Wednesday, October 15, 2008

A Reflection about Nonprofits – Eliminating Poverty or Trying to Make It Palatable?

A Reflection about Nonprofits – Eliminating Poverty or Trying to Make It Palatable? Blog Action Day - Poverty 2008

Palatable: acceptable or agreeable to the mind or feelings: palatable ideas.,

A nonprofit, nongovernmental and governmental organization that features the word “Poverty” in its mission or vision statement, its goals and objectives should be reflecting and meditating today on that word: poverty. When I write “poverty” I include all its relatives, low-income community, working poor, low-income senior citizens, low-income disabled people, poverty community, the poor, homeless, medically unserved, people who are too different than us and are not deserving (to eat, to work, to have a home, to live) and so on.

Poverty in the United States and the world is predominately about women, children, disabled people, senior citizens and people who are “different”.

The reflection and meditation on the word “poverty” should include whether the group is seeking to eliminate poverty, for a person, a family, a neighborhood, a village, a country, the world or simply making it palatable. And the reflection, meditation should include palatable to whom? Is palatability for the person or family or group who are poor or palatable to the organization or palatable to the supporters of the organization or palatable to the rest of the world?

Reflection and meditation: Thinking with your soul and your brain.

Poverty is never palatable, never acceptable, and never agreeable to those who are poor. Never!

The poor may ask, “Are you trying to make me unpoor or to help me accept my poverty a little better today than I did yesterday?” What is the organization’s answer? What is your personal answer?

How does your organization show demonstrably to the poor and the rest of us that it is attempting to its fullest capabilities to eliminate poverty? Or are you satisfied with palatability?

Foundations, corporations, governmental bodies, donors: where do you stand on poverty? If poverty is what you are fighting, how are you demonstrating that through grants not only for services to the poor but also for advocacy by and for poor people? Who is listening to those you serve? Who is attacking the people who attack the poor?

In my view service without advocacy is leaving poverty palatable to someone…not the clients or customers or patients who receive the service. Advocacy is attacking the causes of poverty, the policies and decisions that have impact making or keeping poor people poor.

One interesting take on poverty that lingers with me is an article by Professor Herbert J. Gans of Columbia University written in 1972, The Uses of Poverty: The Poor Pay All. He writes in part:

"… there may be some merit in applying functional analysis to poverty, in asking whether it also has positive functions that explain its persistence.


Associating poverty with positive functions seems at first glance to be unimaginable. Of course, the slumlord and the loan shark are commonly known to profit from the existence of poverty, but they are viewed as evil men, so their activities are classified among the dysfunctions of poverty.

However, what is less often recognized, at least by the conventional wisdom, is that poverty also makes possible the existence or expansion of respectable professions and occupations, for example, penology, criminology, social work, and public health. More recently, the poor have provided jobs for professional and para-professional "poverty warriors," and for journalists and social scientists, this author included, who have supplied the information demanded by the revival of public interest in poverty.

Clearly, then, poverty and the poor may well satisfy a number of positive functions for many nonpoor groups in American society. I shall describe thirteen such functions - economic, social and political - that seem to me most significant."


For the thirteen positive functions that help keep poor people poor see the full article.

Is your organization in there? Are you in there? And am I in there? How will we change after reflection and meditation about poverty today?

Excellence can be attained if you

-Care more often than others think wise.

-Risk more often than others think is safe.

-Dream more often than others think is practical.

-Expect more than others think is possible.

Janet Cagery, date unknown

1 comment:

Pastor Vince Ramos said...

This what Non-Profits have struggled with for a long time especially within the last 8-10 years, how do we work to end poverty without making it palatable, which means easing our own consciences and guilt. if we just do a little bit to help we can say we are doing something. But to truly end poverty non-profits are urgently needed to not only provide ministries to the poor. But also to advocate for the poor. This includes working alongside the poor and accompying them to voice concerns to the power structures. Ministry/service and advocacy do go hand in hand.

Good question on having us non-profits stop and think about what we mean about elminating poverty.

Pastor Vince Ramos

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