The GiveWell Blog


Dan Pallotta sent me a copy of Uncharitable about a month ago, and I’ve been late in taking a look at it.

I highly recommend it for people interested in general discussions of the nonprofit sector.

The discussion I’ve seen of the book so far (Nicholas Kristof and Sean Stannard-Stockton) has focused on how much we should be bothered when people make money off of charity. Personally, I feel that I’ve yet to see a good argument that we should care how much money do-gooders make – as opposed to how much good they do (and how much it costs).

The chapter closest to my heart, though, is the one called “Stop Asking This Question.” Mr. Pallotta slams donors who focus on “how much of my dollar goes straight to the programs,” devoting even more ink to the matter than we have. We need more people pounding on this point.

The book’s basic theme, as I understand it, is this: what matters in philanthropy is the good that gets done, not anything else. Attacking programs that are effective (at helping people, at raising money, etc.) because they don’t conform to some abstract idea of yours about how nonprofits should run/think/feel is simply hurtful to the people philanthropy seeks to help (not to mention arrogant). The book often illustrates this point with nonprofit/for-profit analogies that some would find inapproprioate … but putting all analogies aside, it seems to me that this basic point shouldn’t be controversial.