When Nonprofits are Businesses

Everyday I see the growing pressure on nonprofits to privatize and corporatize their operations. That view is provided by the foundations I’m approaching for funding, from the networking orgs for nonprofits, and from government agencies soliciting program proposals. From my experience, I would suggest that many of the large nonprofit orgs are now well-cloaked in money-making schemes, mostly selling products and services of all kinds to an unsuspecting, well-meaning consumerist nonprofit and social service audience.

What sucks the most is that this pressure is being put out under the guise of “social entrepreneurship.” Arundhati Roy explains that this is neoliberalism eating away at the well-intended (although often problem-creating) missions of many nonprofit organizations. Consequently, the public feels disconnected from the intrinsic benefit of social charities, the government feels justified in the marketizing the nonprofit sector, and private funders feel power over the goals of local, community-oriented nonprofits, as well as large orgs.

Organizations serving youth are increasingly affected by this trend. Its been in force for at least ten years on the national and international levels, where youth-serving nonprofits have the veneer and polish of the large corporations who fund their operations. Many of these organizations accept large donations that come with branding rights for corporations.

Now that phenomenon is sweeping the local arena. Tiny organizations with small staff and volunteer strength are being driven to hawk wares like they were vendors at the farmer’s market looking for customers. T-shirts, program curricula, DVDs, CDs, furniture (no joke)… its all available to those who can pay.

By negating society’s larger responsibility of funding innovative socially-oriented organizations, we’re teaching children, youth, and society at large that we – as communities or individuals – aren’t responsible for the well-being of the larger community or its individual members. That sucks. Now what?

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