Nonprofits tackle the big issues

A fast look at just four critical areas facing American society today: poverty, race, environment, and democracy:

1. What is the definition of “poor”? In the United States, for the government to consider a family officially poor, a household of four people must have total income of less than $22,050. Repeat for emphasis: a family of four must live on less than $22,050 or they aren’t certifiably poor. And even with such a stringent guideline, one of every six children in America lives in poverty.

2. And in regards to America’s other great crime zone — race: One in every three young African American men is unemployed . . . more than three times the rate of adults in general. If this were happening in some country far away we would see it more clearly for what it is: structural abuse against a segment of our population.

3. Environmental health: did you know that one in every five visits to an emergency room by a child is asthma-related? Think about it: if we cleaned up our air and environment we would not only have healthier children, but imagine the money in health care that would be saved.

4. Democracy: The Supreme Court recently ruled (Citizens United) that unlimited corporate spending on elections is allowable. We nonprofits, meanwhile, are strictly prohibited from supporting candidates, ostensibly because of our tax-exempt status. But the federal government also spends $92 billion each year on “corporate welfare” (also known as corporate subsidies), while the nonprofit tax exemption reduces federal taxes by less: about $72 billion annually. Corporate spending and millionaire candidates are distorting our elections everywhere, yet the rules are getting even less democratic.

And we haven’t even gotten to the prevalence of world hunger, or the absence of world peace.

These realities are what we in the nonprofit sector are working on: big, deep, societal issues that affect everyone in every community. And our goals are not more effective practices, not better logic models, not more detailed metrics. We are taking on the big stuff, and our goals are to change these big realities. We can’t let ourselves be distracted by all the management advice we get, nor by the charges that we’re trivial or frivolous. We are working on the big stuff: changing the world.

(Sources: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, CBS News, National Safety Council, SubsidyScope, and Urban Institute, in order.)

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