My experience with most nonprofits is they are short on staff and constantly trying to do more with less. Staff have their heads down, working hard to accompany their many worthy missions. They sometimes fail to look up and see the big picture. And the big picture is they are playing an increasingly important role in society, both in terms of their missions and the good work they are accomplishing, and in terms of their economic impact.
The nonprofit sector as a whole packs an economic punch. The National Council of Nonprofits asserts, “Nonprofits employ 12.3 million people, with payrolls exceeding those of most other U.S. industries, including construction, transportation, and finance.” Further, “Nonprofits also create work opportunities for millions of individuals above and beyond the millions they employ directly.”
This comment is eye-opening:
“Have you ever noticed how brochures for local chambers of commerce often identify local nonprofits as a top reason for businesses to locate there? Many boast about beloved cultural amenities, such as nonprofit museums and performing arts venues. Other common features are nonprofit colleges to showcase the value of an educated workforce and nonprofit healthcare facilities to reinforce a commitment to well-being. While the brochures seldom label these local icons as being ‘nonprofits,’ business leaders intuitively recognize the immense value that local nonprofits contribute to the community’s quality of life.”
Yet, why do our elected officials and those seeking elected office so often ignore nonprofits?
Recent statistics on volunteer service in America are astounding. The Corporation for National and Community Service finds 77.4 million Americans volunteer annually. What would it be like to pay those volunteers for their service? That would mean America’s bill would amount to $167 billion! Our nation owes volunteers a debt of gratitude. In fact, America remains great in large part because of volunteer service. We are getting the job done.
Turning now to the importance of disaster preparedness, I had the good fortune to be part of a Texas team working with TechSoup to develop a disaster preparedness course last year. The program – available online and constantly updated as new information becomes available – was funded with a grant from the Center for Disaster Philanthropy. The project focused initially on nonprofits recovering from Hurricane Harvey, but the information applies readily to any nonprofit organization, anywhere in the world.
One point I made to the curriculum team and to our first class of students is that nonprofits continue to assume greater importance in the lives of the citizens of our state and nation. America’s Charities notes that today, “71% of surveyed employees say it is imperative or very important to work where culture is supportive of giving and volunteering.”
The work your nonprofit does in the community – whether feeding the hungry, encouraging pet adoption, exhibiting works of art, conserving wildlife habitat or teaching coding – makes for a thriving community where people want to live and work. Nonprofits are no longer just an “option” for healthy cities and communities today. We must have them.
Along with the growing importance of nonprofits across our nation comes a responsibility. Because an ever-growing number of people turn to nonprofits for greater meaning in life and a sense of “belonging,” nonprofits must protect their staff and constituents. By preparing in advance for potential emergencies, you show you care. And by caring, you increase your chances of attracting more volunteers and charitable donations, which leads to a stronger, more vital organization as time moves forward.
I suggest nonprofits include the organization’s disaster plan in the staff “onboarding” process, and in volunteer orientations. Review the plan once a year with all of them. Don’t keep moving so fast and become so focused on individual tasks that you forget the bigger picture and the role your nonprofit plays in the community. You might also invite local disaster response professionals to visit your facility and to become familiar with it, so that if and when an emergency occurs, they can respond more easily.
Members of your community have your organization in their hearts and minds. Your nonprofit is also part of the economy, although you may not realize it. You both provide goods and/or services and you hire staff, rent/own a facility, and purchase goods in order to operate. You also convey a positive public image that makes the entire region shine.
The sooner you get back up and running after a disaster, the better the entire community will be. Be a leader. Don’t scramble when disaster strikes. Be ready, be prepared!
Right before COVID-19 lockdowns were imposed, our TechSoup curriculum team held an in-person workshop in Houston. To view a few Instagram photographs from the event, follow this link to my WordPress photo blog.
If your community would benefit from some in-person coaching, reach out to anyone on the team: Gray Harriman, Shuya Xu; Dhruv Khattar; Joe Hillis and/or me. And sign-up to take the TechSoup course today. There are recorded and written components, downloadable “prep” documents to make your planning easier, and as you move through and finish each section, there are certificates of completion.
It is also my hope that our elected representatives will take the time to learn about the importance of nonprofits to society. We are an essential part of healthy, thriving American communities from coast to coast. Let’s all recognize that fact, and keep the good work going.
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