Profit from Nonprofits

By Beacon Staff

Here we are looking to a new year with a combination of hope and fear. Hope that real change can move us in a positive direction, and yet some fear that past transgressions may be difficult to overcome. Here at the Museum at Central School in Kalispell we’re in pretty decent shape, considering the circumstances, which leads me to reflect – the next time someone says to me for the umpteenth time, “Nonprofits should be run more like a business,” I will reply, “Like which business?”

If Lehman Brothers, AIG, or any of the rest had been run more like nonprofits, they, and we, might not be in the world of hurt that faces so many thousands of employees, shareholders, customers and taxpayers. If these firms had been run like nonprofits, they would have placed community well-being above executive pay, profits and competition.

Perhaps that is at least part of the hard lessons we are re-learning – lessons that, if you are old enough, you learned in the third grade: be kind to one another, clean up your own mess, do onto others what you would have them do unto you, always leave the campsite cleaner than you found it, what you reap is what you sow. These aphorisms may sound trite, but we are very proud of the fact that we are an important part of the nonprofit community that lives by these simple and effective rules, and it is why we make a positive difference in our communities.

Did you know that Flathead County alone has 511 registered nonprofits, that 284 of them are large enough ($25,000 or more in revenue) to file IRS Form 990, and together those 284 nonprofits bring $263 million in annual revenue to the Flathead Valley? Statewide in Montana in 2006, reporting nonprofits spent $2.8 billion, held $4.9 billion in assets, employed close to 40,000 Montanans, and paid them nearly $1.1 billion in wages. In 2007 nationally, 1.4 million nonprofit organizations accounted for $306.4 billion, or 2.2 percent of the gross domestic product.

Then there is the incredible value of people willing to donate their personal time and effort. Nationally volunteering is at a 30 year high – nearly 29 percent of us, or three of every 10 adults over 16 years old are volunteers for nonprofits that are active in arts, education, health care and human services.

Imagine what a difference all that valuable nonprofit good work, revenue, spending and volunteering makes in our communities. Imagine what life would be like without it. It is a large part of the strength of our communities and is why we do what we do.

It isn’t always easy, constantly trying to do more with less, working extra hard to give back more than full value to the community that supports us. But the reward is a different sort of “profit” – it is the smile of delight in a third-grade student’s face attending one of our 1895 classrooms, when that child comes to understand what life might have been like for a third-grader more than 100 years ago in our historically preserved building. We know then that these current-day students now have a new sense of themselves, a sense of place and perspective that will serve them well as they grow up. And, among our grownup volunteers, it is the joy of nostalgia, or the flash of recognition, as they pour over the thousands of photographs, records and artifacts that we so carefully preserve, and they learn something new about their own past that makes their lives better in the here and now.

True service to the community is the kind of “profit” we can be, and are, very proud of.

Gil Jordan is the executive director at the Museum at Central School in Kalispell

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