outcomes they achieve each and every day.

  4. Yes, yes and YES! While I agree with you that the word DEFENSE might be changed to something more positive in the future, that is, in fact, exactly what we need to do at this point in time. Those who would criticize the effort or worry about diversion of funds and the costs of the event, typify the problem. We in the nonprofit industry need to focus on what can and should be accomplished, not how much it costs.

    Although I live on the West Coast, and participating would entail a significant effort on my part, I am seriously considering marching. After 36 years of nonprofit management, I am so ready to take a stand on this issue. Want to join me?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *