Unpacking the Psychology of Poverty and Self-Sufficiency

Our November 2021 session challenged the traditional understanding of poverty and how nonprofit organizations can help people navigate a path out of it.  Showcasing the results of a two-year frontline study of integrated services at three Greenville nonprofits, this session featured Dr. Sally Morris Cote, Director of Nonprofit Strategic Learning with the Riley Institute at Furman University, who reviewed cutting-edge research on poverty’s negative impact on cognitive functioning and the realities of and best practices for serving those on the road from poverty to self-sufficiency. The session expanded the definition of self-sufficiency to include more than financial stability and covered innovative ways to measure the outcomes of programs that engage in self-sufficiency work.

After Dr. Morris Cote discussed the research, local service providers Lizzie Bebber with United Ministries, Marilyn Neves with Foothills Family Resources, and Andrew Ross with Center for Community Services discussed how these findings are being used to change the way they think about working with people in poverty.

Click below for resources from the meeting, including:

Slide deck

National models for incorporating this research into program design:

EMPath: https://www.empathways.org/

Roca: https://rocainc.org/

MyGoals for Employment Success: https://www.mdrc.org/project/mygoals-employment-success#overview

TIP: http://www.tipprogram.org/

Research on incentives:

Pavetti, L., & Stanley, M. (2016). Using Incentives to Increase Engagement and Persistence in Two-Generation Programs: A Review of the Literature with Key Insights. Building Better Programs, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. http://www.buildingbetterprograms.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/Incentives-Literature-Review-Final1.pdf

Study Report/ISA Client Spotlight webpage:

Building Self-Sufficiency: https://www.furman.edu/riley/research-evaluation/nonprofit-strategic-learning-initiative/client-spotlight-integrated-services-alliance/

The Riley Institute Nonprofit Strategic Learning Initiative website:


Recommended Reading:

Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University. (2016). Building Core Capabilities for Life: The Science Behind the Skills Adults Need to Succeed in Parenting and in the Workplace. Harvard University. https://46y5eh11fhgw3ve3ytpwxt9r-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/Building-Core-Capabilities-for-Life.pdf

Daminger, A., Hayes, J., Barrows, A., & Wright, J. (2015). Povery Interrupted: Applying Behavioral Science to the Context of Chronic Scarcity. ideas42. https://nidodeesperanzanyc.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/I42_PovertyWhitePaper_Digital_FINAL-1.pdf

Mullainathan, S., & Shafir, E. (2013). Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much. Times Books.


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