Keep this famous little saying in mind: “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” Imagine you are the fisherman faced with this decision after being approached by this man. Which decision would you make? Would you just give him a fish and go on your way, or would you take the time to teach him how to fish? Hold that thought for what is to follow.
Recap: The 5 Leadership Challenges
If you haven’t read my first blog post, my name is Kay McMillan and I am an intern at Activate Good. I am writing a five part series about the core leadership challenges facing nonprofits and how volunteers can help with these challenges. To give a quick recap, the five leadership challenges correspond with the core characteristics of the nonprofit sector (e.g., being mission based, accomplishing some social good, their tax exemption status) and affects almost all nonprofits no matter their size or their mission. As promised in my first post, we are going to now tackle the last challenge: moving beyond charity to systemic change.
Charity vs. Systemic Change: What’s the best way to make a difference?
Time to go back to our fisherman and homeless dude and relate them back to charity and systemic change. Charity is like the first option in our analogy – giving the man a fish – which is an immediate relief to alleviate suffering – hunger, in this case. Whereas charity treats the symptoms of the problem, systemic change addresses the root cause of the problem. In our analogy, the root cause could be not having the knowledge, the experience, or the equipment to fish, which limits access to food and causes hunger. Teaching this man will give him the ability to obtain his own food and empower him. Now imagine running a nonprofit that teaches people in need how to fish. This is one way that nonprofits make sustainable solutions that lead to social change in the community, which is the essence of systemic change.
Creating change through volunteering
I asked you at the beginning what you would do if you were the fisherman in the situation and formatted it as an either-or question, which was misleading of me. On the positive side, all of you are right! There is not one correct answer because both charity and systemic change are needed in the nonprofit sector. Unfortunately, we have individuals around the world who are facing some kind of suffering at this very moment who need charity to assist them. However, tackling the root cause is the only way to totally end that suffering.
One of the beautiful aspects of the nonprofit sector is that it is in the business of helping people and making the world a better place. Both charity (giving a man a fish) and systemic change (teaching a man how to fish) further that goal of the sector in their own unique ways. In my couple weeks as an Activate Good intern, I have witnessed that volunteers are important resources to nonprofits. No matter what volunteers are doing, they are usually helping others. Together, volunteers and nonprofits can make a difference by working along the spectrum of providing immediate charity and creating long-term solutions.
Remember to look out for my next blog post!