I have been a critical student of nonprofit organizations and their boards for forty-five years now. The board is the ultimate level of accountability, and by the IRS definition of nonprofit, have nothing material to gain from their best efforts, and as logical consequence, nothing material to lose by inattention. A parallel understanding is that nonprofits do not have owners whose self interest demands accountability from their elected boards. While nonprofits have stakeholders, they seldom elect the board.


For some time I reasoned that these things were desired consequences of a tax law that allows tax deductions, i.e. partial government support, for certain charitable activities. This is an interesting and creative route to public-private partnerships in specific and well-defined charitable activities, and no one should be surprised that there are unintended consequences, particularly those associated with the Board structure noted above.

My observation is that this leads to a nonprofit culture and budget of scarcity which the boards frame as fiscal responsibility and the staff accepts as the financial cost and workload of doing good work. It is also my observation that the culture of scarcity reduces the social bottom line of the organization. Almost without exception more social product could be delivered if only there were more money.

Others, of course, have thought and written about organizational issues in the world, and as I poked around in the literature I recently began to see recurrences of words like venture philanthropy, social enterprise, or social entrepreneurship, and I saw that they were speaking to my issues and with a new language—a language that includes abundance as an alternative to scarcity. I determined to learn about and to enter this new field of philanthropy.

The result is The Manaus Fund, an experiment in social entrepreneurship limited to the Roaring Fork Valley and to the social bottom line of social justice. We think this is a great venue for the work, and while it’s too early to announce “Eureka,” we can easily say that we’re very glad to have set about the journey; we’ve learned a lot and it’s been fun.

George Stranahan