As the director of a nonprofit 501(c)(3), I have had to quickly learn how these kinds of organizations function. I had been an employee, volunteer, and member of nonprofits in the past, but taking a leadership position in one has been an entirely new experience. Now, I understand these organizations are sophisticated endeavors meant to do nothing less than fill in for government.
Where our representative government and its bureaucracy have utterly failed to meet the needs of communities in the US, nonprofits have stepped in. The modern nonprofit is a uniquely American creation, as other developed nations utilize the power and resources of government for education, arts, environment, health care, nutritional programs, etc.
In America, these kinds of “progressive” agendas can be defunded and neglected by local, state, and national branches of government. In response to unmet needs, grassroots groups form to gather resources, provide services, educate, and empower identified populations in their communities. In short, regular people are called and chosen by their neighbors to make what is missing and to scrape together resources.
Nonprofits run on shoestring budgets, and most of their employees bring home paychecks so small that their families qualify for the same state programs as their client populations. In effect, nonprofits are run by economically challenged people to help others in similar situations who aren’t functioning as well.
At a conference for nonprofits I attended recently, a speaker from an organization that helps battered women actually brought up the point about low wages to the group. Vigorous head nodding ensued from the audience. A challenge of modern nonprofits is to find enough funding to properly pay staff, especially those not in a leadership role.
“Fundraising” and “grant writing” are the most common terms I hear used by nonprofit leaders. Most local grassroots nonprofits need more financial resources to meet goals and maintain services. Donations and in kind support from the community are essential and really need to increase. There is great wealth being created in our country every day; those who benefit disproportionally from this growth must kick some of it back to the nonprofit sector so that the work of a healthy society can be funded.
It really doesn’t matter if government or nonprofits provide resources to communities, just as long as everyone is well-fed, safe, educated, and cultured. But if America wants to use the informal government process of nonprofits to fill in for actual government, people with wealth must be informed and encouraged to patronize a group of their choosing. The super cool thing about donating to a nonprofit is one can completely control what they want to grow in their community. Taxation and government spending are so often out of control, wasteful, and stupid. But donating to a well-run nonprofit is always money smartly spent.
I am fortunate in my position to be able to earn a living, expand my skills, connect with my community, and grow a well-established arts organization. Also, my organization, like most nonprofits I have ever been a part of or familiar with, is blessed with good people. When I go to conferences with other nonprofit employees, it is a pleasure to be with so many solidly pro-social spirits. “Kindness, responsibility, and possibility” could be tattooed with confidence to the forearm of any of us.
Now, those who benefit from our economic system need to pitch in, understanding the importance of their contributions. Donors make it possible and workers make it happen.