Industry Outlook: Nonprofits

September 9, 2013

What I’m suggesting is there’s a lot to be said about increasing your model, figuring out ways you can use your business to make money to help, because it gives you the opportunity to do things you never could do before.      

Let’s switch now to framing this discussion about the economic and social impact of our organizations generally. Nan, you run Local First, which represents local businesses. Why don’t you kick us off?

SEYMOUR: At Local First Utah, we’re leading a movement to support the success of locally owned, independent businesses statewide, and this intersects back to data collection, but we recently released a compiled series of economic studies that we’re very excited to share.      

We had three sectors. One took place in Salt Lake City, one in Ogden and then we just completed a study in Wayne County so we would have a rural representation. What we were measuring was the rate of revenue return that local businesses keep in our own economy versus national chains, national retailers. There have been many studies done nationwide like this, but never anything in Utah until this last year, and it’s been known that local businesses return about three times the rate of revenue in the form of wages, and goods and services purchased—and, interestingly, charitable contributions.

These three studies compiled in Utah show that, unlike the national average of about a three times rate of return, local businesses in Utah are returning four times the rate of revenue back into our own economy. Of course that’s good news for the economy in general, and that speaks to what our movement is doing.

But the piece of the study that’s really relevant to this whole group is that these local businesses are giving charitably at three times the rate of national chains, national retailers. So this conversation about funding and where is it coming from, I think it’s been an overlooked fact that local, independently owned businesses are really giving back at this three-times rate.        

Red Butte Garden is an organization that has a tremendous impact on our quality of life. What do you want to say about your impact in the community?

LEE: Red Butte Garden is a very good economic development tool. This state has tremendous resources, a tremendously friendly business climate. Some of our state legislators have told me, however, that when it comes to recruiting businesses, they’re oftentimes on the short list by the relocation committees, but too often the bridesmaid, and that sometimes the perception is that maybe Utah isn’t where we want to relocate to for reasons of quality of life, which is so silly when you look at what this place has.

We encourage the people who connect with the Garden, when they’re recruiting someone or they’re thinking of bringing a firm in, to bring them to Red Butte Garden. We’ll give them a tour. We’ll show them what we have. We’ll host them at a concert. We’ll show them a quality of life, the richness of life that might hopefully change some of their perceptions about what it would be like not just to work in Utah but to live in Utah.

One of the things nonprofits do, which may not be fully appreciated by those outside of our sector, is not just the economic contributions we may make to the community, but we are instrumental in the quality of life, and people want to live both where they can make a good living but also have a good life. That’s a role we play that is just way too underappreciated.

Certainly protecting our environment is a key element of the quality of our life. Caroline, how do hawks play into that?

GOLDMAN: That’s an interesting one, because we’re not serving individuals. We serve populations of raptors and how they interact with the ecosystem, the other wildlife out there. So we’re taking a more eco-regional look at things. For example, we have just been doing a whole study on cheatgrass, an invasive grass that is really hurting our west desert.

A lot of times we look at eagles and hawks and other raptors as indicators of how healthy or unhealthy our environments are. Golden eagles are crashing in the west desert right now, and we believe, because of our four years of research, that cheatgrass is a huge reason for that. You look up and you see the eagles, and then tomorrow they’re not there. And it all kind of trickles back down to that big picture of economics.

Yes, Utah has an awesome business environment and a lot of that is really good, and sometimes it’s not so good, because we’re not necessarily looking beyond that bottom line of dollars today to where is that leading us tomorrow, because pretty soon we’re not going to have those eagles.      

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