Ken Goldstein, MPPA

Ken Goldstein has been working in nonprofits and local government agencies from Santa Cruz, to Sacramento, and back to Silicon Valley, since 1989. He's been staff, volunteer, board member, executive director, and, since 2003, a consultant to local nonprofit organizations. For more on Ken's background, click here. If you are interested in retaining Ken's services, you may contact him at ken at

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Nonprofits as the Equalizing Force

Today is Blog Action Day 2014. Each year, BAD organizes bloggers from over 100 countries to write on a single theme for one day of coordinated action. This year's theme is Inequality.

As I searched around for a particular subject to write on, it hit me that I could not narrow it down to a single aspect of inequality that I could relate to work in the nonprofit sector.

I considered writing about education, noting the disparity in the range of annual per-pupil spending (from $6,206 in Utah up to $19,522 in New York - a range that is politically inspired at least as much as it is a recognition of the range in cost of living), or that, on average, states spend four times as much per prisoner as they do per student (talk about priorities!).

Of course there is economic inequality. We've all heard (and in many cases written) about the growing gap between the 1% and the 99%... Despite the election of a Black President, racial inequality still persists, as shown these past months in Ferguson and elsewhere, also pointing out inequality of justice... Do I need to mention gender inequality, including the most basic question of how we define gender and the gender of who we love? Yes, I do.

For each of these issues there is a nonprofit connection, with agencies and activists working tirelessly to right these wrongs. But I also realized that virtually all nonprofits are addressing some sort of injustice or inequality. Arts groups seek to bring beauty and hope to places where neither exists. Health nonprofits seek to heal those without access to insurance. The list goes on.

As I've written before, much of what the nonprofit sector is about is to address market failures: the operation of a free market society will always create a certain number of citizens who fall between the cracks. If there were economic equality and equality of justice in all areas of our lives, there would be no need for many of our services, a profit-driven model for providing other services, and no justification for our tax-exempt status.

By and large, the nonprofit sector exists to address inequality. But does your organization just put a temporary band-aid on those harmed by inequality, or do you work to change the system and eliminate inequality?

And, getting to my point here, do you vote in line with that mission? Election day is coming up in less than three weeks. For the last several years CalNonprofits has reminded its members and constituents of the power of their vote and encouraged them to "Vote With Your Mission." Of course, you don't have to live in California to appreciate, and act on, that message.

Study the ballot in your state. Think about how each decision on that ballot might effect equality in your community. And then remember to vote.

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