How charitable are charities? Can a charity that provides education or healthcare and has no profits be "noncharitable"? The Senate Finance and House Ways and Means committees think those questions are so important that they have been examining whether and when nonprofit hospitals deserve tax exemption. Many state and local governments have done likewise. And apart from any possible action of the IRS or Congress or state legislatures, Independent Sector and other institutions serving and monitoring charities have been giving increased attention to how charities can more effectively achieve their charitable purposes. Even if there were no outside pressures, the community of consultants and advisers to charities would seek to find ways to measure success by more than sustainable budgets or outputs such as meals served or babies delivered.
All those efforts at one level or the other raise the important and sensitive issue of measurement. I contend that there is one powerful tool that could be used by many nonprofit organizations to try to more effectively measure at least in one important respect whether they are "charitable" and, to some degree, the extent of their charitability.
The measurement tool I suggest charities use is nothing more than the accountants most powerful tool: the balance sheet. However, the balancing exercise I am recommending goes beyond the traditional balancing of assets and liabilities and to what I will call the uses and sources of resources intended to achieve private charitable transfers.