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Charitable marketplace needs critics

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By Todd Cohen

With few cops and weak rules, the charitable marketplace needs tough watchdogs.

But with the resignation of Rick Cohen as executive director of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, that marketplace is losing philanthropy’s most vigilant, scrupulous and tireless critic.

Cohen has called for foundations to pay out a bigger share of their assets in grants each year, criticized foundation administrative costs and self-dealing, urged greater disclosure and payouts at donor-advised funds, and exposed politicians’ control of some private foundations.

But despite NCRP’s good work, philanthropy breeds sacred cows that few dare question.

The tax code treats contributions that charities spend, for example, no differently than it treats contributions that donor-advised funds do not spend.

The level of compensation paid to executives and trustees of some foundations and nonprofits far exceeds the entire budgets of most nonprofits.

And many nonprofit hospitals operate like businesses.

Fat, smug and righteous, foundations act like private clubs with a monopoly on wisdom.

They preach openness but rarely tolerate criticism, and will withhold funding from those who question how they operate.

The charitable marketplace needs critics like Rick Cohen who will push philanthropy to be more accountable, ethical and even-handed.


Todd Cohen is the Editor and Publisher of the Philanthropy Journal.

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