Dan Pallotta is probably best known for inventing multiday events'such as the AIDS Rides, AIDS Vaccine Rides, and Breast Cancer 3-Days'that netted $305 million for various causes in less than a decade. In his new book, Uncharitable: How Restraints on Nonprofits Undermine Their Potential, Pallotta reignites bold ideas for fund-raisers and calls for a drastic overhaul of the philanthropic machine.
Are there any charities currently 'doing it right'?
No charity that receives the majority of its support from the general public can dare to do it right. In the current climate it would almost be irresponsible. They'd lose their support. They'd be subject to scandal.
In the book you talk about an economic double standard between traditional businesses and nonprofits. Can you explain that?
We let business pay people based on value. But we don't want people making money in charity. Want to make a million as a CEO selling violent video games to kids? Go for it! Want to make a million curing kids of cancer? You're a parasite! So our top business-school grads gravitate to the for-profit sector.
We let business advertise until the last dollar no longer produces a penny of value, but we don't want charitable donations spent on advertising. So charities can't build demand for causes. Budweiser's all over the Super Bowl. AIDS and Darfur? Absent.
We let business make mistakes but expect charity to spend contributions cautiously. It's OK if a $100 million Disney movie flops, but if a $5 million charity walk doesn't show a 75% profit year 1? Call the attorney general!
You get the picture. Anything a charity might do to test the rules brings a guillotine down on its reputation.
You recently had triplets. Have your kids changed the way you see these things?
I worry now about the world my children will grow up in. More than ever I want a serious say in what that world will look like. I believe we can create a world that works for everyone, and I want to play a role in creating it.
At 48, you show no signs of slowing down. What's ahead for you?
I'm going to leave that up to God a little bit, but three things interest me: running for public office, creating a 'super-database for charity,' and re-creating Pallotta TeamWorks and making good on its vision of creating the 'Disney of meaning.'
Pallotta's Uncharitable (Tufts University Press, $35, www.uncharitable.net) is on sale now.