Montana is home to more than 7,000 charitable nonprofits

By Liz Moore

One of the most powerful and rewarding aspects of working in the nonprofit sector is the daily experience of gratitude. Nonprofits are found in almost every corner of Montana: groups of citizens who have come together with a can-do spirit to solve local problems. And, we have a host of partners who work with us to bring ideas from imagination to reality. Today, I hope you will join me in saying thank you.

The Flathead Valley is home to 650 nonprofits, 190 of which are employers. The rest are operated solely by volunteers. In total, Montana is home to more than 7,000 charitable nonprofits; about two thirds have no employees. Staffed or unstaffed, every nonprofit in the state needs at least three board members. That means at a minimum, 21,000 volunteer board positions are occupied at any given time in charitable endeavors.

Board members in the Flathead serve every kind of mission, from the food bank to the symphony, emergency shelter, Head Start, the library, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, trails, churches, economic development, health services, and everything between. Thank you to the thousands of Flathead Valley board members who shepherd the nonprofit mission month after month and year after year. You are the backbone.

And thank you to the valley’s remarkable business sector.

In addition to your contributions to the economy, you support the overall wellbeing of the valley through your financial gifts, in-kind donations, mentoring, volunteerism, and other contributions to nonprofits. You receive more requests for assistance than you could possibly handle, and yet you respond thoughtfully and consistently as you prioritize giving back. May your work and life be enriched by the sense of satisfaction and meaning that comes from investing so deeply in the community.

Nonprofit work is also supported by the private philanthropy. You may be known for big philanthropy or give anonymously. You may take advantage of Montana’s Charitable Endowment Tax Credit or tack a dollar for a cause onto your purchase at the grocery store.  In whatever ways you donate, when you tithe, donate to a local auction event, respond to an appeal, or purchase tickets to a gala – you are participating in individual philanthropy and it matters. And to the larger family foundations who invest in Montana by partnering with nonprofits, thank you. Nonprofits are often working in ways that government and the private sector can’t or won’t do; philanthropy enables us to stand in the gap. We need and are grateful for your support.

One more shoutout: to our partners in local, state, and federal government. From city and county commissioners to legislators and members of congress, we are working together for Montana’s best interest. We each make unique and necessary contributions to the community fabric, and we need each other to serve the whole of Montana. Thank you for your partnership and service.

Many people are surprised at the number of nonprofits in Montana. Sometimes I’m asked whether there are too many. I don’t have one right answer, but I offer this. Like businesses, not every nonprofit will make it. That’s a painful reality. It’s important for nonprofits to avoid replication and promote collaboration. At the same time, Montana needs “Main Street nonprofits” just like we need and want a mix of grocery stores, real estate agencies, gas stations, and breweries. The nonprofit presence in any community ultimately represents the diverse, resourceful, and compassionate people who live there. Over time, some efforts will dwindle while others will flourish. In this way nonprofits continue to reflect the collective aspirations of our communities.

As we open the door to 2019, I invite you to take a moment and imagine the Flathead Valley without nonprofits. Imagine no churches, limited access to health care and after school programs, no college scholarships, senior housing, or museums; no food pantry or domestic violence shelter; no affordable housing. The picture is stark. Fortunately, we have a much different reality.  An immense circle exists in the valley and beyond, bringing solutions that promote and uplift this community’s best self through nonprofit endeavors. Thank you for your distinctive contributions to that circle, and best wishes in the new year.

Liz Moore is the executive director of the Montana Nonprofit Association.