Are Nonprofits Propagating Poverty?

Americans are known worldwide for their charitable giving; in 2013, we donated $335.17 billion to charitable organizations. Currently, there are 1.5 million non-profit organizations in the United States, many of which are anti-poverty organizations, designed and directed with the sole purpose of abolishing poverty.  So why is it that with all of our efforts to eliminate poverty through government sponsored programs and charitable giving, our poverty rate is higher than in any other Western industrialized nation? Is our culture of giving contributing to the cycle of poverty? If so what can we do to fix it?
On Wednesday January 28th and Thursday January 29th community leaders and local non-profit representatives came together at the United Way of Collier County to discuss this topic. Guest speaker Dave Phillips - founder of Cincinnati Works spoke to attendees about what it takes to successfully transition people from poverty to self-sufficiency.
Cincinnati Works is a job readiness program that provides a holistic approach to eliminating poverty. They offer training and ongoing employment counseling to participants and work in conjunction with other non-profits to assist job seekers in overcoming barriers to employment. 
The success of Cincinnati Works was documented in the book “Why Don’t They Just Get a Job?” and praised as one of the most effective and replicable non-profit programs in the country.
Below are some of the key points that Dave shared with our partners and community leaders.
  • Poverty Kills – There is a 20 year gap between the life expectancy of the middle class and poor. 
  • Mental Health Matters – traditional placement models do not work for the chronically unemployed. Government funded programs often emphasize job placement, rather than self- sufficiency. They do well at placing participants in new positions, but fail to provide them with the necessary skills to maintain, and advance within those roles. These models also fail to address the underlying problems that cause this population to be chronically unemployed, problems that may include depression, anxiety, domestic abuse, mental illness, and psychological problems. If the underlying causes of poverty and unemployment are ignored, the system will remain broken.
  • Existing Programs Marginalize Those in Need – When willing participants with   underlying problems are unsuccessful in their quest for self-sufficiency their confidence is shattered. Emotional and mental issues in job seekers should be addressed and monitored before and after they are placed in a new position. Assistance should continue to ensure guidance and support are available throughout the process. According to Dave Phillips, “Agencies should be held accountable for the failures of their participants. When they fail, we fail.”  
  • Collaboration is Key – A single organization cannot provide all the necessary services and expertise to lead participants in the path to self-sufficiency. Dave challenged attendees to look to collaborate with one another to advance their mission in the community. Collaboration enables nonprofits to expand their programs, gain access to other expertise and become more efficient in the delivery of services. 

How Do We Break the Cycle?

The first step in breaking the cycle of poverty is to replace temporary fixes with long-term solutions. To put the chronically unemployed in a path to self-sufficiency, we must work together as a community to remove barriers for employment while investing in the two other key building blocks of a good quality of life, education and health. 
United Way is committed to serving as a catalyst for change in Collier County by focusing efforts on financial stability while providing holistic support to struggling families. Collaboration is a hallmark for United Way Partner Agencies who work together to increase access to quality healthcare, provide safety-net services and deliver proven educational models.
People in poverty have enormous untapped capacity. We must build upon those capacities and transition away from a culture of enabling to one of transforming. 
All data is the property of Giving USA 2014, the Annual Report on Philanthropy.