What’s a Nonprofit Worth?

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February 1, 2011; Source: America Magazine | John DiIulio ran President Bush's faith-based programs until he became somewhat disillusioned with the program's emphasis on politics over faith. Since leaving government service, DiIulio has remained an advocate of faith-based service providers.

In this essay in America Magazine, he begins to articulate a concept of the "civic replacement value" of nonprofits such as Catholic Charities. He asks the question, "What would it cost Uncle Sam to replace Catholic agencies?"

He seems exercised by the increasing local, state, and federal inquiry into the value of nonprofits – that they might be asked to contribute payments in lieu of taxes, be required to restrict executives' salaries, or compelled to serve low-income communities.

The argument isn't particularly well formed, as DiIulio combines questions of the value of the tax exemption with other kinds of nonprofit benefits (such as government contracts) and emphasizes in his analysis nonprofit service providers such as Catholic nonprofits (including Catholic hospitals) in DiIulio's native Philadelphia, unwittingly underemphasizing other kinds of nonprofits that don't provide comparable services.

Nonetheless, it is good to have someone of DiIulio's stature asking for a defensible analytical framework for examining the array of governmental efforts to exact from or limit expenditures of nonprofits. Just remember, we're not all service providers, but that doesn't mean that the functions of advocacy organizations and others are any less important to their communities and to society than those of Catholic hospitals in Philadelphia.—Rick Cohen

  • Geri Stengel

    At least Dilulio is starting the conversation. Nonprofits contribute jobs, services, and economic value to the economy. They do things government