June 18, 2018; Concord Monitor
Richard Ober is president and CEO of the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation. In an opinion column in the Concord Monitor, Ober talks about the pride he has in being part of and supporting the nonprofit sector because of all the good that is done by nonprofit organizations. The range of activities is extraordinary, but it seems ordinary because we take these services for granted.
As Ober puts it:
On any ordinary day in New Hampshire, these things are happening:
– Volunteers at soup kitchens are serving meals to hundreds of men, women and children in need.
– At the Currier Museum of Art in Manchester, sixth-graders are discovering and debating works of art. From Rochester to Concord to Lebanon, hundreds of people are attending plays and concerts and films at nonprofit arts venues.
– From Milford to Laconia, kids are playing volleyball, rehearsing plays, practicing music and doing homework at Boys & Girls Clubs.
– From North Conway to Jaffrey, people are hiking and food is being grown on land conserved by nonprofit land trusts.
– Solar panels installed by the Plymouth Area Renewable Energy Initiative are powering the lights at Whole Village Family Resource Center.
– Elders are eating dinner at their own kitchen tables – courtesy of Meals on Wheels.
– Attorneys from New Hampshire Legal Assistance are helping families avoid eviction.
– From Colebrook to Salem, people are getting well-researched, objective news from New Hampshire Public Radio.
– And at Hope on Haven Hill, new moms are recovering from addiction and caring for their babies in a safe and loving space.
“That list, Ober adds, “represents just a tiny fraction of the ways in which thousands of nonprofit staff and volunteers serve our communities, our neighbors and our families on every ordinary day.”
Ober’s point is that social benefit aside, the nonprofit sector in the United States is not small and plays a critical part in our economy. The National Council for Nonprofits offers a statistic that if the sector was an independent country, it would have the 16th-largest economy in the world. The sector contributed about $878 billion to the economy in 2012 and employs 10.2 percent of the workforce in this country. The Johns Hopkins Center for Civil Society Studies estimates that the nonprofit sector is the third-largest employer in the country and that there are many counties where more than 20 percent of jobs are in the sector.
Ober goes beyond these hard numbers. As he points out, there is another element to the nonprofit sector that’s less tangible but equally meaningful and important. According to Ober, despite the challenges that face the sector, people who work for nonprofit organizations demonstrate values we revere: hope, justice, integrity, inclusion, truth-telling, and love. He suggests that these are at the heart of the nonprofit sector and should be celebrated as such.
The Johns Hopkins Center conducted a survey about what the sector stands for and what makes it stand apart from the other sectors. This was done in an effort to help the sector learn what it should stress and build upon in order to retain positive public opinion and trust. What adjectives describe what values make the sector special? Productive, empowering, effective, enriching, reliable, responsive, and caring.
In our present era, when outrageous behavior seems so prevalent, we must remember the trust relationship that must be built with both donors and the public at large. Finding the positive images, the benefits both hard and soft the sector offers to our society, as Ober does quite elegantly, is critical. As a sector, we should carry the numbers with us to prove we are doing good, but we must also hold true to our core values. As Ober quotes one of his colleagues as saying, organizations in the sector “provide spirit, healing, vocation, human connection, vision, and courage—basically the color and richness for people and our planet.”—Rob Meiksins