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We Need Justice Not Charity

It was true one hundred years ago and it is true today.

As nonprofit leaders, we are busy with the day-to-day operations of our organizations. When not dealing with the immediate challenges that arise, we are seeking funding to continue operations. Long-term thinking usually takes the form of a strategic plan.

But are we really serving our missions?

Our nonprofits exist to address the immediate needs of our communities and change the systems that perpetuate those needs.

In 2021, Mayor Webber of Santa Fe asked the Food Depot for a report about addressing child hunger in Santa Fe. The report, Ensuring Every Child in Santa Fe has Access to Sufficient and Nutritious Food, is an excellent example of looking at the systems that perpetuate child hunger.

“It is imperative that those who sincerely want to eliminate childhood hunger recognize and accept the reality that, first, in the great majority of cases food insecurity and hunger are symptoms of poverty, and, second, that any efforts to prevent hunger that fail to remove the underlying cause – poverty – and only immediately relieve hunger will fail to end it.” p.7


Well done for stepping back and looking at the systems which sustain the problem.

We regularly tread the fine line between speaking truth and acquiescing to get the next donation or grant. Let us not lose sight of our real mission—to change the systems that perpetuate the inequities we work to redress.

Nonprofits must work within the system as it exists while also working to change the system. Promoting better policies is one avenue, encouraging people to vote is another. The more people that participate in elections and are engaged, the more responsive elected officials are likely to be.

Mary Harris Jones, known as Mother Jones, was a labor organizer and speaker. Someone asked her about charity. Here’s her response:

“No, I don’t believe in charity. It is a vice. We need the upbuilding of justice to mankind, we don’t need your charity. All we need is an opportunity to live like men and women in this country.”

The words of Mother Mary Jones as read by Alfre Woodard, Democracy Now, 2003 recording, replayed on September 5, 2022.

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