Okay, so, my dad sent me a link to this video (Dan Pallotta, “The Way We Think About Charity is Dead Wrong”) in, um, May. And I am notoriously bad at watching or listening to things on the internet. But I was tired of having it lingering in my inbox and finally decided to watch it. And it was 18 minutes of my life well-spent.

I work in the non-profit sector. I honestly didn’t consider working anywhere else out of college, mostly because I had fallen in love with some inner city kindergartners and knew that whatever I wanted to do needed to be for their good. I’ve been satisfied with the jobs I’ve found, but I know that’s not always the case. And it seems like I’m reading more and more about our society treats the non-profit sector like a redheaded step-child, thus hindering us from enacting REAL social change.

Dan Pallotta opened his TED Talk by talking about some developmentally disabled adults that he works with. He said what they really want is to be loved, and in his eyes, “Philanthropy is the market for love. It is the market for all those people for whom no other market is coming.”

Yes and yes and amen. That’s why I do what I do. So without further ado, the talk: (More comments from the peanut gallery below.)


A few things that particularly struck me:

  • Because of the outcry against high salaries for charity CEOs, it's cheaper for a Stanford MBA (who could make $400,000 a year at his/her job) to donate $100,000 a year to a hunger charity than it would be for him/her to take a job as its CEO.
  • Charitable giving has been stuck at 2% of American GDP since 1970, with 80% of that going to religious and educational institutions (i.e. not health and human services organizations).
  • "We're dealing with social problems that are massive in scale and our organizations can't generate any scale. All of the scale goes to Coca Cola and Burger King."
  • Our ideas about charity go back to Puritan times. The Puritans were hardcore capitalists who wanted to make a lot of money, but they were also Calvinists who were taught to hate themselves and feel guilty for doing well. So charitable giving was basically their penance for making money.
  • Overhead is no an enemy to the cause! In fact, without being given the freedom to spend on overhead, charities can't grow.

Another great resource on this topic is “The Looking Glass World of Nonprofit Money” by Clara Miller.

If I didn’t work in this realm I’m not sure I would give these issues a second thought, and that’s exactly why we’re still in the bind we’re in. People have unspoken expectations of what nonprofits should be accomplishing, but until we start addressing the issues in Pallott’s talk, I don’t think much is really going to change on a large scale. (Sure, plenty of grassroots organizations are doing awesome things in their communities, but I’m talking bigger picture.) What do you think?

Laura Lindeman

Laura Lindeman