We are living in some crazy times, amirite? The pandemic, our nation’s political divide, racial tensions, climate change, the list goes on and on. These are big issues with complex solutions! And while our government, business, and science are all working on finding the answers, I’d like to suggest we put our hope in nonprofit organizations.
What is a Nonprofit?
In case you’re not clear on what qualifies as a nonprofit organization, here’s the formal definition:
A nonprofit organization is a legal entity organized and operated for a collective, public or social benefit, in contrast with an entity that operates as a business aiming to generate a profit for its owners.
In a nutshell, nonprofits exist to make the world a better place. No one makes money as a shareholder of a nonprofit. However, it’s appropriate for staff to be paid a livable wage. When a nonprofit makes more money than they spend, those dollars are invested right back into the business.
These organizations are led by volunteer Boards, rather than shareholders. Board members are community members invested in the positive impact the organization has on their community. The intention of a volunteer Board is to represent the community and the organization’s constituents.
Since no one is getting rich from a nonprofit organization, decisions are made differently. While a nonprofit business must operate in a business-minded, fiscally responsible manner, they do not exist solely to make money. Therefore, leaders can make decisions that genuinely put their mission and beneficiaries first.
The 1.3 million charitable nonprofits in our country help to feed, heal, shelter, educate, inspire, enlighten and nurture people of all ages, backgrounds, genders, races, and socioeconomic positions. Nonprofits make up 5.3% of the GDP and 9.2% of all salaries and wages in our country. It’s a trillion dollar industry. Total charitable giving is over $390 billion annually. 92% of nonprofit organizations are small community-based agencies, serving local needs.
There’s a good chance that everyone reading this article has been impacted by a nonprofit. If not directly, then definitely through a family member. Here’s an abridged list of the many ways nonprofit organizations improve lives and communities:
- Nearly half of the hospitals in America are nonprofit
- The March of Dimes and nonprofit scientific researchers provided vaccines in an effort to eradicate polio and other diseases
- YMCAs, JCCs, Red Cross and Scout Camps teach children how to be safe in and around water
- Life skills like conflict resolution and teamwork are taught through Girl Scouts, 4H, Little League and other youth development organizations
- There are nonprofit preschools, grade schools, high schools, colleges and graduate schools; as well as nonprofit scholarship funds
- Our right to vote, to an education, to travel, to equal treatment under the law, and other rights are secured and protected by nonprofit organizations
- Historic treasures and natural resources are preserved by nonprofits
- Many cultural centers are nonprofits, such as the San Diego Zoo, the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City
- The clean air we breathe in tobacco-free restaurants is thanks to the work of public health nonprofits
- Countless art installations, musical concerts and theatrical presentations are shared every year due to the work of nonprofit art agencies
To sum this up, nonprofits foster civic engagement and leadership, drive economic growth, and strengthen the fabric of our communities. All day. Every day.
So Exactly How will Nonprofits Save the World?
Maybe that’s a bold statement. But here’s what I have seen in my 30-years leading nonprofit organizations. Well-run organizations bring people together for the greater good. They pull people together for walk-athons and to collect school supplies for kids in the community. They draw on the community leadership to raise money for much needed facilities and programs. And they connect people from all social levels in a community to come together and make their community the best it can be.
Will that save the world? I think so. Lucy Christopher said:
“It’s hard to hate someone once you understand them.”
This is what nonprofits do so well. They exist for the community. Therefore, to really be effective, they need to bring the community together. They bring together people from all different backgrounds in order to make decisions that serve the whole community.
When you work side-by-side with someone to address a critical social need that will strengthen your community, you build relationships. You start to understand what makes them tick. And whether you agree with them or not, you develop respect and compassion towards them.
I understand that we will still need complex solutions to the issues facing our country. However, we can start small, in our own communities, and work on our local challenges. From that we can foster respect and understanding. And that’s what I believe is key to moving forward as a nation.
Know of a nonprofit organization that needs help engaging the community? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to connect them for a free 30-minute discovery call. In order to save the world, nonprofits need superheroes like you to help them have the kind of impact they exist to deliver.
Kim is a mom, wife, lover of being active and the outdoors,
and helper of small businesses and nonprofits.