The 10 Problems With Big Nonprofits

2 min readFeb 22, 2021

“Institutions will try to preserve the problem to which they are the solution.”
– Clay Shirky (Clay Shirky’s words — Kevin Kelly coined the term.)

We unquestioningly accept that 501c3 nonprofits (federally registered charities) are good for society.

But are they? How can any organization led by a catastrophe of a human being such as Neera Tanden be good for society? Are the other major, federally registered nonprofits really any better than the Center for American Progress?

Having worked for that org and 100s like it, my opinion is a hard no.

Quick caveat: I’m pretty sure there is nothing wrong with small charities or even most medium/regional ones. Local food banks are great. Or even state/regional food banks like the ones keeping Texans alive.

But big nonprofits? Yes, they do some good. But I think it may be time to break up not just Big Tech, but Big Nonprofit too.

Here’s why:

  • Their primary purpose is to continue to exist forever. But why should they exist forever? Nonprofits are created to solve specific problems. Once those problems go away, so should the relevant nonprofits.
  • Their secondary purpose is to perpetuate the jobs of the people who run them. This often leads to sinecure proliferation.
  • They tend to hire for senior positions only from the upper-middle-classes or above. Among low-level positions, they tend to hire from the middle as opposed to lower-classes.
  • They tend to hire based on connections and relationships, as opposed to merit.
  • They tend to be concentrated around Washington DC, New York, and other extremely expensive major metropolises. Thus, most of their potential employees can’t afford to live close to where they are headquartered, creating an economic glass ceiling.
  • They exist to help billionaires and multi-millionaires excise their guilt (and also provide tax breaks)
  • Because they benefit from lower income taxes on the wealthy, they support that general public policy bias
  • They are obsessed with legal liability and risk management which prevents them from innovating new ways to be charitable
  • They compete aggressively with local, “startup” nonprofits for funds from major philanthropic and grantmaking organizations
  • Because they are allied with and dependent on billionaire charity, they tend to back establishment policy and politics

Of course, all of the above applies more to liberal and conservative think thanks than to actual charities (human welfare, human rights, animal welfare, environmental welfare.)

Secondly, I know that many federal nonprofits do amazing work. Amnesty International, to take one example; the world would be a darker place without them.

But even the well-meaning ones are mired in DC establishment politics. They are a dirty, festering bandaid for the central problem we face: the lack of a healthy, democratically socialist federal government.

I’m not saying big nonprofits should be disbanded, but maybe they should at least be broken up? Or maybe we just need to take a closer look at them.




amateur tweets, professional works –pressfield