Sunday, February 25, 2007

Non-profits: Help or hindrance?

"In the United States, nonprofits play a critical role. They provide almost all social services, arts and other culture, education, advocacy, religion, pro bono legal services, and free health care. In addition, nonprofits are leading the charge, and in many cases, are the only organizations working on saving the environment, ending racism, protecting civil rights and civil liberties, and promoting full acceptance and recognition of the rights of women, sexual minorities, people with disabilities, and seniors. In general, then, almost everything that is creative, humane, and promoting of justice is brought to us by a nonprofit" (Klein, Kim. Fundraising for Social Change. Jossey Bass: New York, 2001).

Ever since I read the preceding words written by one of the most important figures in the field of grassroots fundraising, Kim Klein, I can't stop wondering if in fact nonprofits prevent the possibility for true social, economic and environmental justice. Doesn't the massive nonprofit sector provide capitalists with a philanthropic out? Paulo Freire once said: "In order to have the continued opportunity to express their "generosity," the oppressors must perpetuate injustice as well."

When one considers the enormous amounts of human energy through volunteer hours organizing, educating, advocating, and fundraising to provide the most basic of human rights, one must question whether or not American capitalists are avoiding their responsibility for the maldistribution of wealth, resources and power. Nonprofit activists are often caught up in a tense conflict of their principles by asking the wealthy for money to save the environment that they, "the wealthy elites," polluted; or nonprofits often have to ask for the blood money the wealthy earned in their stock portfolios from the profits of companies like Coca-Cola that has a direct role to the murder of union-workers in Colombia; and the list goes on and on.

What if nonprofits stopped providing their services? What if nonprofit activists stopped investing their time, energy and scant financial resources providing basic human services that are the responsibility of the entire society and instead focused its collective energies organizing for systemic revolution? What if the nonprofit sector stopped begging for blood money, closed its doors and forced Americans to look to its government for help? Would that apply the kind of pressure needed to get universal health care? Would that force Americans to start rethinking the myths of American exceptionality and capitalism's benevolent "invisible hand"?

Perhaps the time has come to stop bailing capitalism out and start organizing for a revolutionary future.