Bearing Witness

by Billy Shore

Four questions nonprofits must ask in light of dramatic rise in poverty

Sunday, September 18, 2011


Last week the Census Bureau released a new survey showing a record 46 million Americans living in poverty below the poverty line, and more than 20 million living in deep poverty (below less than 50% of the poverty line) The sheer magnitude of the problem – greater than any time in the 52 years since such records have been kept – makes it likely that the work of virtually every nonprofit and social service organization will be impacted by heightened need. Most if not all will be asked to do more with less.

There are at least four questions that community leaders and nonprofit executives should be asking in light of this crisis level of poverty:

First, anticipating greater need, are we investing internally in building capacity to meet it?

Second, is it possible to do more with less or must we find ways to not only redistribute wealth but to also create a new kind of wealth called community wealth?

Third, will we go about doing business as usual, or can we reorganize to serve those most vulnerable and voiceless in our society?

Fourth, are our programs and services designed to yield incremental change or to achieve the transformational results necessary?

These are many of the questions we’ve wrestled with over the past 2 years at Share Our Strength and at Community Wealth Ventures. Share Our Strength has grown from revenues of about $14 million in 2008 to about $36 million today. The result is that we and others in the anti-hunger community been able to alleviate a significant percentage of hunger even as poverty has increased.

Community Wealth Ventures is working hard to tease out these lessons of success, and the ingredients of other transformational efforts, and to make them available to other nonprofits and community leaders. To see if they can help go to