Buzz, Opinions, Professional Development

Former NPR CEO offers suggestions for nonprofit improvement

With Charity for All, by Ken Stern

With Charity for All, by Ken Stern

Continuing in this conversation around the challenges facing nonprofits, the Los Angeles Review of Books takes a look at With Charity for All, the recently-published book from former NPR CEO Ken Stern. The obstacles discussed—overhead costs for nonprofits, why people donate to certain causes over others—provide a backdrop for Stern to provide advice and suggestions for improvement in the space.

In a recent Los Angeles Times article about Los Angeles’ Museum of Contemporary Art’s (MOCA) efforts to raise $100 million, a fundraising consultant said, “People like to give to excellence. It’s excellence, not need that generates big gifts.”

If that were really the case, author Ken Stern argues, then D.A.R.E., the darling drug abuse education program started by former Los Angeles Police chief Daryl Gates and now in more than 75 percent of the school districts of this country, wouldn’t raise a dime, most after-school programs would be bankrupt, and the next disaster the Red Cross should be attending to would be in its own executive offices.

The ability to survive, even thrive, with programs that have been proven not to work is just one of the many oddities With Charity for All documents in the topsy-turvy, misunderstood, and mostly ignored world of nonprofits…

To clean up the messy nonprofit landscape, Stern offers some suggestions that are sure to cause concern in some nonprofit quarters, including increased government oversight, increasing the application fee to cover the cost of better IRS review and, most radical of all, putting a life span on the charitable status afforded nonprofits, then requiring a renewal after a certain period of time (maybe 10 years). It’s an admirable goal, but in a sector where the stated goal of private foundations is self-preservation and “once a charity; always a charity,” is the mantra, it ain’t gonna happen. Stern knows this, of course, but it doesn’t stop him from asking this and many other valid questions about a sector that is loath to engage in self-evaluation.

Do you think you’ll pick up this book? What do you think of the ways Stern and the LARB offer suggestions for changes in the nonprofit sector?

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