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Difference Maker

A little book has a big impact on how to run a charity

Mario Morino wrote a little book that's had a big effect – urging nonprofit groups to prove that they're really doing what they say they're doing.

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Morino's focus on children comes from his own childhood, he says. "I grew up in an area of Cleveland that ... was blue-collar, lower-income, mixed. We would have been qualified as technically poor. We had no idea we were poor. We had no idea we lived in a rough neighborhood," says Morino, who acknowledges that not all his friends from his old neighborhood have succeeded. Some are, in fact, incarcerated.

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"I had great teachers," he says. "I had enough encouragement at every step of the way. There was nothing holding me back."

Those support structures are gone today.

"If you go back to the same neighborhood – not to demean anyone there – that kid won't have a thousandth of the chance I had," he says. "It doesn't mean that boy or girl won't succeed; it means the odds are stacked against them."

Both the middle and upper classes in America are naive about how grueling it is to be poor, Morino says. "I've seen families who drop their kids off at 6 a.m. and pick them up at 9 p.m. because both parents are working two jobs and taking buses to get there. And some [jerk] in a comfortable suburb is complaining that they're not working hard enough."

"It's been amazing to me: When we first got started, there wasn't a lot of talk about outcomes. Now it's beginning to build," says Carol Thompson Cole, president and CEO of VPP, who helped collaborate on and publish "Leap of Reason." "To see what Mario's leadership has built over 10 years – there's not much like it in the country."

VPP itself has helped 15,000 children over the past decade – and it has the numbers to prove it, Ms. Thompson Cole adds.

Learn more / get involved

• Learn more about “Leap of Reason,” Mario Morino’s book on effectively managing charities and other nonprofit groups, at www.leapofreason.org. The book is available there free of charge as a PDF file or as a digital book. Paper copies are available through Amazon.com for a small shipping and handling fee. For more information, e-mail info@leapofreason.org.

• The Bridgespan Group is a nonprofit adviser and resource for organizations and philanthropists. Its services include strategy consulting, executive search, leadership development, and philanthropy advising. 

The Chronicle of Philanthropy provides news and information helpful to tax-exempt organizations in health, education, religion, the arts, social services, and other fields. It also offers lists of grants, fundraising ideas, statistics, reports, and a calendar of events.

• Charity Navigator scours thousands of documents to assess the financial health, transparency, and effectiveness of more than 5,000 of the best-known US charities.

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