On Thursday night, October 17, the nonprofit and philanthropic community gathered in the auditorium of William Penn Charter High School in East Falls to hear Dan Pallotta, author of Uncharitable: How Restraints on Nonprofits Undermine Their Potential, speak about what he thinks is limiting the nonprofit sector.
“If we want to see progress move at the speed of molasses, we have a really great system for that,” Pallotta said to a group of about 150 philanthropic leaders and staff, many from major nonprofit institutions in the region.
The event, organized by Steppingstone Scholars and Teach for America, was brought to Philadelphia to start the conversation on “re-imaging” what nonprofits can be and how they can address social issues in new ways.
Pallotta’s argument – outlined in a recent TED Talk – is that the nonprofit sector is constrained by outdated legal structures and faulty perceptions of how they are supposed to act. At the event, he broke this argument down into a number of key points:
He explained that nonprofits are discouraged from using money to incentivize action because it seen as unethical to use public money or charitable money for high salaries. He believes this has made talented people unwilling to make lifelong commitments to the nonprofit sector or to go into it at all.
Pallotta also stressed that nonprofits are uninclined to take risks because failure is often attributed to irresponsibility or fraud rather than bold or innovative action. The legal inability to attract risk capital has contributed to this as well, he said.
So what’s Pallotta’s prescription for this state of affairs?
To start, he helped found the Charity Defense Council, a new organization with the goal of changing perceptions about nonprofits as well as providing real assistance. The organization plans to produce advertising campaigns that will essentially try to re-brand nonprofits, open up a defense fund for legally embattled nonprofits, advocate for legislation to change nonprofit law, and assist with grassroots organization.
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In addition, Pallotta is involved with a marketing firm called Advertising for Humanity, which has made its whole mission to help rebrand and raise awareness about social initiatives.
“None of us got into this work because of the tax status,” Pallotta said near the end of the event. “We got into this work because we wanted to help people.”
(Photo c/o Steppingstone Scholars)-30-
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