The Charitable Impulse: Part 7

Money PitLet’s look again more locally.  I recently had the privilege of joining the Board of United Way.  This has been an interesting journey, as I started as a front-line worker in a United Way funded agency, frustrated by the administrative time investment required to demonstrate outcomes to this funder, and now find myself in the position of demanding this work of our funded programs.

One of the important things I have learned is that no charity has an inherent right to limited charitable resources because of the power of its mission statement.  Take a hypothetical organization that provides clothing to people experiencing homelessness in order to assist them in obtaining employment (any similarity to existing organizations is entirely coincidental; I am simply making an illustration).  There can be a very powerful message here as employment is the only long-term solution to fully exiting poverty in our society.  This organization can receive, manage, and distribute massive amounts of quality business clothing to people in abject need.  However, if the people receiving the clothing aren’t particularly employment-ready, and actually have only a 3% employment rate post-receipt of a donation, the quality of the model is called into question.  The charity might excuse itself, saying that at least they are still giving clothing to people who need it, but is this the clothing they need?  Is this the most efficient model if we are just going to fall back on giving clothes?  And didn’t you sell your donors on making people employable?

In the hypothetical scenario provided above, I believe that two things should happen: First, the charity should be provided all the assistance they need to better achieve the outcomes of their mission statement.  Second, in the case that they are unable or unwilling to change to obtain the outcomes, I don’t think that dollars should (or likely will) go their way.  The organization might put out a plea to the public for funds, and people might wring their hands that there will be less opportunities for people who are experiencing homeless to get good jobs, but there is a false leap of logic that this organization, in this format, is actually shifting the needle in any significant way.

So, outcomes do matter.  When we have that charitable impulse, and want to help, and it’s not for the pat on the back, and with no expectation of ‘appropriate’ thanks for recipients, we can do so, and we can do it well.  This is done by being very clear about the mission that we want to achieve, understanding the complexities of the pathway to getting there, and being committed in the long-term to getting it right.  Take for example the Unity Project homeless shelter.  Like any other shelter, Unity Project provides people a safe place to stay.  However, their mission is also to transition people through housing solutions.  So, you might see a resident pushing a broom, or working at a desk at the shelter.  Reporting to a funder that “17 residents did 43 hours of broom pushing time” would be silly, but if these life skills opportunities help residents transition from emergency shelter, to transitional housing, to independent living, then the outcome has been achieved.

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One Response to The Charitable Impulse: Part 7

  1. Len Sterling says:

    I feel pushing a broom or doing other chores should never be a requirement for the homeless being allowed to stay at a homeless shelter and I’m not really sure how it became acceptable to expel homeless people from a shelter people for not doing chores.

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