Not a week goes by these days where one does not read or hear about a “new” non-profit organization being formed to “fix a problem”. There was a time where only a few non-profits existed in each community. The local Chamber of Commerce and Rotary Clubs were often founded when the business community found a need to work together on issues affecting the community. There was your church where you went for worship and often where you would offer support for those less fortunate in the community. There was the school and subsequently its booster clubs and PTO’s organized to support school projects and extracurricular activities. Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts where kids could learn leadership skills and make friends. And then there were the “ladies groups” such as the Junior League that raised funds for community projects. You knew where to go to help in a particular area and everyone that wanted to get involved, did so, together.
Today our non-profit world has become so fragmented it is frightening. If you have a need for a service or want to help – you often do not know where to turn. Look at any issue: Education, Homelessness, Hunger, Beautification, Preservation – and you will find a whole host of groups you could join. How do you know which one to choose to support? Where can your support have biggest impact? Or perhaps the more important question: why don’t these groups work better together?
The ease of forming non-profit organizations, and the financial and tax advantages that have encouraged the formation of these groups has been both a blessing and a curse. Non-profits continue to expand at a rate of over 10% a year, with no end in sight. There is a group formed to fill every imaginable need, and still they continue to come.
Is there no end in sight? Can anything be done? Our government leaders are so concerned that laws have been passed in recent years to make the requirements to form a non-profit organization more difficult. But it has not had a huge impact on the rate of growth of non-profits. Locally, what can you do? Ask questions. Especially when you hear of a new group starting to form. Often there are groups already in existence to tackle the issues. It’s just a matter of finding the right organization and offering to help. Sometimes a new legal entity is necessary. But always ask the question.
What else can be done? Collaborate, collaborate, collaborate. There are limited resources in every community – both in terms of financial and volunteer support. We can only go back to that same well so many times before we find that it has dried up. By working with other entities with similar goals in the community – we can expand our reach and make our programs more effective. Non-profits should exist only when they effectively provide a needed product or service that cannot be met elsewhere. A famous saying in the non-profit world is “when the horse is dead, dismount”. Sometimes we have to face the fact that the time has come to move on.
Non-profits are a good thing. All are chock-full of good people wanting to do great things for their community. But the time has come to find ways to work together – collaboratively – to maximize limited resources and create the biggest impact. Businesses are called to do less with more, to work more efficiently and to stretch their resources. Non-profits must do the same.
By PHYLLIS SNODGRASS
President – San Marcos Area Chamber of Commerce