Nonprofits Need Counter Narrative to Recession Rhetoric

May 24, 2011; Source: New York Post | Before I am accused of opinionating in a news space, let me claim it. This newswire is more editorial opinion than news but it flows out of NPQ’s news monitoring. In our view there are increasing numbers of media based conversations going on about overspending by nonprofits. Some of it, of course, is legitimate and some of it is absolute nonsense, and some is a combination of the two. This particular article that pits the survival of New York’s cultural institutions against the survival of its firehouses is a case in point.

The headline reads, “Keep the Firehouses, Lose the Brie,” and then it goes on to paint the arts organizations as bastions of the “cultural elite”. Regrettably, this comes in the wake of yet another expose of salaries at those very institutions and the argument may pluck at the heartstrings of many who would rather not have their houses burn down and are making less than a tenth – no, less than a twentieth – of the aforementioned salaries.

Says the author who is purportedly measuring the wisdom of spending a tax dollar one place rather than another, “Remember, these groups are supposed to be nonprofits – not Fortune 500 firms whose ‘return on investment’ is diverted to CEO paychecks. Yet they're fighting budget cuts that will mean less aid for them.”

Of course it is maybe an unfair either-or proposition but that’s what makes rhetoric the fascinating thing it is. I’m not piling on – I’m just saying that nonprofits need to pull together an effective counter narrative (and we need to get a grip on our salary structures) or we will be consumed by antipathy – much of which would be far more productively aimed at big business.—Ruth McCambridge