Open Collective
Open Collective
Giving Tuesday & The Nonprofit Industrial Complex
Published on November 28, 2023 by Kris R

This Giving Tuesday, we encourage you to learn about the Nonprofit Industrial Complex and seek alternatives if you plan to donate. For the rest of this week, all new donations to LA Street Care will fund hardship grants -- tax-free money that goes directly to unhoused and housing-insecure people in crisis. These grants help cover emergency expenses, including food, rent, medical bills, and disaster relief.

What is the Nonprofit Industrial Complex? 

The Nonprofit Industrial Complex (NPIC) is the system in which the rich and powerful benefit from corporations and government agencies funding nonprofits. Through advantageous tax codes and public relations, the rich maintain control of their wealth, and corporations mask their exploitative practices with "philanthropic" work (e.g., Jeff Bezos generated positive headlines by donating $100 million to Feeding America after firing warehouse workers who demanded safe working conditions during the pandemic).

The NPIC encourages social justice initiatives to model themselves after the same capitalist structures that create and perpetuate poverty -- rather than challenge them. This undermines movements for radical change and upholds a system that progressively worsens conditions for the people it purports to help (e.g., LA's homelessness crisis grows each year despite the ever-increasing funding pumped into ineffective nonprofits, many of which are run by wealthy friends of politicians and CEOs, via grants and city contracts.) Not to mention the myriad of tactics and conflicts of interest used to milk nonprofits (e.g., exorbitant “consulting” fees, self-enriching contracts with for-profit entities, expensing fringe benefits).

Politicians rely on this artifice instead of taking meaningful action to address the root causes of poverty (e.g., creating social housing, proactively prosecuting wage theft, increasing budgets for services, capping rent increases, providing legal representation for anyone facing eviction, raising the minimum wage to be a liveable wage, indexing minimum wage to inflation). In case it's not obvious, elected officials allow this to continue because wielding their immense power to help workers, renters, and the poor would piss off the donor class. Instead, more money is pumped into the NPIC, benefiting the rich and appeasing just enough people to make it feel like we might be making a collective difference.

Why is donating to mutual aid a better option? 

Every mutual aid group is different, but charities tend to only serve those they deem "the deserving poor" (e.g., only women, only children, only people who don't use drugs) while mutual aid believes anyone in need is deserving.

Nonprofits don't provide everything an unhoused person needs; most mutual aid groups ask folks what they need instead of assuming and deciding for them.

Mutual aid is about more than handing someone a meal or a tent. Its goal is to build new and lasting social relations. This builds power to fight back against unjust systems and enact transformative change. And we believe simply getting to know our neighbors can be a radical act in itself.

Giving to local mutual aid groups is a direct investment in your community and ensures donations reach people in need. We also encourage giving cash to the unhoused because it provides them with agency in meeting their needs!

One of LA Street Care's core principles is a commitment to applying abolitionist practices rooted in the dismantling of systems of oppression, including racism, capitalism, colonialism, and ableism. Hardship grants are an imperfect tool, but they're currently the closest option we have to direct aid within our existing framework. We pledge to continually critique and explore new ways to better our work.