Alicia E. Plerhoples' article argues that:
Nonprofits dominate the charitable sector. Until recently, this statement was tautological. Charity is increasingly being conducted through for-profit entities, raising concerns about the marketization of the charitable sector. This article examines for-profit charity conducted through the public benefit corporation, a new corporate form that allows its owners to blend mission and profit in a single entity. Proponents of public benefit corporations intended it as an alternative to a for-profit corporation and largely ignored its impact on the charitable sector. While public benefit corporations are ripe for conducting charity because they can pursue dual missions, they lack the transparency and accountability mechanisms of charitable organizations.
This article chronicles the supply and demand for public benefit corporations that conduct charity (i.e., “charitable public benefit corporations”) and hypothesizes the micro and macro level harms caused by them. At the micro level, the harm is fraud or “greenwashing”, i.e., deceiving unwitting stockholders, customers, or other stakeholders into investing or spending their time and money in the negligent or fraudulent enterprise. At the macro level, the more pernicious harm is that “market- based charity” injects individualistic and autocratic business values and methods into charitable work.
Curiously, however, the article fails to grapple with the cogent arguments made by Evelyn Brody about the agency cost problems that pervade the nonprofit sector:
Are nonprofit organizations 'different' from firms with owners? The accepted economic account holds that nonprofits are more trustworthy than business firms because nonprofits cannot distribute profits to owners. However, all firms, nonprofit or proprietary, have converged into similar patterns of behavior. Firms, whether nonprofit or proprietary (or even public), are subject to many of the same economic forces, such as resource dependency, institutional isomorphism, and organizational slack. Even in the absence of shareholders somebody still has to run the enterprise: to decide what objectives to pursue, and how; to manage its financial and human resources; and to span the boundaries of the organization in interacting with the key constituencies, other organizations, and the public. While nonprofits have shareholders privileged with rights of accountability, in most of the business sector shareholders have long lost effective control to firm management. In short, management in both sectors has decisional authority, whether de facto, as in the proprietary sector, or de jure, as in the nonprofit sector.
Moreover, the 'nondistribution constraint' cannot guarantee that the nonprofit operates better or worse than a proprietary enterprise in overcoming information asymmetries. The absence of shareholders demanding profits enables the organization to relax into productive inefficiencies, or to cross-subsidize activities the patron would not want to pay for (could she only observe them). Such inefficiencies or cross-subsidization might 'cost' more than the profits the enterprise might otherwise distribute to shareholders if it operated in a proprietary form. Separately, in an industry with more than one nonprofit, the nondistribution constraint cannot help patrons choose between competing nonprofits.
Agents Without Principals: the Economic Convergence of the Nonprofit and For-Profit Organizational Forms. New York Law School Law Review, Vol. 40, No. 3, pp. 547-536, 1996. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=918230
Trustees of charitable trusts and directors of nonprofit corporations operate under legal regimes designed for their for-profit cousins. In the absence of private beneficiaries or shareholders to look after their own interests, however, charity fiduciaries frequently escape accountability for their self-dealing and neglect or mismanagement. Few charities have members endowed with voting rights, and state attorneys general have limited resources to devote to monitoring the nonprofit sector. Similarly, at the federal level, the Internal Revenue Service is a tax collector, not a policing agency (although its new powers to tax excess benefits will undoubtedly draw it further into charity operations). As a result, the charitable sector must improve its own efforts to educate and review the behavior of fiduciaries, in order to retain the confidence of the donating public and the independence so cherished by all charities.
The Limits of Charity Fiduciary Law. Yale University, Program on Non-Profit Organizations Working Paper No. 242; Maryland Law Review, Vol. 57, p. 1400, 1998. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=11344.
Brody's work demonstrated that the supposed greater accountability of non-profits is pretty much bogus. Coupled with the standard arguments against stakeholderism, I'm unpersuaded by Plerhoples' argument.