Books vs Nonprofits: Who helps whom?

A Recap of the Greg Mortenson Furor guest post by David Matthew. David is an ERP software analyst and writes about nonprofit technology at Software Advice.

Greg Mortenson, founder of the Central Asia Institute (CAI), has long been considered among the leading lights of the nonprofit world. Not only is he a best selling author, but he is also a former Nobel Peace Prize nominee. Mortenson used his compelling story of arriving half-dead in a Pakistani village after a failed mountain expedition to raise millions of dollars to educate female students in rural Pakistan.

It started to go downhill for Mortenson when the American Institute of Philanthropy published an article in March drawing attention to a number of irregularities in the way CAI was managed. Then Jon krakauer, author of Into Thin Air, teamed with 60 Minutes for an in-depth focus on the CAI’s efficacy. This April exposé sparked an avalanche of bad press and public condemnation for Mortenson.  He partially earned scrutiny from a number of major media outlets for embellishing and making up facts in his two memoirs, Stones Into Schools and Three Cups of Tea. However, in his role as executive director of the Central Asia Institute, he has faced even greater criticism for mismanaging the Central Asia Institute.

The primary accusation is that the Central Asia Institute has helped fund his book promotion and speaking tours, but has not reaped any financial benefit for their investment. This is especially disconcerting because Mortenson was earning at least $25,000 per speaking event and travelling by private jet. The verdict is still out as to how much this situation was the result of malfeasance or mismanagement, and it would be irresponsible to draw too many conclusions without a full list of the facts before us. With Mortenson still recovering from a recent surgery, it may still be a matter of time before we have his whole version of the story.

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