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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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Plenty of people have endured attending an unproductive meeting. After he sat through three of them in a single day, philanthropist Mario Morino decided to write a book.

"It was late 2009.... In each meeting, I kept getting a little more aggravated," recalls Mr. Morino in his office in Rocky River, Ohio, outside Cleveland. At each, a board was discussing how it would assess its nonprofit group. The problem? "There wasn't a nonprofit executive in the room," he says.

Morino, who owned his own software development business in the 1980s before setting up the Morino Institute and later Venture Philanthropy Partners, went home and fired off one e-mail, then another. After a fourth, he had what became the core of his book, "Leap of Reason," which has more than 40,000 copies in circulation so far – an impressive number for a book about the rarefied topic of nonprofit management.

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"It has hit a nerve," Morino says. "It has hit a really interesting nerve."

While the subject of "Leap of Reason" is "managing to outcomes" – a topic that sounds almost as exciting as "101 uses for duct tape" – the book is, in fact, a bracing call to arms. In an era of tight funding, Morino argues, nonprofits – such as charities and service organizations promoting the public good – need to prove that they are doing what they say they are doing.

Nonprofit groups "really have to go through a transformation, whether we want to or not, if we want to have a society left," says Morino, whose Venture Philanthropy Partners invests in groups in the Washington, D.C., area that serve low-income children. (Groups can't apply to VPP for grants; VPP seeks out groups it judges to be most effective.)


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