Nonprofit world seems enticingly lucrative

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To whom it may concern, today's column is the announcement of my plan to become a non-profit organization. What is the reason for that, you ask? Because, as the bank robber Willie Sutton supposedly said when asked why he robbed banks, that's where the money is.

Certainly, I have the credentials to know a thing or two about nonprofit organizations. After all, I work for a newspaper.

Still, the organizational part of being a nonprofit may be a bit of challenge, being as I am somewhat averse to being organized in my own life. It's a wonder this column ever comes out, what with the scratching and laughing that complicate the task.

Before we go further, it is important to make clear what sort of nonprofit I am planning to be. There are many toilers in the nonprofit world who struggle to make ends meet even as they enrich the arts world or provide vital support systems for struggling people.

These noble groups are reduced to writing grant applications for the likes of the Poor as Church Mice Foundation, asking benefactors for morsels of cheese. As worthy as these groups are, that is not the sort of nonprofit I have in mind.

No, I mean the sort of nonprofit that accrues hundreds of millions of dollars in (non)profit and whose executives enjoy a corporate lifestyle patterned on the Roman emperor business model.

Indeed, my idea for becoming a nonprofit came from the example of two large nonprofit health care corporations based here in Pittsburgh -- UPMC, which owns hospitals and has a growing insurance business, and Highmark, a health insurance company that recently acquired hospitals to compete with UPMC. Well, that started the battle of the bedpan behemoths with no holds barred.

Think Godzilla vs. King Kong in an epic struggle for health care control, with the residents of pretend Tokyo huddling in their homes wondering where their next hysterectomy or bunion removal is coming from.

The city of Pittsburgh, perhaps feeling an acute case of insignificance as a bystander to the big fight, decided to sue UPMC to strip it of its tax-exempt status. If memory serves, Mothra tried that once with Godzilla.

In one of the first hearings of the case, something interesting has come to light: UPMC is saying that it does not have any employees, despite claiming 55,000 of those in marketing and business materials meant not for judges but mostly regular people wearing the hospital gowns with the natural air-conditioning in the back.

The argument is that UPMC is just a holding entity and that the employees work for 37 subsidiaries. This may be technically correct, but you have to hand it to the legal profession -- attorneys can certainly keep a straight face. I figure they must learn that in law school. If it were me, I couldn't claim UPMC had no employees without dissolving into laughter and thigh slapping.

But it saddens me to learn that UPMC has no employees. I have received excellent care from some of its talented non-employee doctors and nurses who didn't even take out any extra organs because my insurance was from Highmark.

(Reminder to self: When I become a nonprofit, I will not be an employee of myself because I know what a bad boss I am.)

Readers not from Pittsburgh may wonder what this local dispute has to do with them. I would say consider the context. This health care Armageddon is being fought according to the capitalist virtues we know and love -- ruthlessness, greed, misinformation, monopolistic thinking, etc. -- in the supposed era of government health care. Hey, somebody forgot to tell the government.

The way Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Canada, and his tea-gulping pals tell it, everybody will soon be lining up for government Band-Aids. Yet what we see here are corporations lining up for more nonprofit, which is the best type of profit you can have.

Still, the Tea Partiers may have a half a point. The whole government is now nonprofit in the sense of deficits and debt -- and that can't go on forever. There will come a day of reckoning, I suppose, but with large nonprofits that day never seems to come.

That is why I am converting to nonprofit status myself. If you should see me at the office water cooler, soon to be the champagne fountain, don't be shy or formal. No need to call me Mr. Non Profit Organization. You can just call me 501c. I will toast your good health.


Reg Henry: rhenry@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1668.

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