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Charity = sustains the system, adheres to the status quo, lives inside “the box,” is comfortable, is focused on a moment ... not a movement.
Change = alters the system, creates a new paradigm, "no box" thinking, requires discomfort and compromise, is focused on a movement ... not a moment.
The average individual thinks of the nonprofit sector as a space in which "warm and fuzzy" decisions are made that can improve the quality of life for a group of people or help lessen the detrimental societal impact of a specific issue. That brings forth this ongoing question:
Are we looking to treat issues with "band aids" or do we really want to substantively alter the course of lives and the systems that influence the course of our lives?
More plainly, is the nonprofit sector more focused on implementing CHARITY efforts or CHANGE efforts?
"Charity" often assumes that the causes of social issues are unchangeable … they just are what they are. Charity often perpetuates the status quo and assumes that people will never rise out of their dire circumstances. "Change" typically seeks to challenge the institutionalized patterns and structures … with a focus on overhauling or eliminating systemic barriers.
Organizations and individuals take on a range of noble efforts. Examples such as: providing temporary housing for the homeless, providing scholarship support for under-resourced students, or helping formerly incarcerated young men secure a job. While they help individuals during difficult times, do these efforts actually lead to long-term impact – impact that leads individuals to asset and wealth building and ultimately, eliminating reliance on the “system” to meet their needs? Do these efforts call for change in systems that prevent people from building assets and true self-sufficiency?
I believe that the most impactful, substantive work of nonprofits results when the wheels are set in motion for genuine change - change that not only places the onus on individuals but also puts the system “on notice.” If the nonprofit sector seeks to materially alter the social and economic trajectories of individuals and communities it serves, CHANGE (not charitable efforts) are needed … now more than ever.
In my role as a project director for one of the largest grantmaking foundations in the country and in leading a consulting group, I've too often witnessed nonprofits settle for "band aid" outcomes that feel good and provide great optics and ribbon cuttings on the surface but don't lead to substantive, long-term changes for the people served. For these reasons, at NEX-Impact, we believe the term "charitable sector" is an outdated term that doesn't accurately capture the challenges of our times and the ultimate value of nonprofits. Therefore, we prefer the term "change" sector.
Charity OR Change … Which one are you made for?