Nicholas Kristof highlighted some very impressive young philanthropists in his New York Times column yesterday; but one of his observations made the Nonprofiteer cringe:

“The humanitarian prodigies like Ana and Nick are laudable for going beyond simple protesting to help their causes. Today’s young social entrepreneurs come across as more constructive than my generation of student activists, and more savvy about how to accomplish their goals cost-effectively.”

Another term for “simple protesting” is “political action.” As committed to the service-providing nonprofit sector as she is, the Nonprofiteer doesn’t imagine—and doesn’t want others to imagine—that the work of this sector substitutes for monitoring or changing government policies in favor of those in need. Nor is it clear that organizing a nation’s worth of benefit dances to pay for anti-malarial bed nets is more “cost-effective” than organizing a nationwide letter-writing campaign urging Congress to spend money on bed nets instead of the Iraq war.

So while we’re celebrating charitable young people, let’s not devalue those who choose political involvement instead. Nothing is “more constructive” than holding our own government accountable.

imageKelly Kleiman, who blogs as The Nonprofiteer, is a lawyer and freelance journalist whose reportage and essays about the arts, philanthropy and women’s issues have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Christian Science Monitor and other dailies; in magazines including In These Times and Chicago Philanthropy; and on websites including and