Nonprofits are to politics as a horsefly is to a horse?

The Nonprofiteer doesn’t usually have much patience for Michael Lerner, or for anyone else who styles himself a "spiritual advisor."  (When Rabbi Lerner served in that capacity for then-First Lady Hillary Clinton, the cynical Nonprofiteer dismissed him as "a court Jew.")  But Lerner’s April meditation on the "shadow side of philanthropy" touched a responsive chord:

If philanthropy writ large is best seen, as leading sociologists have proposed, as a ‘buffer for capitalism’, it can be argued that its negative effects extend beyond the recycling of wealth to serve the interests of the power elite. One could also suggest that philanthropy lures the best and the brightest of those with ambitions to serve humanity away from careers in public service and towards this patchwork quilt of non-profit enterprises that rarely achieve critical mass in terms of real social reforms. Those who might otherwise work together to forge a broad social consensus that democracy should serve the best interests of the whole community spend their lives, instead, on diffuse causes where many battles may be won but the war, in general, is being lost.

The Nonprofiteer remembers being startled some years ago by a colleague’s assertion that most employees of and consultants to nonprofits were "of course" progressives.  Until that moment, somehow, she hadn’t connected the choice of a nonprofit career with her liberal politics.  But if Lerner is right, we’d all be better off never making that connection, given how inefficient nonprofit careers are in creating political change.

Lerner’s analysis also means the advocacy restrictions on 501(c)(3) charities are even more costly and debilitating than we thought: they not only silence the agencies, they muzzle the individuals most likely to know what needs changing, and most passionate about the importance of change. 

So throw off those muzzles, and run for office!  If you win, and decide you need a court Jew, the Nonprofiteer stands ready and waiting. 


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