All Charities Should (Ultimately) Self-Destruct

BY NICK | 3 min read

Death to the Non-Profit Model (sort of)

Here’s a radical proposition: every not-for-profit should have a specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely goal (SMART) AND (here's the radical part) as soon as that not-for-profit accomplishes that feat, the organization should declare victory: by closing its doors. For good.

Additionally, If that charity does not accomplish its objective within the established timeline, it should fold and distribute all assets (human and otherwise) to other non-profits with a similar mission. 

As heretical and calloused as this might sound, this logic is actually gaining traction in the non-profit world.

Nancy Lublin, Ernesto Sirolli, Dan Pallotta, Meghan Nesmith, and many more have shared their personal insights into the costly, broken, often harmful world of non-profits. 

Lublin, in particular, describes “mission creep” and the expensive nature of “immortal” foundations founded -- and supported --with the best of intentions. Sirolli mentions the ineffective nature of organizations which parachute in without the lived experience or cultural context necessary to be effective. Pallotta painfully narrates the story in which we're conditioned to respond happily to wealthy entrepreneurs, but often offended by (or deeply suspicious of) the idea of "rich" do-gooders.

“We have a visceral reaction to the idea that anyone would make very much money helping other people. Interestingly, we don't have a visceral response to the notion that people would make a lot of money not helping other people. You know, you want to make 50 million dollars selling violent video games to kids, go for it… But you want to make half a million dollars trying to cure kids of malaria, and you're considered a parasite yourself.” Pallotta says. 

Nesmith takes the picture it to a personal level, as she describes the self-sabotage, brain-drain, and burnout inherent within a non-profit system inhibited from competing with for-profit talent scouts.

TL;DR: non-profits don’t have mortality to motivate against mediocrity, nor do they have the incentives to reward excellence.

This doesn’t even get into the deleterious effect of non-profit sector competition. As Christian Cotichini is fond of saying: “No matter who you are, odds are that the best talent works for someone else."

While this truism applies to the high paying for-profit sector, it’s doubly so for the non-profit sector. The result is salary caps and financial stress as organizations compete for funds and talent. This nearly ensures that the most talented people will not be working on projects which benefit social good -- rather, working for themselves or helping a company ensure its dominant market position and large profit margins.

A Third Option

SMART goals could work. Expiration dates might help. Maybe it all sounds a little fire-and-brimstone for some, and that's OK. Crowdsourcing makes a third option possible: all or nothing incentive competitions!

Non-profits, equipped with SMART goals and deadlines could structure an incentive challenge on the HeroX platform. Even without liquid funds available for a cash prize, an organization could put their money where their mouth is-- offering all their raised capital and human assets as a reward to the person or team who solves their challenge. Instead of subjecting themselves and their supporters to the non-profit rat-race of fundraisers, fun runs, and charity balls-- all gestures which attempt to "rob Peter and pay Paul," so to speak.

An organization could abandon its charity survival cycle and devote itself entirely to completion of a successful HeroX competition.

They could even reach out to their fellow “competitors” other people and organizations interested in solving their challenge, pooling together money and human resources towards a definitive solution.

A competition like this would provide the beleaguered non-profit veterans opportunity to lift their heads out of their silos and answer a national… a global call to unite towards the delivery of a definitive and game-changing innovation.

This would require something scary from the people involved in non-profits: They would have to separate their identity from their job or position within their non-profit. They would have to risk the realizing the difference between gesture and resolution.

Non-profit employees, founders, board members, and donors would have to recognize the following:

“True generosity consists precisely in fighting to destroy the causes which nourish false charity. False charity constrains the fearful and subdued, the “rejects of life,” to extend their trembling hands. True generosity lies in striving so that these hands — whether of individuals or entire peoples—need be extended less and less in supplication, so that more and more they become human hands which work and, working, transform the world.”

— Paulo Freire

Read here to see how The September 11th Fund did just that: Charities should have an expiration date


  • User avatar
    Nov. 8, 2019, 8:02 p.m. PST
    The content of your article is very good and helpful, I really like the article from you.
  • User avatar
    Aron B
    Aug. 5, 2019, 12:02 a.m. PDT | removed
    Comment Removed
  • User avatar
    June 19, 2019, 2:40 a.m. PDT
    I used to work for a not-for-profit that fund-raised during a 4-5-month yearly battle. From the returns, they designated out awards to local gatherings and associations, much like the United Way model.
  • User avatar
    Oct. 24, 2018, 2:47 a.m. PDT
    The careful attention of individuals will never end up out of date. Individuals much more than things must be reestablished, restored, resuscitated, recovered and reclaimed and recovered and recovered. Never toss out anyone. Good thoughts you have shared here. I am appreciating for this great write up.
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