Industry Outlook: Nonprofits

September 9, 2013

Our sector is an incredibly diverse sector, and it’s very easy to just pigeonhole us. When you think about it from hawks and cheatgrass to children to local businesses, it’s incredibly diverse. Adam, please talk about how your organization fits in.

COHEN: So beyond being a business, a medium-sized business of about 190 employees, we turn people who are generally burdens on the taxpayer into taxpayers themselves. Generally these people are incarcerated or involved in the criminal justice system, child and family services system, but also they’re heavy users of the emergency departments at local hospitals, they’re generally unemployed, they are really using much of the taxpayer dollars.

What we do is transform these people, give them opportunities to get clean and start to practice healthy living, right living, and get employment experience. They get employed while they’re with us, so that they are becoming taxpayers and giving back to the community that they have taken from for quite some time. So it has enormous impact beyond just the criminal justice system, beyond the family court system, beyond ERs and Medicaid and federal and local block grants and all of that.        

José, what would you like businesses to understand about the value of the services that Catholic Community Services provides?

LAZARO: That’s something we’ve been trying to determine ourselves, because we provide some of the most basic services to some of the most vulnerable individuals in our community. We operate the Saint Vincent de Paul soup kitchen right down the street. And what’s really tough is that, yeah, it’s a meal, but how do you really demonstrate to a business or a donor that a meal is so much more than just something to eat? You’re actually saving lives—how do you demonstrate that message? It’s something we’ve been struggling with for quite some time, because how do you measure how that’s really going to make a difference a week from now or two weeks from now when you’re just providing someone with a hot bowl of soup?

Some of our other programs, our main goal is self-sufficiency. We have a refugee resettlement program where we settle 600 refugees on a yearly basis. Our main goal there is to first get the individuals out of a dangerous environment, get them set up, and ensure that they become self-sufficient. That’s a much easier sell to a donor, because there’s outcome, there’s something you can measure there. Six months from now this individual is going to be employed or going to have something we can  measure, something we can sell.     

WEDIG: There is another way that we contribute to the community. We work a lot on water issues, and so we see, up at the State Legislature, water issues that are going to affect businesses’ pocketbooks whether we do tax dollars or through water development. And I know Voices for Utah’s Children is often up there working on tax bills. So a lot of times nonprofits are looking at how the legislature’s activities are going to be affecting bottom lines, and we’re looking at it from the impact of businesses, because we rely on that business support. So we are the watchdogs, in a sense, for a lot of these tax issues that you see coming up.

Another important aspect of water development is our quality of life, and whether or not we’re managing our resources wisely enough to be able to continue growth in our state. Those are really long-term, hard-to-see results, but it makes a huge difference.      

I love entrepreneurs and all these people who say they’re going to change the world, but there’s no app for homelessness. Let’s open up the discussion and really get to the meat of what we want businesses to understand about the needs in our community.        

GOLDMAN: Maybe one of the reasons we have such trouble measuring our impact is because our impact is very long term, and how do you follow that? Businesses have such a tremendous power, especially here in Utah, and if they can start looking past the short term and start looking at the long-term impacts that they have, at the long-term environment that they will be in 10 years from now, 20 years from now, they might start thinking about what they can do to give back to the community, because business sustainability is something that’s really been starting to come up in the last 10 or 15 years. Businesses should start thinking about their environmental impact, their social impact. Philanthropy is one way of helping that, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg.      

Nonprofits are exceptionally entrepreneurial because we have to change the way we respond to societal needs constantly.

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