Taking On the Big Stuff

A fast look at just four critical areas facing American society today: poverty, race, environment, and democracy:

1. What is the definition of "poor"? In the United States, for the government to consider a family officially poor, a household of four people must have total income of less than $22,050. Repeat for emphasis: a family of four must live on less than $22,050 or they aren't certifiably poor. And even with such a stringent guideline, one of every six children in America lives in poverty.

2. And in regards to America's other great crime zone -- race: One in every three young African American men is unemployed . . . more than three times the rate of adults in general. If this were happening in some country far away we would see it more clearly for what it is: structural abuse against a segment of our population.

3. Environmental health: did you know that one in every five visits to an emergency room by a child is asthma-related? Think about it: if we cleaned up our air and environment we would not only have healthier children, but imagine the money in health care that would be saved.

4. Democracy: The Supreme Court recently ruled (Citizens United) that unlimited corporate spending on elections is allowable. We nonprofits, meanwhile, are strictly prohibited from supporting candidates, ostensibly because of our tax-exempt status. But the federal government also spends $92 billion each year on "corporate welfare" (also known as corporate subsidies), while the nonprofit tax exemption reduces federal taxes by less: about $72 billion annually. Corporate spending and millionaire candidates are distorting our elections everywhere, yet the rules are getting even less democratic.

And we haven't even gotten to the prevalence of world hunger, or the absence of world peace.

These realities are what we in the nonprofit sector are working on: big, deep, societal issues that affect everyone in every community. And our goals are not more effective practices, not better logic models, not more detailed metrics. We are taking on the big stuff, and our goals are to change these big realities. We can't let ourselves be distracted by all the management advice we get, nor by the charges that we're trivial or frivolous. We are working on the big stuff: changing the world.

(Sources: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, CBS News, National Safety Council, SubsidyScope, and Urban Institute, in order.)

* This issue: The legendary Pablo Eisenberg has some advice for foundations; we offer advice on making your board resignation into a meaningful act; updates on recent controversial articles about sacred cows, and 5 things you should have in your desk right now.

This is our 50th issue of Blue Avocado . . . thanks again to our sponsors, advertisers, staff, Steering Committee, and our 60,000 subscribers! Think about forwarding this issue or one of its articles to a friend (use the little ShareThis icon just to the right at the end of articles) . . . thanks! --Jan Masaoka

Comments (17)

  • thanks, some excellent articles.  I especially appreciated the taking on the big stuff, Sacred Cows piece, and the dialogues about Teachamerica/Serve america.  couldn't have summed up many of my experiences better:)

    Jun 22, 2010
  • Well said and well done. Thank you!

    Jun 23, 2010
  • Bravo . . . a good series of articles . . . Ken

    Jun 23, 2010
  • I just want to say “thnk you”. I forward this to my staff and my board—good writing, good topics!  Keep it up!

    Jun 23, 2010
  • Taking on the Big Stuff...thanks for the candid reminders of the invisible segments of the U.S. population: The poor & African American Males...one in the same isn't it? NM

    Jun 23, 2010
  • While the non-profit portions of your newsletter is informative, I really do not think it is appropriate to propagate your personal political agenda as illustrated in this article. Leaving the liberal agenda behind, and just guidelines to non-profit.

    Jun 24, 2010
  • Anonymous

    I concur. The assumption that every thinking person just naturally agrees with a liberal social agenda is itself a recurring trait of liberals! Prefacing with some recognition that this is only one worldview would be helpful.. What would you think if I marched into an Obama "coffee party" you were attending and announced that "we all know" that four top priorities for nonprofits are: pushing for smaller, less intrusive government, lowering taxes and cutting government spending, teaching self-sufficiency, and sharing our faith lives with those we are helping?

    Jul 02, 2010
  • I do have a "liberal social agenda" but I don't by any means assume that others think the same way. Would you consider submitting a piece for Blue Avocado making the case for exactly those four top priorities that you mention? I think it could make a great piece for Blue Avocado readers. If so, please contact me (click here to do so) and let's talk. Jan

    Jul 03, 2010
  • I just wanted to express how much I value the Blue Avocado. It is the best not-for-profit issues periodical (web or print) that I receive. I often forward articles to my board members and advocate that they subscribe themselves. I have also used several of your articles as the discussion topics for the opener at our staff meetings. There is no better, clearer, well-written, "tell it like it is" nonprofit periodical that I have found. Great job.

    Jun 24, 2010
  • For some reason I can't open articles fully this month; the 'Read more' doesn't work suddenly. Is it my machine or have you changed anything?

    Let me also congratulate you on your work and thank you for your insight as well as style to help those of us in the nonprofit community!

    Jun 25, 2010
  • DJ, thank you for such a nice note! Try the links again if you don't mind. We send out Blue Avocado over a three-day period so that not too many people click on links at the same time and thereby the server jams. That might be the problem.

    And really, thank you for taking the time to write. It means a great deal to us here. Jan

    Jun 25, 2010
  • Just sent the article to my Board and suggested they subscribe.

    Jan, you are my hero! Only you could give a short paragraph to poverty, race, environment and democracy and still give them meaning and inspire action (or at least inquiry)!


    Jun 27, 2010
  • I wanted to comment on point number three: Environmental health. You state that "one in every five visits to an emergency room by a child is asthma-related" and that "if we cleaned up our air and environment we would not only have healthier children, but imagine the money in health care that would be saved."

    While I certainly agree that we need to clean up the environment and the air, I also believe (and their is scientific evidence for this) that possibly the main reason for the substantial increase in asthma cases among our children is that we do not allow them to 'get dirty.' Everywhere you look, you see people using and telling others (especially their children) to use antimicrobial/antibacterial soaps and sprays, surface and air disinfectants, etc. If we do not challenge our bodies with antigens (bacteria, fungi, viruses, etc.), they do not learn how to cope with them.

    When I was growing up, we played in the dirt and washed our hands with real soap (not disinfectant soaps).  Another serious disadvantage to all the antibacterial/antimicrobial/disinfectants soaps being used these days is that they foster the development of resistant microorganisms by killing the weak ones and leaving the strong ones; not a good thing. By the way I am a retired microbiologist.

    I love reading Blue Avocado and look forward to each issue.  Thank you for letting me voice my opinion. Best regards, Stan

    Jul 04, 2010
  • Stan, I really appreciate this thoughtful contribution. I am aware that there are differences of scientific and medical opinion about the causes for increased asthma cases in children. Once a child has asthma, though, there seems to be general consensus that air quality has a great impact on the degree to which the child is affected by the asthma. That's why I felt on pretty firm ground linking air quality with visits to ERs for asthma-related issues.

    As a non-scientist I was glad to hear your view as a microbiologist about the problems with disinfectant soaps and avoidance of dirt. For one thing it made me feel better about having let my children get so dirty! One of them made a "Zen of Handwashing" poster for Blue Avocado (click here for it).

    Do you have any suggestions as to what ordinary people and ordinary nonprofits can do to combat the overuse of antibacterial soaps?

    Thank you, too, for your nice words about Blue Avocado. Jan

    Jul 04, 2010
  • Jan, I don't disagree about your stance on air quality, as you noted above. Regarding the disinfectant soaps, I would suggest encouraging people to use regular hand soap, instead of the unnecessary, and usually more expensive, antibacterial products. It's a tough battle, but an important one. Stan

    Jul 04, 2010
  • Anonymous

    There is also another specific cause for the increase in asthma in this country. It has to do with the scientific and technical advances in saving very small premature babies at much higher rates than any time in history. Data shows as these children grow they often develop asthma.

    Jul 09, 2010
  • yes! i value teaching/aiding self-sufficiency and emphasizing the importance of moral ethical living. wealth is a state of mind through quality living and respecting respect.
    pride and dignity is empowering and free, trusting in positive thinking and aligning with
    quality is key to success/happy life! Be Well and Strong, be a friend and make friends,
    life will be full-filling! the end and amen!

    Jul 11, 2010

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