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Charity Navigator CEO battles for the soul of the nonprofit world

We often cover aid critics here at Humanosphere and often, they raise great points. But there’s something that gets tedious about constantly criticizing the people who are actively engaged in very difficult development work.

A few big things, though, distinguish Ken Berger from those critics. First, he worked for thirty years with charities that helped the homeless in New Jersey. Second, he’s focused on the American context – the state of nonprofits here in the United States – not the Global South.

Ken Berger
Ken Berger

Most importantly, he’s not an author hawking a book, a professor or anything resembling an armchair critic. As the CEO of Charity Navigator, the best-known ratings index of nonprofits out there, evaluating and scrutinizing charities is his full-time job. Berger was in Seattle this week for the annual meeting of Global Washington.

So when Berger says things like this, we think people should pay attention:

  • “Why are there are so many [charity]CEOs who are ripoff artists?”
  • “We really need a rethink of what the nonprofit sector is and what a public charity is in this country. It’s really out of control.”
  • “The nonprofit sector takes in $1.5 trillion a year. It’s the largest nonprofit sector in the world… And the amount of oversight is pathetic.”
  • “We would like to change the paradigm from, the nonprofit that does the best marketing wins, to one where the nonprofit that helps the most people, is the most effective, gets the best results, wins.”
  • “If they had a more robust system of measuring and managing what they were doing, a lot of those people would be alive today.”

Everyone should listen to this. Before we talk with Berger, East Coast correspondent Tom Murphy and I discuss the scope of Typhoon Haiyan’s impact on the Philippines, what to watch out for in media coverage, and suggest some Filipino organizations worth supporting. And we’d love to hear your reactions to our analysis and to Berger’s incendiary remarks in the comments.

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About Author

Ansel Herz

Ansel Herz is a freelance multimedia journalist whose objective is to “go to where the silence is." His work has been published by ABC News, The Nation magazine, the New York Daily News, Al Jazeera English, Free Speech Radio News, Inter-Press News and many other publications. A Seattle native and survivor of the 2010 Haiti earthquake, Ansel is producer of Humanosphere's podcast, among other things. You can contact him at ansel.herz[at] or follow him on Twitter @Ansel.