Nonprofit Displacement and the Pursuit of Charity Through Public Benefit Corporations

49 Pages Posted: 4 Aug 2016 Last revised: 6 Dec 2017

Alicia Plerhoples

Georgetown University Law Center

Date Written: 2017


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 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. Proposals have been made to mitigate these harms, but none are satisfactory, making additional measures necessary.

Keywords: nonprofit, social enterprise, public benefit corporation

JEL Classification: K22

Suggested Citation

Plerhoples, Alicia, Nonprofit Displacement and the Pursuit of Charity Through Public Benefit Corporations (2017). Lewis & Clark Law Review, Vol. 21, No. 3, 2017. Available at SSRN: or

Alicia Plerhoples (Contact Author)

Georgetown University Law Center ( email )

Washington, DC 20057
United States

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