Nonprofits’ strength lies in diversity, teamwork

The charitable marketplace is strong because its diversity produces needed and innovative solutions to social problems.

But to be more effective, nonprofits need to work harder to strengthen their individual organizations and to find ways to work together.

Healing, repairing and enriching our communities require a broad range of approaches to address immediate problems and to fix flawed public policies at the root of those problems.

Because of the competitive tension its diversity fosters, the charitable marketplace has generated innovative strategies in response to escalating social problems.

But fixing what is wrong in society requires that nonprofits do more than simply work in isolation to deliver urgently-needed services, competing with one another for the resources to support those services.

Nonprofits and foundations make up a diverse and sprawling sector within the charitable marketplace, and their strength flows both from their independence as individual organizations and the impact they can have by working together.

While they share common needs – for investment that is strategic, for volunteers and partners who are committed, for boards that are engaged, for foundations and corporate funders that are responsive – nonprofits speak with many voices.

Nonprofit Awareness Month is a rare opportunity for nonprofits to celebrate the diversity of the charitable marketplace while also looking for common ground on which they can work together to secure the resources and support they need.

Nonprofits also should combine their diverse voices to speak loudly and clearly to foundations, to government and to business about ways they, in turn, need to move beyond business as usual.

Foundations and businesses must understand and respond to nonprofits’ critical and ongoing need for operating support, and government must understand the unmatched power it has to shape public policy and invest the funds desperately needed to address urgent social problems.

In North Carolina, the theme of Nonprofit Awareness Month has been “Many Missions, One Voice.”

For as long as it takes, nonprofits should use their collective voice to speak up for the funding and policy change required to heal and repair our communities.

To find that voice, nonprofits need to summon the will and courage to stop fighting over turf and start truly working together.

Charity faces big challenges

Nonprofits and the givers who support them with their time, know-how and money are society’s unsung heroes, working to fix what is wrong in our communities.

It is important during Nonprofit Awareness month to celebrate nonprofits and givers, and the pivotal social role they play.

But this concentrated focus on the charitable marketplace also represents a rare opportunity for those on both the supply and demand sides of philanthropy to be brutally honest about the work they do and the organizational challenges they face.

Those problems are serious and nonprofits need to do more to address and raise awareness about them.

Too often operating with limited resources and little recognition, nonprofits must move quickly to strengthen their organizations, improve their programs, build their boards, engage their givers, advocate their cause more actively, and work more aggressively to fix flawed public policies.

They also need to move beyond mere talk about collaboration and form partnerships in which each partner is willing to truly sacrifice some control in order to work together more effectively on common problems.

And nonprofits must be honest about the role government and grantmakers play, or fail to play, and the barriers they create to social progress.

Devoting themselves to courting voters and powerful interest groups, for example, politicians look for ways to cut support for nonprofits and the programs that serve their clients.

Politicians lack the vision and the will needed to address immediate problems and attack their underlying causes, and nonprofits need to push politicians to stop blocking progress and instead work to make it happen.

For their part, foundations can be smug, acting as if the influence they exercise because of the wealth they control, often inherited, gives them the right to bully nonprofits and force them to dance to whatever tune foundations decide to play at any given time.

Instead of providing funds to help nonprofits strengthen their operations and effectiveness, foundations prefer to fund programs, and nonprofits often are only too willing to create new programs simply to secure available funding, even though what they desperately need is operating support.

Foundations also are quick to preach about the need for openness, change and collaboration but slow to put that preaching into practice in their own organizations.

And too few corporations, while increasingly working to build their philanthropy into efforts to become more socially responsible, are willing to push goverment to fix flawed public policies that do not at first glance directly affect the company’s business focus and bottom line.

During Nonprofit Awareness Month, nonprofits need to get their houses in order, starting with an effort to help their boards play the governance role they should be playing in setting strategic direction, managing risk, providing oversight, reporting to funders, measuring performance and raising money.

Nonprofits also should help government, foundations and corporations better understand and provide the kind of support nonprofits need, and walk the way they talk.

Next: Nonprofits strength lies in diversity

Nonprofits’ role central in economy, society

The economic impact of nonprofits is huge, the social role they play is critical, and the organizational challenges they face are daunting.

“Nonprofit Awareness Month,” being celebrated during November in North Carolina, is a great time to nonprofits to promote the work they do and confront the obstacles they face.

Roughly 1.4 million nonprofits, including 949,000 charitable organizations, are registered with the IRS and account for 5.2 percent of gross domestic product and 8.3 percent of salaries and wages paid in the U.S., according to the Nonprofit Almanac 2007 published by The Urban Institute.

In North Carolina alone, nonprofits in 2004 contributed $23.5 billion to local economies by creating jobs and spending money locally, up from $10.1 billion in 1993, according to data from the N.C. Center for Nonprofits.

Nonprofits in North Carolina pay $6.6 billion in wages for nearly 213,000 jobs that represent 6 percent of all jobs in the state.

While program-service fees and private contracts account for two-thirds of total revenue for North Carolina nonprofits, and government grants and investment income account for another 10 percent and 3 percent, respectively, private donors account for 17 percent.

The state has over 2,200 independent foundations, 95 corporate foundations, 19 community foundations and 82 operating foundations.

With total assets of $10.7 billion, North Carolina foundations gave $781 million in grants in 2004 to nonprofits inside and outside the state.

And North Carolina taxpayers who file itemized returns donate 4.7 percent of their income to charity, or an average of $3,645, exceeding the national average of 3.9 percent and $3,509, respectively.

Among North Carolinians, 26.2 percent of adults volunteer in the community, compared to 26.7 percent throughout the U.S.

And that’s just the economic impact.

Nonprofits handle the heavy lifting in our communities, taking on the tough jobs that government and business lack the mission, will and vision to address in fields ranging from arts, culture education, the environment, and health and human services to social justice and policy change.

To handle those jobs effectively, nonprofits faces serious challenges they need to address.

Next: Confronting the challenges

Nonprofits and givers are unsung heroes

The charitable marketplace represents a big and rapidly growing sector of the U.S. economy, and plays a critical role in efforts to address urgent needs and their causes.

Sadly, that marketplace operates below the radar of much of the American public and media.

And while they are well aware of the role nonprofits play, government, organized philanthropy and individual givers too often view nonprofits as supplicants, a secondary role many nonprofits are only too willing to accept.

Their work is essential for fixing what is wrong in our communities, yet too many nonprofits operate with weak organizations and clueless boards, and they often get mired in clawing for turf instead of simply figuring out how to do their job more effectively.

Equally stuck in business as usual are foundations, which too often become so smitten with an unearned sense of their own self-importance that they fail to see, understand or respond to nonprofits’ ongoing need for support to run their operations, build their organizations and work to fix the flawed public policies at the root social problems.

To raise awareness of nonprofits and increase volunteerism and other forms of giving, a coalition of groups throughout North Carolina in November is celebrating Nonprofit Awareness Month.

In addition to raising awareness about the role nonprofits play, Nonprofit Awareness Month also aims to increase volunteerism and giving in the state.

The month-long effort will include reaching out to local elected officials and local news media, recognizing volunteers and staging events such as a “virtual nonprofit shutdown” to underscore local nonprofits’ impact on their communities.

Next: Nonprofits’ impact