The Live Below The Line Campaign: Smart Advocacy or Global Slumming?

The Live Below the Line Campaign asks celebrities (and the rest of us) to spend a day or five eating on $1.50 a day.  Is this smart advocacy,  or is it global slumming?

Like its American counterpart the Food Stamp Challenge  the campaign purports to give privileged people the opportunity to experience the deprivations of poverty, with the aim (presumably) of making them more concerned about people who have this "opportunity" all the time.  In the case of the Food Stamp Challenge, one hopes people will become exercised enough at the minimal sustenance provided by SNAP---let alone the prospect of living without it---that they might lobby their Congresst-beasts to include an expansion rather than a cut in the next budget.

But what is the purpose of trying to experience global poverty in the United States?  If you use $1.50 for food and drink in the U.S., that means you get a banana and some tap water.   No wonder people commit to live like this for as little as one day, and no more than five.  Rather than sensitizing the participants, the exercise may well serve to make people think that living this way is impossible; and impossible tasks don't inspire.

All channels to giving are good, and if people give what they would have spent on food that day to UNICEF or CARE or any of the agencies doing serious work on desperate poverty around the world, that's a true charitable gesture.  But merely posing as a poor person doesn't really cut it.

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    The Nonprofiteer is Kelly Kleiman, principal of NFP Consulting, which provides Board development, strategic planning and fund-raising services to charities and philanthropies. Through her consulting practice and in her guise as The Nonprofiteer, Kelly has spent the past 25-plus years helping small and mid-sized nonprofits organize themselves better and raise more money. These days she focuses especially on helping them use high-skill volunteers. Kelly is also a lawyer and freelance journalist whose reportage and essays have appeared in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Christian Science Monitor and other dailies; in magazines including In These Times and Chicago Philanthropy; in the alternative press; on websites including the Huffington Post; and on the radio, including the BBC and WBEZ Chicago Public Radio. She and her fellow "Dueling Critic" Jonathan Abarbanel present a weekly podcast of their reviews of Chicago theater at Earlier in her career she was dean of admissions of IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law and Executive Director of the Chicago Children’s Choir, and practiced real estate and zoning law with the firm of Rudnick & Wolfe. Kelly holds undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Chicago. She was a founding Board member of the Association of Consultants to Nonprofits and also served for 5 years on the Board of the Association for Women Journalists–Chicago. She can be reached ("Dear Nonprofiteer . . .") at

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