A Shift in Charitable Antipoverty Services

Submitted by Natasha Pei on March 20, 2015 - 7:36am
From relief to relational work

Relational Antipoverty Work

In the most recent edition of the Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR) enewsletter, Michael Jindra and Ines Jindra talk about the rise of relational antipoverty work, which, compared to relief-based work, is centred on relationships and transformation.  In antipoverty work, it takes the form of casework and counselling, education, training, and development in places like shelters and family services.

The Charitable Shift

The authors capture the movements of three large Christian-based charities in the US: the Salvation Army, Catholic Charities, and St. Vincent de Paul in this shift. As the responsibility for poverty alleviation and social services is downloaded to community groups and charities, organizations are recognizing that investing in long-term solutions are worth the extra time and energy to prevent clients from cycling through the door again and again.  Rather than simply handing out food at the food banks, organizations are offering budget training; rather than offering only emergency relief, shelters are now pairing clients with caseworkers and offering practical life skills courses, like cooking.  Many charities are shifting to support strengths-based and systematic change, and are collaborating with other agencies to end poverty rather than relieving its symptoms.

A sustainable, effective solution to poverty reduction? 

Are these programs proving to be effective?  How do charities manage more intensive service provision with less government funding? Are these accurate indicators of poverty reduction efforts in North America?  What are your thoughts?   Add to the comment box below.


The following article was published in the SSIR on March 17, 2015 by Michael Jindra and Ines Jindra.

The Rise of Antipoverty Relational Work: Nonprofits in the United States are making a revolutionary change in how they approach solutions to poverty.

As the US federal welfare cash assistance program Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) has declined over the past decade, nonprofits that assist the poor have become a stronger part of the US social safety net. Instead of dealing with just short-term needs, these organizations are turning to what we call “relational work”—such as coaching, mentoring, family development, and forms of case management—to get people out of poverty over the long-term.

A Major Shift

For the three largest national organizations that provide direct aid to the poor—the Salvation Army, Catholic Charities, and St. Vincent DePaul—the trend toward ongoing relational work is a major shift in philosophy and practice. The Salvation Army previously provided financial help with utility bills, rent, and other needs, but with only minimal interaction between staff and client. Its new Pathway to Hope program takes a case management approach that focuses on “client needs through a strength-based lens,” and involves regular meetings with social workers for activities such as one-on-one counseling and life skills training.

Catholic Charities, a decentralized network of more than 160 local agencies and 2,759 sites, has made the same kind of changes over the last 10 years. The majority of its funds goes to food banks and pantries, but its ever-expanding relational work includes forming individual opportunity plans for clients, and offering financial literacy and other programs that help them make smart choices about finances. One Catholic Charities CEO described this change as going from a “transactional” to a “transformational” mode that is oriented to getting people out of poverty long-term rather than just serving immediate needs.

In the past few years, the Society of St. Vincent DePaul has been undergoing a similar shift to “end poverty through systemic change.” Traditionally favoring parish-based assistance, such as the delivery of food or clothing through home visits by volunteers, members are now incorporating an approach that looks at long-term needs.

These agencies and others have met annually since 2011 to “re-imagine the way America addresses poverty.” Joining them in 2014 was the network behind the 200 largest food banks in the country, Feeding America (#3 on Forbes’ Top 50 Charities list). The organization’s new Collaborating for Clients initiative intends to “help clients achieve more stable and self-sufficient lives” through focusing on employment, health, and housing—a “revolutionary change” in the words of an administrator. One aspect of the project involves revising data collection—instead of focusing on the number of people served or the amount of food distributed, members of the network want to focus on helping stabilize people so that they are not in need of continuous help. The organization also wants to encourage collaboration between food agencies and other nonprofits that already do relational work.

...Read the full article here