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How Nonprofits Can Destroy Community

And almost all of them do this.

Over at Humane Pursuits, Julia Kiewit writes:

Last week, Chico and Debbie Jimenez were cited by the police for feeding homeless and needy people in a city park—something they’ve been doing for over a year with no problems or public disruption. They were cited as a part of the city’s increased attempts to discourage individual charity where city agencies provide the same assistance, in an effort to centralize their homeless services.

She goes on to describe other similar instances elsewhere. New York City's is particularly bad; long-time charitable communities being shut down because the city wasn't in a position to analyze the nutrition of the food they distributed.

People who are concerned about the sprawl of government have plenty of red flags to work with here. But as Julia points out, there's a larger issue at stake. At the most basic level, government exists to promote human community; so, for that matter, do many nonprofits. But here we have instances of the government actually, intentionally, destroying the relational human connections that put meaning into life and reduce the need for expensive social programs--actually saying "Don't love your neighbor; that's a job for the professionals."

And that is not just a government problem. As I've written about in my "Enlisting the Amateurs" report, the nonprofit sector is mostly structured to send the same message. When we communicate that normal people are supposed to outsource their compassion, that doing good is a job for bureaucrats, we not only severely hamstring our own fundraising efforts, we actually destroy community--supposedly the opposite of what we exist to do.

This is the massive moral disconnect at the heart of how our social sector currently operates--and until it's dealt with, nonprofits will be unable to realize their stunning potential, and American will continue to long hopelessly for community.

Excerpt from my report:

"Even someone who donates generously to the local food bank or United Way will ignore [a beggar as he walks by.] The scale of our cities, and the consequent centralization and professionalization of our methods of dealing with poverty have created a situation where the sufferer before us has been depersonalized, as have we. He is a unit in a social service system, and we are the funders of that system. We interact through the system and its agents, and any direct interaction between us as humans actually hurts the system’s ability to work properly. [...]

"The relational connections between helper and helped, between charities and their funders, have largely been lost. While government bureaucracy has its own more obvious problems, our nonprofits largely operate as professional entities in which their funders are treated as disconnected pocketbooks and their volunteers as cheap labor. [...] There is something profoundly wrong with this scene."

(You can read the rest of the report, and what I think can be done about the situation, here.)