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

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While he's not a household name like some other wealthy philanthropists, Morino has reportedly given away $40 million of his own money. And he's an effective agent of social change, say nonprofit leaders.

"He's been almost a kind of prophet in the field," says Billy Shore, chief executive officer of Share Our Strength, which is working to end childhood hunger in the United States by 2015.

Morino didn't just make a lot of money in business, start a nonprofit, and write a book about it, Mr. Shore says. "He worked for years and years … and then wrote about it. He brings a ton of credibility."

Morino sits on the board of the Lawrence School in Cleveland, which helps children with learning difficulties. The headmaster, Lou Salza, calls Morino his "intellectual godfather."

"This is high-stakes, high-risk education," Mr. Salza says. "Many of these students aren't going to get another chance. We need to know that what we're doing works."

To that end, the school performs a weekly checkup on each student, which parents can track on the Web. Teachers use the data to make sure each child is making progress, and adjust the curriculum as needed.

Salza, who took over in 2007, began implementing the kind of data-driven changes Morino advocates in 2008. "Mario's been enormously important in the transformation of our school from a good school to a much better school," he says. "When he sees that people are really trying to get this right and trying to do better on behalf of the children they serve, he pulls out all the stops to help them."

Morino's book is free and self-published. He and his staff ship boxes of it weekly.

"Leap of Reason" "has been an important book in the life of our school," Salza says. "[Morino will] say very modestly, 'Well, it's not that great a book, but the timing is right.' But I think it is a great book because he timed it right – and the message is right."

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