Photo by Kevin Burrows
By Shea Parton
In January 2009, I picked up the Economist and read about Dan Pallotta’s manifesto, Uncharitable. The book's subtitle, "How restraints on non-profits undermine their potential" – quickly caught my eye, and eventually turned the Parton family into Pallotta’s unofficial West Coast sales team. Five months after first hearing his name, I met Dan in Washington DC in June of 2009, as we had both been asked to speak at Invisible Children’s Uganda Lobby Days Summit. In the midst of the summit's events, Dan and I arranged to get dinner in Dupont Circle. Instantly, Dan and I hit it off, citing our mutual love for Ayn Rand’s writing and adventure cycling. We also discussed how the non-profit and for-profit worlds desperately need to share one roof, and dreamt of ways we could make it possible. After the summit, we stayed in touch periodically, until recently when we asked Pallotta to contribute to our ‘A Day in the Life of a Modern Activist’ profile for Rod Arnold of charity: water. It is always great to reconnect with Dan, and it is inspiring to hear his take on non-profits that have picked up on the important points that he has outlined in Uncharitable.
Dan grew up in Malden, Massachusetts. The oldest of four children, he was raised by an Italian father who worked in the construction industry and a loving, steadfast mother. It was Dan's parents that were the first to notice his innate entrepreneurship, when at the age of eleven, he founded his first restaurant: "Rolling Refreshments - Hot Dog and Sausage Cart". Dan's down to business attitude earned him an aggressive reputation on the Melrose High School debate team and the extra push to become a certified pilot. After graduating from Harvard at the age of twenty, Dan quickly became a legislative aide to a Massachusetts State Senator, and soon thereafter, the folks at Oxfam America stumbled across his limitless potential. From there, Dan went on to create on of the most successful social enterprises in - Pallotta teamworks, which invented the AIDS rides and breast cancer 3-days and raised $581 million for those causes in nine years, changing the lives of participants in the process. Dan's experience produced many of the sentiments that are found throughout Uncharitable, and spurred Pallotta’s to ask provocative questions about the non-profit business model.
Since that time, Pallotta's leadership has paved the way for a new found sense of responsibility and hope in today's marketplace. The President of Oxfam America recently attested to this, and endorsed Pallotta’s work with the following statement:
”If we are indeed going to succeed in innovating our way to a sustainable future in the 21st century, we will need to unlock the moral and creative potential of the non-profit sector, enable it to interact more comfortably and flexibly with the market, create the right incentives for the recruitment of America’s most talented social innovators, and rethink our approaches to capitalizing our best ideas and institutions. If this is heresy, we need more of it. ”