Junkfood Science: A novel idea: Not wasting money on things that don’t work

March 04, 2007

A novel idea: Not wasting money on things that don’t work

Suzanne Bohan writes an unusually daring and hard-hitting column looking at how charitable organizations waste government grant and donation moneys towards feel-good causes that do nothing to really help the poor, children or problems in the community. “Poverty pimps” is what one attorney calls them.

Donors push nonprofits for results

...The event, aimed at uniting the community and giving voice to the vast majority of citizens who abhor the murders and attacks that keep East Palo Alto in the headlines, cost a tiny fraction of the millions of dollars spent each year by the more than 100 nonprofits in the community working to create a better future for its citizens.

But Marcia Perez, an immigration attorney and East Palo Alto community activist .... found the event wasteful....Perez isn't alone in questioning the spending of the nonprofits dotting the community. Throughout the field of philanthropy, and perhaps nowhere more so than in Silicon Valley, donors are increasingly demanding evidence of results.

....With "easily over 100" nonprofits in East Palo Alto, Faye McNair-Knox, executive director of One East Palo Alto, said there is a glut in services for youth groups..."We have a pattern of a lot of these nonprofits serving the same population of youth," said McNair-Knox....

Perez...described a pejorative term — poverty pimps — that's emerged in the nonprofit field to describe charitable service providers that do little or nothing to create lasting solutions, but rather sustain themselves with grants and donations. Wikipedia defines "poverty pimps" as "a derogatory label used to convey the accusation that an individual or group is benefiting unduly by acting as an intermediary on behalf of the poor." It's a group that's making all this money off the cycle, but they're not curing the problem," Perez said, noting that this situation often created by government grants.

"It's definitely here in East Palo Alto," said McNair-Knox, pointing to schools as a prime example of wasted expenditures, with "half-hearted" attempts to implement curricula, which are then replaced by newer curricula before the first had a chance to succeed. "That's notorious in the school system," she said.

Perez cited the example of a Spanish-language flier she receives every few months at her East Palo Alto home that provides exercise and eating advice for losing weight. "Mailing is very expensive," she said, citing printing and postage costs. "But how much are they going to affect obesity?," she asked. "I could be wrong that someone picked it up and it changed their life," Perez said. "But I'm betting I'm right."

That's why they use the word 'poverty pimp,'" Perez continued. "Somebody's getting paid, but no one's losing weight." ....

How likely will the situation change with so many enjoying divying up so much money? Robert Wood Johnson Foundation gave about $24 million to “prevent childhood obesity” in 2005 alone — and that’s just one foundation. The federal government now spends more than $600 million a year on obesity programs.

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