Fraudulent behavior by charitable fiduciaries brings universal condemnation. However, disapprobation by itself never has translated into an efficient system for the accountability of charitable assets. This Article examines the nineteenth-century struggle to form a charity commission to oversee English charitable endowments and the ultimately disappointing result. Administrative reform can have an interminable germination as the creation of the Charity Commission demonstrates. Even though the need for reform of charitable trust administration was long recognized and a consensus reached on the structure of the oversight body though not its scope, the resulting agency came under almost immediate criticism and was disliked, disrespected, deprived of resources, and ultimately ineffective.

Why is it so difficult to carry out effective institutional change? Why did the principle of charitable accountability, a nearly unanimously supported ideal, ring so hollow in practice? This Article offers hypotheses about the difficulties of administrative reform through the prism of the nineteenth century that may apply more broadly. Many of the problems that hindered the Charity Commission: inadequate resources, increasing numbers of charities, resistance to increased oversight by affected interest groups, and a lack of influence in government face contemporary regulators of the nonprofit sector.

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