Too many charities?

People wonder why nonprofits are proliferating these days, and complain that the field is too crowded.  But it finally occurred to the Nonprofiteer that the main reason for nonprofit multiplication isn’t Baby Boomer solipsism or a revival of civil society or easy access to technology; it’s something bigger, something so huge and obvious it’s nearly invisible: the exceptional unresponsiveness of our contemporary political system

Don’t you feel helpless? 

  • We choose a Democratic Senate and House to end the war, and they go on funding it and complaining they can’t get Republican permission to stop.  (Just turn the money off!  How complicated is this?) 
  • We believe in our Constitutional right to privacy, but the Justice Department and the intelligence agencies felt free to violate it and the self-same Democratic Congress is preparing to grant immunity to the phone companies that helped them do it.  (Could this possibly be because the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee gets campaign contributions from the phone companies?  Could it really be that a Rockefeller needs to sell us out for money?) 
  • We believe we’re a civilized and law-abiding nation, but people are being tortured in our name.  (Read that again: people are being tortured on your behalf.  How’s it feel?)  The Congress passes a law prohibiting torture; the President signs and then says he doesn’t have to abide by it.  A judge tells the Executive Branch to safeguard evidence of torture relevant to future trials; instead, it tolerates destruction of a highly relevant videotape and then tells the judge not to investigate and the Congress not to hold hearings (because they might interfere with the judge’s investigation–no, I’m not making this up).
  • We believe we live in a representative democracy with three co-equal branches of government but apparently nothing–not Congressional subpoenas, not orders from Federal judges, not elections of an opposition majority–can stop this Administration from doing exactly what it pleases; and no one will even say that these refusals to obey the law constitute high crimes and misdemeanors, let alone pursue the Constitutional remedy of impeachment for them.

The Nonprofiteer–wealthy, independent, with access to a public platform–feels helpless.  How much more helpless do her fellow citizens feel?  Is it any wonder they choose self-help?  And–with the public purse apparently permanently closed to them for such frivolous purposes as buying school supplies–is it any wonder they create nonprofits and ask for charity to support them?

So let’s assume there are too many nonprofits–too many to be efficient, or too many for private charity to support.  That’s a symptom, of a cause so much more important and frightening that it makes "proliferation of nonprofits" seem like a joke problem up there with "shortage of cloth napkins." 

And–for a little irony with your despair–consider that funders complaining about nonprofit redundancy represent the very agglomerations of private wealth that have pushed citizens out of the political system and into the third sector to begin with.  No wonder it sticks in some of our craws to be expected to herald the new philanthropists and laud them for their bold engagement in grappling with social problems–problems they created for the rest of us themselves.   

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6 Responses to “Too many charities?”

  1. The Agitator Says:

    The Nonprofiteer Is, Well, Agitated

    And we love it!Today she takes a whack at those who complain that there are too many nonprofits out there (The Agitator confesses to having fewer is better days).Her argument in a nutshell: If our political system was remotely responsive (jabb

  2. Charles L. Says:

    Wow – I’m so charged up by this commentary, which so perfectly summarizes my profound angst … I want to send HER money.

  3. Nonprofiteer Says:

    Thanks–but instead (notwithstanding my howls against the tame opposition party) vote Democratic in ’08.

  4. Elizabeth Ritzman Says:

    Again…here, Here!

    Oh my God, you nailed it again. And yes, I do feel frickin’ helpless. Especially after deleting about 40 email solicitations from every .org who promises to take this damn bull by the horns and never gets the job done.

    Thanks – I guess.
    Yet, still; at least (I was told I’d be mature when I no longer employed the phrase ” at least”…) it’s a useful reality check to see this analyis.

  5. Erich Riesenberg Says:

    It may be that people are turning to nonprofits to solve problems in part due to a distrust of politics, but I don’t think it explains the rampant desire people have to start their own nonprofits, rather than work with others already established. People think they can do it better, and don’t play well with others.

    If people could start their own little real life physical communities I am sure they would. Starting new political entities is not an option, so start a new nonprofit. Personally, I am glad to have found a few nonprofits I can happily support without feeling the need to venture out on my own. I can be part of a community.

    Similar mistakes are likely to be repeated with each new, inexperienced nonprofit.

  6. Nonprofiteer Says:

    Erich, You’re right–it shouldn’t be necessary to reinvent the wheel with each new organization but somehow it always is. And I don’t minimize the damage that can be caused by have amateurs make mistakes in (say) human services that professionals would have avoided. I just urge an understanding of people’s motivations which recognizes their/our unquenchable desire to do good as well as to display our egos.

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