Dan Pallotta: a TED talk worth listening to

Wow. Like, seriously: wow!

This TED talk is view-changing! I listened to Dan Pallotta talk for about ten minutes and it made more of an impact on how I think about charities than those many, many, many arguments I have heard on this very same topic in the years before.

Because, listen: what he says makes sense. It won't apply to every single charity in this world (because nothing applies to everything!) - but it does, I think, apply to very darn many!

And... wow. He has single-handedly put so many arguments I have heard mentioned before into one short speech, and he has said it well enough to really, really drive home the point - at least to me.

And: I've spent long enough of a time on the board of a not-for-profit youth organisation (I was in my late teens then) - and many more hours fundraising when I wasn't really sure how fundraising should be done - to relate to what he's saying on a very touching, personal level.

I highly, highly recommend having a listen!

A few of the things he said:

“We have a visceral reaction to the idea that anyone would make very much money helping other people. Interesting that we don't have a visceral reaction to the notion that people would make a lot of money NOT helping other people.”

“Our generation does not want its epitaph to read, ‘We kept charity overhead low.’ We want it to read that we changed the world.”

“The next time you're looking at a charity, don't ask about the rate of their overhead. Ask about the scale of their dreams.”


  1. Sry, can't be quiet. I disagree with so many things in this talk. IMO it is so narrowminded - only from an American point of view. The way America works is only 4,5% of the world (if you measure population). I wouldn't say that their way of doing things is the best way at all. Especially when we talk about social security and stuff. I also believe that the charity system is all wrong fundamentally (the way it works in the world today). I won't even start about all that "growth" talk - economy can't grow forever, that is a logical fact. I could go on and on as for some reason I have so many strong opinions about it. I have to agree, there were few valid points there as well - that mostly applies to the fundraising for special research, but I find so many things wrong with that system as well.

    Sorry about the long rant. I would suggest you take the time and watch some critical documentaries about charities etc. I would start with "Haiti: Where Did The Money Go?" (http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article30754.htm) couldn't find a better link in a hurry. The African critical documentaries are good too.

    1. oh, äge, kui sul vastamise tuju on! =) ma proovin inglise keeles vastu kõlada. millegipärast on praegu eestikeelne tuju, aga tont sellega, vastan samas keeles, milles kirjutasin ja milles sina kirjutasid.

      i totally agree with you on the notion that in america, their system of "social security" is bollocks and that lots of issues which in my mind are fundamental government functions, in america get dealt with as part of "charitable" work (sort of like how in new zealand, parents are expected to "donate" part of their children's school fees, even though we're talking PUBLIC schools). it's screwed up.

      i also totally agree that growth can't go on all the time, and i've heard about the "beauty" of haitian charities before, so that's not news to me, either.

      but i'm struggling to see what exactly makes you angry about what he says because the main point of what he says is more like... tools.

      like, say you were gardening and you were using a really old, broken hacksaw to trim your hedge. say, then, that it was taking you a LOT of time to do it because of how bad the tool was, but you were refusing to buy a new hacksaw (which would make your work way faster) because you were intent on not spending money - that's the sort of stuff i think dan is mostly talking about, that charities focus on keeping their costs down, rather than focusing on GETTING THE WORK DONE.

      haitian charity is a bit of a bad example because that's simply a badly run charity which isn't getting things done. what dan is referring to isn't that charities should pay people really well always, but rather, that they shouldn't NOT pay people well if paying well manages to attract the sort of talent that can then get the fundraising going.

      because like he said, that if you're managing to bring in, whatever, 70 million dollars for, well, whatever - compared to a charity that was spending less but could only bring in 3 million - then who cares if the costs were higher?

      that in the end, it's the end result that matters.

      doesn't it?

  2. I start from the end this time. You ask "Doesn't it?" and I would like to answer "Are you seriously asking this?". The end result will never ever justify the means. Ever. Period. It does matter how the journey is made - over the corpses or not. Let me give you an example. The charity invests into a really well profiting company making awesome revenue (that is how they make money from money). All good? Maybe not. Maybe that well profiting company makes good revenue because it operates on the borderline of the law (eesti keeles JOKK) polluting the environment? Or maybe it has outsourced and spread poverty upon their leaving from one place? Fast and good revenue always has a price. So the charity gets money and now spends it maybe trying to solve the same problems their investments are creating? How does this journey not matter?

    The tools what Dan is talking about are - run charities like profitable businesses even thou they are non-profit organizations. That is what makes me almost angry (heats me up pretty good in an argument). Like it or not - you have to be a shark in business to get good profits. He is talking about charities making good revenue (not to pay to shareholders, but to pay for research etc) and how to do it. Those charities are actually contributing to the problem they are trying to solve with their one-track mind set on profit. Most companies, that would do ok otherwise, are being pushed by the shareholders to make more and more profit every year so they are "cutting the costs". It is like trying squeeze out more and more grain from the same field every year.

    That is such a large and complex picture. I could go on and on, but that doesn't fit into a comment. And I haven't even started about overlapping charities etc. I hope you got an idea what I am trying to say.

    1. Okay, so I've been meaning to reply to this comment for, what, three months? Two? I got side-tracked at first with going in labour and then dealing with a newborn =), but I haven't actually forgotten this here.

      So I have read what you've written again, and I still don't actually see why it was stirring you up. I mean... I agree with pretty much everything you are saying.

      But Pallotta isn't talking about what you are talking about.

      I have never met the guy, but I have a feeling that if he read your comment then he, too, would agree with what you are saying: that it's not sensible to "go over corpses", or draw profits from businesses that create the problems that then need to be solved etc.

      He was talking about NOT balking at the idea of a charity making a profit and running big overheads, yes - but he did NOT talk about making that profit no matter what.

      Yes? No?

  3. Haa, mul on jube tihti Sulle vastamise tuju. Ma olen iPadi peal toksinud pikki ja pikki kommentaare Su tekstide alla ja ... Millegi pärast läheb alati midagi viltu kõigi nende turvaelementidega ja mu kommentaar kaob. Ja siis ma tavaliselt ei viitsi uut kirjutada ja arvuti taha ka ei saa istuda, sest Ayra hakkab nutma "emme ära tee tööd!". Mõtlen kaasa kogu aeg, sest Sa oled nii mõnusalt uudishimulik ja teravataibuline inimene.

    Aga nüüd ma tükk aega ei kommenteeri :P Nädalaks Rootsi hüppama!