A swoony article in Slate recently heralded the national rollout of SingleStop, an amazing and wildly successful new social venture (not a boring old charity) with great metrics:

“For every $1 invested [in SingleStop], the program gives clients $3 in benefits, $4 to $13 in legal counseling, $2 in financial counseling, and $11 in tax credits.”

So what’s the revolutionary, paradigm-shifting product?

Finding every dollar of government services to which the clients are entitled.

Yes, that’s correct: the idea that will change the way we assist the poor in this country is to make sure that we are actually delivering the assistance that this country has already committed to providing to the poor. Only under a Republican administration could this be hailed as a triumph of private-sector innovation.

It’s a fine idea—we do indeed leave substantial amounts of cash assistance on the table because people are too frightened or proud or confused to apply for it. And it may indeed be necessary to have an outside agency (rather than, say, a government employee) unearth all these goodies, because that same government employee is most likely under pressure to make her agency’s budget stretch as far as possible by disqualifying potential beneficiaries.

But let’s hear no more about how effective the private sector is at providing for the needy, when the biggest idea in private-sector charity turns out to be slopping more effectively at the public trough.

One might almost call it non-profiteering.


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 Aislesay.com and Artscope.net.

 

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