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The Role of Philanthropy in Fostering Work

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When we think of charity, helping someone get a job doesn’t immediately come to mind. We’re more likely to hand $20 to a homeless man, provide a holiday meal for a single mom, or donate to a local food pantry.

Important as these charitable acts might be, they are geared toward meeting short-term needs. What about the long-term welfare of men and women who are struggling?

The answer lies in linking them with the tools and resources needed to find stable, long-term employment—to accomplish, through work, what God desires for them.

That’s the core subject of a new donor guidebook from the Philanthropy Roundtable, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit that connects and educates donors nationwide.

Clearing Obstacles to Work: A Wise Giver’s Guide to Fostering Self Reliance highlights the finest nonprofits that excel at helping troubled populations—ex-offenders, high-school dropouts, drug addicts, the mentally and physically disabled, and single moms, to name a few—into fruitful work.

This topic is exciting territory to cover, particularly for Christians wishing to go beyond meeting immediate needs to encourage life-long change. Across the country, hundreds of nonprofits are devoted to this important work. We highlight many of them in the guidebook.

Five Key Traits of the Most Effective Groups

Here are five key traits that define the most effective groups:

1. Provide training that meets a need in the marketplace.

The central point of workforce development is to prepare men and women for actual jobs in the marketplace, not hypothetical jobs. As such, effective groups are geared toward providing practical skills and training that meet a legitimate marketplace need.

2. Think about what employers actually need.

The most successful organizations keep an ear cocked for what employers want. Improving an employer’s bottom line via productive workers, reduced training costs, and reduced turnover will bring job-offering companies flocking; they can’t hire strictly out of charity.

3. Emphasize job retention and advancement.

Employment-challenged populations experience significantly less job stability, retention, and movement up the ladder than other groups. Adroit training groups realize the gravity of this. They make job placements but don’t stop there—showing workers how to hold onto work, scout opportunities for advancement, and prepare themselves to step up.

4. Recognize spiritual needs.

As readers of this blog know full well, work is about far more than simply earning a paycheck. Effective workforce development efforts emphasize this spiritual component of work—that God gives his creation duties to perform that honor him. This leads to fulfillment as we become co-creators with God.

5. Provide community.

A community that supports strivers, elevates hard work and success, and redirects failure can make all the difference. Job strugglers often have fewer people and networks in their life they can fall back on. Nonprofit programs that offer consistent tough love can help in this area.

Two Examples of Effectiveness

Two faith-based nonprofits that exemplify these five traits are WorkFaith Connection and Jobs for Life.

Launched in 2007, WorkFaith Connection is having a profound impact on the Houston metro region. The organization provides intensive classroom instruction, job placement services, and enough follow-up help to ensure that individuals remain employed and have opportunities for advancement. Importantly, WorkFaith Connection doesn’t simply provide a job—it also offers a changed way of life, built on a relationship with Jesus Christ.

Jobs for Life takes a more national focus. Although based in Raleigh, North Carolina, the organization works with churches across the nation to link strugglers with work. Jobs for Life equips local congregations with a 16-week curriculum that includes a one-on-one mentorship with a successful businessman or woman in the community. Its approach has scaled nationally, as Jobs for Life curriculum is available in 275 churches.

These are two of the many worthy nonprofits accomplishing good in this space. And although much is being done, there is much opportunity to expand as well. As much as one fifth of the U.S. working-age population is either unemployed or underemployed.

Imagine the possibilities of a nationwide workforce development effort, fueled by a deep care for both spiritual and physical wholeness.

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