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. To mitigate these harms, this article proposes that charitable public benefit corporations be required to grant or sell shares to a group of stakeholders sufficient to give such stakeholder-stockholders standing to bring a derivative suit against the public benefit corporation should it fail to pursue its charitable public benefit. These stakeholder-stockholders are akin to impact investors, or investors who value charitable returns above, or concomitantly with, financial returns. The derivative suit offers the rare stick to guard against greenwashing. More importantly, stakeholder-stockholders can (i) guide the founders and boards of a charitable public benefit corporation in pursuing charity as an ordinary business decision, and (ii) import the participatory and democratic values of the charitable sector to public benefit corporations.
Scholarly Commons Citation
Plerhoples, Alicia E., "Nonprofit Displacement and the Pursuit of Charity Through Public Benefit Corporations" (2016). Georgetown Law Faculty Publications and Other Works. Paper 1783.