Knowledge Workers

The tiny Judson Center, located just outside Detroit, has come up with a marvelously creative way to help people. The Center trains and pays welfare mothers to care for severely handicapped children in their homes. The women gain valuable experience, with almost all of them eventually moving into paid employment as rehabilitation workers. And among the children, half end up capable of living outside institutions--and these were kids who'd been given up as hopeless. For its innovative approach, the Judson Center won the Peter F. Drucker Foundation award. Professor Drucker is America's leading management expert, who has turned his attention to nonprofit organizations--what he calls the third sector. Today the third sector is the fastest-growing part of the US economy, expanding faster than either private business or the government. Already half of American adults donate time to nonprofit work, and it's predicted that within 10 years the number will rise to two-thirds. For churches and other Christian organizations, this huge increase represents a great opportunity--and a great challenge. Unfortunately, Drucker says, many nonprofits still believe that "good intentions and a pure heart are all that are needed." But that just won't wash any more. Today's volunteers area different from yesterday's volunteers--the stereotype of grey-headed ladies serving coffee in hospitals. More and more volunteers are in managerial or professional jobs. They are what Drucker calls "knowledge workers," and they want volunteer work where they can use their knowledge and expertise. They're looking for nonprofits that are well-managed, with training, accountability, and clear organizational goals. The new breed of volunteers are attracted to programs with proven results--programs that work. The Baby Boomers have become jaded by decades of welfare-statism. They have watched billions of dollars pour into government do-good social programs only to yield pitiful results. Now they're turning to nonprofits with the hope that there they can really make a difference. The bottom line, of course, is that government can no longer afford to run bulky, inefficient programs. And nonprofits have a record of doing a better job for less money. For example, the parochial schools run by the Archdiocese of New York spend only half per pupil of what the city's public schools spend. Yet 70% of their students stay in school and graduate with marketable skills. Here at Prison Fellowship, we see the same thing. Institutions don't rehabilitate people, but Christians bringing the gospel can change lives. We can only rejoice that Americans are starting to look for something more meaningful than material gain. The Baby Boom generation is groping for a sense of purpose, for ways to serve others. It's dawning on them that, in Drucker's words, today you have more impact as a citizen by working in the nonprofit sector than by voting in the public sector. Just think what this new surge of volunteerism can mean for Christian witness in this country. The question is this: As the welfare state declines, who will step forward to fill the gap--secular charities or the Church? Remember that before the development of the welfare state, it was Christians who ran most social programs. They fed the hungry, clothed the poor, and took the homeless off the streets. This is the time to recover that rich evangelical tradition. If Drucker is right--if the wave of the future is not government programs but volunteer work--let it not be done in the name of the United Way but in the name of Jesus Christ.


Chuck Colson



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