I enjoy exploring ideas that challenge long-held beliefs and upend my thinking. That’s why I like listening to Ted Talks. And it’s why I love the teachings of Jesus.
Jesus’ parable about the bags of gold reminded me of a Ted Talk by Dan Pallotta entitled, “How we think about charity is dead wrong.” And it prompted me to write my Christmas wish list.
Here are a few things I want for Christmas: elimination of hunger and homelessness, quality health and dental care for everyone, treatment for the addicted, services for the elderly, a cure for cancer and AIDS.
Is my wish list outrageous? I used to think so, but now I know better.
Jesus said a man went on a trip and entrusted his wealth to three servants. To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and another one bag – according to their abilities.
When the master returned the first two servants multiplied his wealth, and he rewarded them, giving them more to manage. But the third servant buried his treasure. His excuse for hoarding the gold? Fear.
The master was harsh with the nonproductive servant, calling him lazy and wicked. He gave the slacker’s bag of gold to the successful investors and evicted him.
But what if the outcast who buried his gold was operating under a different set of rules than the favored servants? Using what I learned from Dan’s talk I present an alternative story.
The first two servants used their bags of gold to start a company called Amazon. They obtained investors who supported their innovative business model. There were failures along the way, but after six years the business turned a profit, multiplying the bags of gold many times.
The third servant – let’s call him Clark Griswold – worked for a non-profit organization committed to feeding the hungry. He wanted to hire the brightest MBAs from top schools, and they wanted to work for his cause. But they had student loans and couldn’t afford to live on the salary Clark offered them from his single bag of gold.
Clark wasn’t allowed to make investments and he kept expenses to a minimum. He feared losing everything if he used his masters’ gold to turn a profit, even for a noble cause. He fed a few people and tried to ignore the cries of the multitudes he turned away.
Dan Pallatto knows first hand that Clark’s fears were well-founded. He says the outdated rulebook for nonprofits forces people like Clark to bury their treasures.
Could this be why the poverty level In the United States has been 12% for the past forty years, and only 2% of the GDP goes to the nonprofit segment?
In 1994 Dan Pallatto built a for-profit charity company called Pallatto TeamWorks. And he refused to bury his treasure.
He adopted the same techniques that Amazon used to succeed. He paid decent salaries, spent money on advertising and marketing, took risks, and over time he multiplied his gold.
In nine years, Dan’s team raised $582 million dollars for AIDs services, breast cancer research, and suicide prevention. But the media crucified him. He lost his sponsors, and the company closed.
As Dan Pallatto said, “You want to make fifty million dollars selling violent video games to kids, go for it. We’ll put you on the cover of Wired magazine. But you want to make half a million dollars trying to cure kids of malaria, and you’re considered a parasite yourself.”
I envision Jesus saying to Dan, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Now let’s help the Clarks of the world dig up their treasures and multiply them, bringing my kingdom to earth as it is in heaven.”
Do you think my wish list could come true if we changed the rules for nonprofit organizations? I hope you’ll listen to Dan’s talk. He’s written several books, too. I don’t get any compensation if you buy one but I’d be thrilled if it changed your thinking. Please share this to spread the idea that the rules need to change so we can change the world.