Arnold Kling  

The Nonprofit Sector

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Gerard Alexander writes,


The Independent Sector, which is basically the industry group for nonprofits, reports that the combined annual expenditures of
all the not-for-profit organizations required to file Form 990 with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service had grown to nearly $1 trillion in 2004. (That's about half what the federal government spends each year, not counting defense.)

I think this is good news. Alexander's article includes some complaints about the left-wing bias of the non-profit sector. I think that this bias may shift, however. For one thing, present-day conservative philanthropists can see what has happened to Ford and Pew, and they can choose to take steps to prevent that from happening to their money.

But I think that even people on the left may come to understand that when the choice is

(a) give money to organizations that try to solve problems; or
(b) give money to political causes and politicians that try to take money from other people, supposedly to solve problems

it might be better to choose (a). I know that's a really difficult concept to get your mind around, but I'm optimistic that more people may be able to manage it in the decades ahead.


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COMMENTS (9 to date)
jpe writes:

I haven't seen any large conservative private foundations (which really are the engines of the nfp sector) that focus on charitable work. Rather, they focus on "education," ie funding AEI, Heritage, etal. That's interesting in and of itself, and it makes me wonder if there isn't something in conservative ideology that precludes conservative charitable foundations.

Matt writes:

"come to understand that when the choice is"

The choice is not always made by the voter except over many election cycles.

We have in our economy (in most economies) reinforced variations, cycles, instabilities. The largest of these has a period defined by the voter cycle, and it does not change except as voters look out longer and longer, long enough that they can see the damage they cause. They have to see the damage they cause 15 years out before they can reliably change their voting patterns today.

Arnold Kling writes:

jpe,

I don't think there is anything in conservative ideology that precludes charitable foundations.

Instead, I wonder if there is a mental block that keeps you from equating "conservative" with "charitable." Thus, if Bill Gates gives money to Africa or Mike Milken gives money to cancer research, you classify that as "charitable" but not conservative. If Ted Forstman gives money to fund private-school tuition for kids, you define that as "conservative" but not charitable.

trumpetbob15 writes:

Not having much familiarity with form 990, is that form for large non-profits or all non-profits? If it is just large ones, then there might be a bias in this statistic just based on the size of the organization. If so, I wonder if conservatives give money to small, local charities rather than large foundations. Small charities have a closer relationship with the people in need and that is something that is part of the conservative ideaology.

trumpetbob15 writes:

Not having much familiarity with form 990, is that form for large non-profits or all non-profits? If it is just large ones, then there might be a bias in this statistic just based on the size of the organization. If so, I wonder if conservatives give money to small, local charities rather than large foundations. Small charities have a closer relationship with the people in need and that is something that is part of the conservative ideaology.

TGGP writes:

Since when is Bill Gates a conservative? Plenty of very rich people are lefties. Microsoft also came out in support of gay marriage.

Pre-post edit: Here is the Microsoft page at opensecrets.org It's very even-handed in its giving.

Brandon Berg writes:

What would distinguish a conservative charitable organization from a nonpartisan one? You can identify a left-wing "charity" by its agitation for more government spending, but the conservative approach to charity is inherently apolitical, so I'm not sure that there would be anything obvious to mark it as conservative.

jpe writes:

The Gates Foundation is conservative? Who knew?

More seriously: there are conservatives who give to charities, and conservative foundations set up for other than charitable purposes (Scaife Foundation, to cite a prominent example).

Why haven't the twain met? Or have they? (although the above fact-barren response tells me that the author isn't aware of any)

jpe writes:
I'm not sure that there would be anything obvious to mark it as conservative.

That could be the case, although foundations provide quite a platform for political positions, and even a medium size foundation usually has to give away so much money that they resort to gifts that announce their politics.

Even bracketing that, the notion that purely charitable organizations are apolitical probably isn't right. Politics structures one's approach to charity; a lefty org may have an approach that relies on concepts of social justice, for example, whereas a righty one may rely on more traditional notions of helping the individual rise up from unfortunate circumstances, etc.

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