Dan Pallotta is an activist who believes we need to take a different approach to charity. In his TED talk, “The Way We Think About Charity is Dead Wrong,” he argues for a radical rethinking in terms of charities. This listening is specially designed to help you listen for numbers and learn business terms.


Let’s start by looking at some useful vocabulary from the video.

Key Vocabulary

Nonprofit sector n. – the area of the economy whose organizations don’t intend to turn profits

Parasite n. – an organism which thrives by feeding off another organism (often used as a metaphor – ie a social parasite)

Developmentally disabled adj. – a politically correct term describing someone mentally ill

Revenue n. – the flow of money into an organization

Monetize v. – to attempt to make money from something

Counterproductive adj. – the opposite of productive; worse than unproductive

Philanthropy n. – the practice of improving the world using one’s own personal finances

Overhead(s) n. – the costs associated with running a business

Incentive/ incentivize n./v. – something that makes you want to do something – ie a goal

Frugal/ frugality adj./n. – refrain from spending too much money

Vocab Test

Use the above vocabulary to fill in the blanks. Not all words above are included below. You will have to choose more carefully than in other lessons.

  1. Not only were their efforts unsuccessful, they were in fact _______________.
  2. The company had run its website for two years before attempting to ____________ it.
  3. The restaurant industry has slim profits because they have such high _____________.
  4. The billionaire stopped working as a CEO and began a new life of _____________.
  5. He didn’t waste money, so his friends considered him to be very ____________.
  6. One way to encourage better participation is to offer greater ____________ to people.

Listening Practice

Watch the following video. It is quite long, so we will break it into two parts for studying.

Listening for Numbers

Watch the first half of the video (until 09:00). Read the following numbers and record their meaning. This will help boost your ability to discern numbers, and also to understand related ideas – ie your close listening skills.


  1. Five years old.
  2. 10 percent
  3. 12 percent
  4. 50 million dollars
  5. $400,000
  6. $232,000
  7. 60-mile long
  8. $581 million
  9. 2% of GDP
  10. 75% profit
  11. Six years



Comprehension Questions

Now watch the rest of the video and ask the following comprehension questions:

  1. What happened from 1970 to 2009?
  2. Why did the religious people (Puritans) start charities?
  3. Why should we invest more in fundraising for charities?
  4. Why did his company “go out of business”?
  5. What does he recommend we do to make charities more successful?
  6. What is most important when considering which charity to support?


Skip ahead to 13:05 and listen until 15:05. Fill in the blanks with numbers that you hear. Before listening, read the passage carefully and guess what kind of answer might fill each black – is it an amount of money? A percentage? A date? It is important to practice your pre-listening skills.

I’ll give you two examples. We launched the AIDSRides with an initial investment of ______1______ in risk capital. Within nine years, we had multiplied that ______2______ times, into 108 million dollars after all expenses, for AIDS services. We launched the breast cancer three-days with an initial investment of _______3_______ in risk capital. Within just five years, we had multiplied that ______4______ times, into 194 million dollars after all expenses, for breast cancer research. Now, if you were a philanthropist really interested in breast cancer, what would make more sense: go out and find the most innovative researcher in the world and give her _______5________ for research, or give her fundraising department the 350,000 dollars to multiply it into ________6_________ for breast cancer research? _______7_______ was our most successful year ever. We netted for breast cancer alone, that year alone, 71 million dollars after all expenses. And then we went out of business, suddenly and traumatically.

Why? Well, the short story is, our sponsors split on us. They wanted to distance themselves from us because we were being crucified in the media for investing _______8_______ of the gross in recruitment and customer service and the magic of the experience, and there is no accounting terminology to describe that kind of investment in growth and in the future, other than this demonic label of “overhead.” So on one day, all _______9______ of our great employees lost their jobs … because they were labeled “overhead.” Our sponsor went and tried the events on their own. The overhead went up. Net income for breast cancer research went down by _______10________, or 60 million dollars, in one year.

True or False?

Listen to the material from 13:06 until the end and answer true or false to the following statements, according to the speaker’s opinion:

  1. He believes that small overheads are morally superior.
  2. 2% of GDP is spent on health and human services.
  3. Maintaining low overheads stops charities growing.
  4. Dreams are more important than overheads.
  5. Financial generosity is more important than generosity of thought.


For the IELTS Writing Task 2, you will sometimes see variations on this question:

Some people think it is better to give donations to local charitable organizations, while others choose to give to national or international bodies. Discuss both views and give your own opinion. Give reasons for your answer and include any relevant example from your own knowledge or experience.

How would we answer that? Well, the first thing is to analyze the question carefully. What are you being asked to do, exactly? What is required of you? Make sure that you answer the question and don’t go off-topic.

  • What is the topic? Charity.
  • What is the statement? “Some people think… while others…” (It’s the whole first sentence, divided into two opinions.)
  • What are you asked to do? Discuss both views and give your own opinion.
  • Anything else? Justify your answer with reasons and examples.

Remember, your essay needs a few important things:

  • An introduction with:
    • A broad statement
    • A paraphrasing of the question
    • Your position
  • Two or three body paragraphs which:
    • Are clearly structured
    • Contain one main idea each
    • Develop your idea
    • Demonstrate upon your position
  • A conclusion that
    • Draws the essay together
    • Restates your position
    • Highlights the main ideas

You should avoid IELTS phrases, memorized answers, and informal language.

Sample Answer

Charities and other non-profit organizations function to make our world a better place, but they are all run differently. Therefore, in considering the best place to donate money, some people opt for local charities, while others feel that international charities are more suitable. There are clear benefits to both options, but I find myself gravitating towards the latter option.

International charities are major organizations which function across international borders. This group of organizations includes notable humanitarian institutions such as the Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders, as well as charities intended to save animals or the environment, such as the WWF. Due to their scale and the cross-border nature of their operation, international charities tend to be subject to more oversight than domestic ones. It is harder for charities to embezzle funds from donors when they are under such scrutiny and subject to the laws of various nations, plus organizations such as the United Nations. As trust is such an important factor in charitable giving, I consider this the most important reason why international charities are preferable to local ones.

The opposing view, however, says that locally based charities are more familiar with their area of operation and therefore can conduct their operations more efficiently. Moreover, they have the trust of the local people. This view, however, is misleading because large international charities function like a trusted brand, offering reassurance to people across the globe. In addition, their comparatively large funding allows them to hire local people and do significant research to overcome factors such as distance, and thereby have even greater rates of achievement than local charities.

Both local and international charities are capable of doing good in this world, yet international charities have greater resources and generally command greater respect from people due to having earned trust. Therefore, I agree that donating to international charities is better than giving to local ones.


Vocab test

  1. counterproductive
  2. monetize
  3. overheads
  4. philanthropy
  5. frugal
  6. incentives

Listening for Numbers

  1. The age of his triplets
  2. People left behind by progress
  3. Poverty has remained stuck at this level for 40 years.
  4. What you might want to make producing video games
  5. Median salary for 38yr old Stanford MBA
  6. Average salary for $5 mil medical charity CEO
  7. Distance of breast cancer walk
  8. Amount raised by his company in 9 years
  9. Charitable giving stuck at this level since 1970s
  10. Amount raise compared to $1 million fundraiser for charity to be called into question
  11. Amount of time Amazon went without making profit


  1. The number of charities (over $50mil) grew by 144, for-profits grew 46,136
  2. They felt guilt for making so much money
  3. It has the potential to bring in more money for the charity
  4. Because his sponsors abandoned him
  5. The scale of their dreams and how they measure progress


  1. 50,000 dollars
  2. 1,982
  3. 350,000 dollars
  4. 554
  5. 350,000 dollars
  6. 194 million dollars
  7. 2002
  8. 40 percent
  9. 350
  10. 84 percent

True or False

  1. F – It is not important how big the overhead; what matters are profits.
  2. F – 20% of that 2% (ie $60 billion) is spent on health and human services
  3. T
  4. T
  5. F – Generosity of thought has the ability to make greater change