Academic journal article Social Work Research

Material Assistance: Who Is Helped by Nonprofits?

Academic journal article Social Work Research

Material Assistance: Who Is Helped by Nonprofits?

Article excerpt

Although a vast amount of literature on the characteristics of public assistance recipients exists, little is known about the characteristics of the clientele of nonprofits that provide material assistance. This study examines the question of who receives material assistance from nonprofits. Three panels of the Survey of Income and Program Participation (1996, 2001, and 2004) adult well-being module were used to see if the use of nonprofit assistance is associated with individual and household characteristics, type of material hardship, and the use of other sources of assistance. Results show that poverty status, education, area of residence, and public program participation have a significant association with nonprofit material assistance, regardless of the type of material hardship and the use of other sources of assistance. These associations stayed relatively stable during the years of observation. It is interesting that households headed by an individual with college education were more likely than those headed by an individual without a high school diploma to receive material assistance from nonprofits. These findings may help nonprofits develop appropriate assistance programs and reach target populations.

KEY WORDS: low-income households; material assistance; material hardship; nonprofits; social service

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Material hardship is a condition of failure to meet the "minimum levels of very basic goods and services, such as food, housing, and medical needs" (Beverly, 2001, p. 143). In the United States, one in every 10 people lives in material hardship (Beverly, 2001). To help those with material hardship, government at various levels and nonprofit groups provide a wide range of material assistance. During the recent economic downturn, the need for material assistance rose and an increasing number of people turned to nonprofits for assistance (Ducey, 2009). Despite the important role of nonprofits in social assistance historically and currently (for example, Allard, 2008; Lipsky & Smith, 1989; Young, 1999), little is known about the clientele of the nonprofit sector (Allard, 2008). Two reasons may account for this. First, nonprofit assistance is still small in size and scope relative to public assistance, although this is changing as the partnership between government and nonprofits grows (Salamon, 1995; Young, 1999). Second, as noted by Allard, the local nature of service providers poses a challenge to research on nonprofit groups, and this is partly reflected by the lack of nationally representative data on the use of nonprofit assistance by individuals.

Despite how little we know about the clientele of the nonprofit sector, a huge gap can be seen in the extent of material hardship and the availability of material assistance to the needy. Because of this, nonprofits are expected to play a larger role in social assistance to the needy (Alexander, Nank, & Stivers, 1999; Salamon, 1995). For this to happen, we need to look closely at who receives material assistance from nonprofits and what factors are associated with the use of nonprofit assistance. An inquiry into these questions will not only benefit nonprofits as they try to develop appropriate assistance programs and reach target populations, but also inform policymakers of the similarities and differences between the clientele of the nonprofit sector and that of the public sector. The Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP), which incorporates questions regarding nonprofit assistance, makes it possible to closely study the clientele of nonprofit assistance. Three panels of the SIPP (1996, 2001, and 2004) were used by the current study to examine the characteristics of nonprofits' clients and the determinants of the use of nonprofit assistance by families with material hardship.

BACKGROUND

Theoretical Perspectives

As is widely recognized, nonprofit assistance is distinct from other sources of assistance, such as government, family, and friends. …

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