Paul Kivel (2009), in The Revolution Will Not Be Funded, writes “We need to provide services for those most in need, for those trying to survive, for those barely making it.” Kivel goes on to discuss the “Non-Profit Industrial Complex” and poses the question of whether non-profits can provide social services AND work for social change.
Northeast Ohio is in an interesting position within the world of non-profits. The Center for Community Solutions recently reported that there was one non-profit in Cuyahoga County for every 118 residents in 2011. This is greater than the state’s per capita rate of one non-profit for every 171 residents. The 45 largest Cleveland area non-profits’ scores on Finances, Accountability and Transparency outpace national scores! This is great news, especially in light of CNN’s recent report of the 50 worst charities in America!
Given the enormity of the area’s non-profit sector, how can we answer Kivel’s question regarding the objectives of non-profits? Are we even focusing on the right issues? Are we as non-profit executives, managers and practitioners providing just enough to maintain the status quo or are we truly working to change the inequality that exists (some call this working ourselves out of a job)? What loaded questions, with so many confounding variables that make the issue a complex web of social justice, human rights, economics and politics!
Those of us in the non-profit sector are at times saddled with the pressure to be all things to all people. It’s sometimes difficult to remain true to our missions, which causes a certain level of “service creep” due to the desire to “do good” in the world and meet the perceived needs of the community. There must be a way to manage this so we can, in fact, create real and sustainable social change while maximizing positive outcomes and cost effectiveness.
The method to success may lie within the very communities we serve. Involving residents and teaching them advocacy skills should be a vital aspect of social services. This empowerment is the only way toward lasting change in the community, and isn’t that what our true mission is?
Consider this a call to action. Get involved. Learn about the non-profits you support. Determine for yourself where they fall on the spectrum of social services or social change. And find out how you can help! You can get more details at Charity Navigator.