Tarence Ray: A Way Out (Popula)
Holy shit this is a great, tough piece.
Why do nonprofits exist?
The generous answer is that society is imperfect: people have needs that the government cannot meet (and that corporations refuse to meet). But the cynical answer is that there’s money to be made in nonprofits. Not for the people actually working at them, of course; they make very little. But for their extremely wealthy patrons, the rich people who want to protect their capital from being taxed and expropriated by the government, nonprofits are not only lucrative—they’re an effective way to provide legitimacy to the ruling class.
Meeting the needs of millionaires is not easy. When their needs are vague and undefined—or poorly thought through and unsuited to the needs of local communities—it requires labor and stress (and ulcers) to keep them satisfied. It also requires a great deal of exploitation: the people working the hardest at nonprofits often make the least. People will work themselves to literal sickness chasing vague grant imperatives and using their dedication to The Work as a justification for their physical and mental burnout.
The treatment of workers in the nonprofit industry is perhaps its most disturbing feature, and it often goes unnoticed by larger society. There is a confusion, a frustration, that arises when you don’t see society changing at the scale or speed with which you’d like it to, especially when that “change”—however vaguely defined—is your literal job. But as long as nonprofits exist, it will be this way. This is because nonprofits exist to manage the contradictions of capitalism. When you find yourself unable to do that—or unable to deal with everyone around you blindly accepting that the contradictions can only be managed, rather than changed—you simply lose your mind, or the lining of your stomach.
In the absence of concrete results—and in my experience, the absence of concrete results begins to look more like the norm than the exception—you start to see the concrete function of the nonprofit sector differently. For all the good intentions it’s paved with, philanthropy is an illusion, a mirage. And it tricks you into accepting (or even embracing) the underlying fact of philanthropic giving: that rich people have a lot of surplus capital, from exploiting and immiserating thousands of lives, and they need somewhere to put it. It doesn’t matter if the millionaire is a Koch brother or an eco-friendly crusader. Vast profits, often the direct spoils of exploitation—the rightfully earned wages denied to workers, or the profits made from poisoning people’s water—are plowed right back into a system that, by design, can never alter the balance of power.