Tuesday, November 23, 2010

POWER to the 3RD!

Last night, while I was just kicking back watching "Lie to Me," my dear friend Alison Rapping was thinking hard about how to save the world.  I love Alison for that!

Actually, Alison was thinking about how to help nonprofit organizations shift their roles and relationships to enable them to adapt, thrive, and continue to carry out their good works in current times.  Alison wants nonprofits to speak out more on their own behalf, to actively invite  communities and community leaders inside to discover the nonprofits "assets" in their midsts, to form new alliances and networks to bridge the gap between need and the growing disintegration of traditional institutional support structures.  This may sound like a dry subject, but if you haven't ever given it any thought, you may be interested to know a few factoids:

1. The nonprofit (third) sector is our culture's safety net.  Business provides whatever services can be delivered profitably. Government handles any services society is willing to spend tax dollars for - fire, police, libraries, schooling, etc.   A lot of stuff falls between profitability and tax-payer goodwill.  The nonprofit sector steps in to fill that gap - delivering unprofitable but highly needed services of all sorts.

Do you or anyone you know frequent local museums, aquariums, botanical gardens, zoos?  Use a wheel chair, prosthetics or eyeglasses provided by a service organization?  Remain alive today thanks to cancer or other research undertaken by a medical research foundation?  Receive donated food, holiday gifts or transportation services? 

All these and many more services offered through nonprofit organizations lift our society's quality of life. Nonprofits are part of a system that ensures that an American standard of living is available to all of us.

2. The nonprofit sector makes a fairly large economic contribution to the U.S. economy. According to a 2007 report out of Johns Hopkins, "Measuring Civil Society and Volunteering: Initial Findings from Implementation of the U.N. Handbook on Nonprofit Institutions," volunteering and nonprofit institutions account for upwards of 7 percent of the United State's GDP. By contrast, the vast business of delivering utilities - water, gas, electric - to the combined residential and industrial customer base comes in at a mere 2.4 percent of our GPD!   As governments shrink under economic and political pressure, and private businesses encounter a tighter bottom line, the gap to be filled by the nonprofit sector will grow. 
Here are a few more tidbits from an article in yesterday's Arizona Republic:

- A study released last week by Forbes magazine on the nation's 200 largest charities shows donations overall down 11 percent in their most recent reporting year. Those 200 largest charities include four based in Arizona - the Muscular Dystrophy Association, St. Mary's Food Bank Alliance, Food for the Hungry and the Make-a-Wish Foundation.

- A survey by GuideStar USA, a non-profit-research group, reported that contributions continue to drop this year, with some entities scaling back programs, laying off staff and relying more on volunteers.

- Of 28 large Arizona charities profiled in this Arizona Republic special report, half reported flat or lower revenue over their most recent fiscal years, while three in four faced rising expenses.

Alison is thinking that if we want a healthy, thriving America, we all should be thinking about how to help our nonprofit sector stay healthy.  Below are seven things that an organization can do to make a difference - and many of them are easily adapted for families, individuals, groups.  Click this link to read the rest of her thinking.  At this season of thanksgiving, I hope we all stop to be thankful for the gift of our third sector, and to consider the ways in which we can each empower our nonprofit community to achieve their many important missions.


1. Donate just one can of food to the community food bank.

2. Set up a food drive at your organization or place of worship (and donate lots of cans!) Invite all the businesses, schools and residents to take part. And, if doing this before the holidays seems to much, plan it for February or March. Our food banks need food all year around, not just during the holidays.

3. Host an open house for your neighbors, business owners, local elected leaders, volunteers, board members and the community (please invite me, I would love to attend!)

4. Host a Sunday Party for all the community members, elected officials (and their staffs) and business owners to cheer on the Suns, Cardinals, or this summer, the Diamondbacks.

5. Team build/volunteer to serve a meal at a shelter or take part in a neighborhood clean up at a local park.

6. Invite the children in your community to come make a Thanksgiving card to bring home to their families.

7. Invite the community to come make cards for our soldiers oversees; they would love the holiday cheer. (or considering doing this for Valentines Day!)

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