A Whirlwind of Assistance

Thousands of Americans were left homeless after a wave of tornadoes walloped the South. Now, many of the most important relief efforts are being led not by state or federal officials but by volunteers from a different arena altogether: the Southern Baptist Convention.

“With the ability to feed 20,000 people from one mobile kitchen, and a chain of command so tightly run it would make a military officer proud, the Southern Baptist teams are the backbone of disaster relief here,” the New York Times reported this week in a dispatch from (appropriately named) Rainsville, Ala.

Peter Drucker, who both predicted and helped spur the rise of the nonprofit sector, would have lauded the expanded role of the SBC in relief efforts. “When I first began to work with nonprofit institutions . . . the role of the nonprofits, if any, was to supplement governmental programs or to add special flourishes to them,” Drucker recalled in his 1990 book Managing the Nonprofit Organization: Principles and Practices. Several decades later, nonprofits had become central to American society. At the same time, Drucker added, “we now know that the ability of government to perform social tasks is very limited indeed.”

[EXPAND More]Nonprofits have become so integrated into the functioning of America today that the government increasingly leans on them for core services. More than 90,000 members of the SBC, for instance, have been trained in disaster relief, and the group is now the third-largest relief organization in the country, after the Red Cross and the Salvation Army—two social-sector organizations