Local nonprofits are already familiar with the houses of worship, family advocates, and other resources and can connect people with what they need to navigate a crisis, or avoid it entirely.
The Biden administration has positioned the federal government as the antidote to society’s biggest and messiest problems. Many in philanthropy are joining him, calling for an expansion of government programs to cover the services offered adeptly by local nonprofits during the health and economic crises. Ellen Friedman, executive director of the Compton Foundation, recently put it this way: “Our government should meet the communal needs that philanthropy has been backfilling — and that applies to health care, education, and other public needs.” While government is a valued partner in protecting the vulnerable among us, nobody understands the needs of communities more than those living in them. As tempting as it may seem to turn to government to rescue us in this time of extreme hardship, let’s not lose sight of the distinct value that charities — especially those directly serving local communities — provide. Government typically helps when someone is already in crisis. It is far less capable when it comes to offering the types of preventive measures people need before they get to that point. Take foster care, my area of expertise. Of the more than 22,000 reports received by the Florida Abuse Hotline last November, just 1,458 children were determined unsafe, and 3,859 met criteria for further assessments. Programs run by government agencies aren’t generally equipped to provide practical advice to single parents struggling to keep their jobs and care for children while schools are closed. Many of these parents don’t qualify for support since they haven’t hit rock bottom. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t hurting. Government Is Too Slow In Ohio, for example, a young single mother recently left her children in a motel room to work her shift at a pizza shop. She was arrested, and her kids were taken away. The police were the last thing she needed — she just needed someone to help her create a child-care schedule without fear of losing her children. When these short windows of opportunity for prevention appear, time is of the essence, and government simply isn’t fast enough.