Invest in People, Not Programs
Taniquewa Brewster used her $1,000 a month investment to become a notary public and sign up her five children for activities like sports and art at the local recreation center. The participant in the City of Austin’s guaranteed income pilot called the experience life-changing.
"The guaranteed income allowed me more time to work towards furthering my dreams," Brewster told KVUE.
My nonprofit UpTogether provides direct cash transfers, such as guaranteed income, distributing $195 million in unrestricted cash to more than 200,000 individuals since 2020. That’s why the City of Austin partnered with us to develop the first guaranteed income pilot in Texas to be funded with operating dollars. Austin welcomed UpTogether’s approach: “community, capital and choice,” which recognizes and honors people’s strengths, abilities and self-determination.
Research shows “trusting and investing” in people works. In the first six months of the guaranteed income pilot in Austin, Texas, participants were more stably housed and less likely to be concerned about eviction. They also experienced improvements in their mental health and food security.
If this model works, why isn’t philanthropy and government moving from investing in programs to investing in people to address systemic inequalities in the U.S.? Instead, we continue to spend billions of dollars on programs that haven’t moved the needle on poverty. In fact, things are getting worse. Last month, the U.S. Census Bureau announced the child poverty rate more than doubled as a result of the expiration of the expanded Child Tax Credit, which provided $3,600 for children younger than 6 and $3,000 for kids ages 6 to 17. The end of the expanded Child Tax Credit is a tragic example of how poverty is a policy choice.
We have to stop blaming poverty on people and instead see them as the solution. This will require unlearning harmful stereotypes and learning to trust the people we seek to help. By doing this, we can enact policies that recognize the dignity, autonomy and initiative of the people we serve.
Change also requires philanthropy to invest in nonprofits. Like the people they serve, these nonprofits need unrestricted grants for operations to perform their work effectively.
Philanthropy should abandon the practices that have perpetuated growing wealth inequality and wage stagnation for the last four decades. The Langkelly Chase Foundation in the U.K. points a bold way forward. The foundation will shut down after spending $236 million on social justice over the next five years. Julian Corner, executive director of the organization, said the foundation felt “stuck” in a video about the announcement.
“Our institution and philanthropy more widely is actually part of the problem that we’ve been seeking to solve,” he said. “The way we are structured is getting in the way of the flow of resources that’s needed into the work that we’ve been trying to support.”
There is a movement building to invest in people, not programs. We see it with the rise of the guaranteed income pilots that have spread across the U.S. There is also an understanding that organizations have to be trusted to carry out the missions and strategies — and receive the operational support to do so, as the Center for Effective Philanthropy reported in "Before and After 2020: How the Pandemic Changed Nonprofit Experiences With Funders."
UpTogether built trust with the city of Austin and participants in the guaranteed income pilot. As a result, Austin’s city council recently approved an extension of cash grants to families.
“Not only is it helping the community to ensure that families are stable, but it just helps us to feel secure in a city that's prices are rising,” Taniquewa Brewster said in testimony to Austin city council about the need for the pilot to continue.
Will funders remain stuck in the status quo or embrace the changes needed to make a real difference on poverty and wealth inequality? UpTogether is demonstrating what is possible. Please join us.
The preceding blog was provided by an individual unaffiliated with NonProfit PRO. The views expressed within do not directly reflect the thoughts or opinions of NonProfit PRO.