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The former head of a major nonprofit reveals the surprising failings of the charitable world—a shocking 1.4 million separate organizations that make up 10 percent of the U.S. economy. Counterintuitive, provocative, compulsively readable, With Charity for All creates a new paradigm that will transform every American's relationship to their end-of-year giving.
During his years running a major nonprofit, Kenneth Stern became aware that working for a nonprofit was like entering a looking-glass world where the marketplace incentives were utterly perverse. Far from wanting to grow and adapt its business to changing times, his board seemed most concerned with catering to eccentric donors and maintaining the status quo. The experience set him on a journey to explore the vast and unaccountable world of U.S. charities. From water charities that serve Africa to the policemen who provide drug education in public schools, from the Metropolitan Opera to college bowl games, he discovers a huge, mostly well-meaning charitable sector that is nonetheless hobbled by deep structural flaws. Unlike private corporations, which respond to market signals and adjust strategies and even go out of business when they fail, nonprofit organizations have a very low barrier to entry (the IRS approves 99.5% of applications) and once begun basically never die. Even groups that rate charities use deeply flawed measures, such as the percentage spent on overhead costs, a measure that actually deters charities from making much-needed investments. The stories of charities that spend millions despite never even cracking the problems they set out to solve (most water charities, sad to say) are devastating. But it's not all bad news. Stern also explores a growing movement toward nonprofit accountability and effectiveness and offers a prescription for individual giving and for wholesale reform.