Whenever I talk to human services nonprofits, I hear the same problem: “Our funding is being cut by the government and no one is giving us a check to fill in the gap.” One long-term ED lamented, “What will happen to our agency, which we started in the 60’s, as it matures and there’s no new blood, no new money to keep the flame alive?”
The shift to decreased government responsibility for the aged, the sick, and the young seems to be scarily permanent. Everyone seems to have bought into this idea of small government.

Everyone except foundations and donors. Foundations don’t want to fund primary health programs, for example, because, they reason, that’s government’s job. We’re talking about a huge amount of money here. Private citizens, in general, don’t perceive the slow retrenchment of government services. And if they do, they don’t feel responsible. Afterall, they’ve paid their taxes.

My question to you, dear reader, is this: Who will pay for social services in our country if neither government nor foundations will?

I have a cleaning lady who is from Mexico. She pays monthly installments on her $4,000 dental bill from last year. She commutes three hours because there isn’t affordable housing nearby. Her daughter goes to a mediocre public high school, where the students watch a lot of videos in class. How will her kids ever make it to the middle class, I wonder. What will happen if there’s an emergency in the family?

I don’t have a philosophical opinion about whether government should be big or small. I just want to know, Who is going to provide social services that we used to expect from our government?

Year by year, it seems, local, state, and federal governments are freezing or cutting social service funding. It’s like global warning: The average person doesn’t see it; it takes place over a long period of time; and the results could be irreversible. So, who in this sector is going to raise raucous about this? I don’t see the Council on Foundations, Independent Sector, or Nonprofit Congress saying much. If they have and I’ve missed it, maybe they can speak a little louder.

We should have someone who is willing to make this the one issue that they will raise a stink about until someone stands up and says, I have the answer.

Who will pay for social services in our country if neither government nor foundations will?

Please post your comments below because this question confounds and scares me.


Perla Ni, founder and former publisher of the Stanford Social Innovation Review, is the founder and CEO of GreatNonprofits. She is also a co-founder of Grassroots.com.