Industry Outlook: Nonprofits

September 9, 2013

PHILLIPS: That’s really interesting—the idea that nonprofits are entrepreneurial because they’re responding to needs. For me, that’s one of the big challenges that we have as a sector—having those resources to anticipate and not just respond to needs as they come up, and for everything, for day-to-day operations to deal with the complex needs that we’re facing every day. Certainly at the YWCA we’re dealing with a traumatized population and people coming to us in crisis, so that’s right in your face.

But then also resources to actually anticipate needs, to make plans, to say this is the way the winds are blowing, this is the way government funding is growing, to hear from businesses and say, this is what they’re seeing in the human resources department. This is how we can meet those needs. That’s definitely something that is a grand dream that we have at the YWCA, to have some resources that we can devote to some of those things, just so we’re in a better position for the future.      

Chris, could you take a moment to lay out the sector generally with the data you have about the power of the nonprofit sector in Utah?

BRAY: Three points about that. In my meetings with businesses and nonprofits the last year and a half that I’ve been at Utah Nonprofits Association, I found that businesses, No. 1, need to understand the economic impact that nonprofits have in Utah. We are 5 percent of Utah’s gross domestic product. We are $7.6 billion in annual revenues in Utah alone. We have more impact than the private defense and the aerospace community, which is always surprising to businesses and people that I talk to.      

The second thing is that nonprofits really want to be at the table to solve community needs. A lot of businesses work together, and they might invite other government and business, but many times nonprofits are excluded from those conversations, where they really need to be at the table.

The third thing that I would like to leave as thoughts for consideration is a coordinated effort that would result from that, from nonprofits being at the table regarding funding, so when we’re talking about large community challenges and we’re talking about a lot of small, underfunded nonprofits that are trying to make an impact, and some medium and some large (about 75 percent of the nonprofits in Utah are under $100,000 a year). So getting them around the table when we’re talking about societal needs.

When I talk to nonprofits, they say donors don’t understand this, and when I talk to donors, they say nonprofits don’t understand what we’re asking for in our grants. So there’s a lack of communication that is happening, and we really look at the Utah Nonprofits Association as being an integral player in helping to bring those people together.

CHRISTENSEN: The most important thing to getting my foot through the door with a business is understanding what they want and what they need. If I can get to the table and discuss that with them, everything else follows in the relationship. They start to understand me and what our nonprofits need and what the people we serve need, and suddenly we’ve built a collaboration and we’re moving.

One example is a collaboration that we’re involved with right now with Salt Lake City, the Downtown Alliance, The Road Home and Volunteers of America. There’s an issue with streets not being cleaned up in certain blocks of downtown, and there’s a lot of panhandlers and people who are loitering on the streets. So the Downtown Alliance, Salt Lake City and the local businesses have come together and they’re finding a way to do several things at once. Can we clean up the downtown? Can we help the loitering situation, the panhandling situation? Can we do other things in the community at the same time?

So a solution has come up in that we are able to employ the homeless—and the formerly homeless in permanent supportive housing—to clean up the downtown streets. This helps the streets look better, and it gives employment to people, it helps people come off benefits and reduce their tax dependency, and it addresses a whole slew of needs for a whole bunch of people.      

BALKEN: One of the key drivers in this state is economic development. How are we going to grow our pie? We’re all interested in that, right? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been called in from Visit Salt Lake or GOED to come and speak with businesses who are prospecting here. People who are looking at states to site business or expand their businesses are looking for quality of life, as well as economic stability. I sometimes think that we don’t see ourselves as playing a crucial role in messaging the benefits of our state as well as demonstrating the vibrancy and the diversity of our population. But we’re so able to speak to that, because that’s who we are and it’s what we do.

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