First things first: What should everyone know about New Jersey non-profits?

By Linda M. Czipo

At long last, after a period of good intentions and a couple of false starts, the big moment has arrived: our first Center for Non-Profits blog! Although I’ve been privileged to guest post on the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation blog on topics from non-profit trends to property taxes and federal grant and contract guidelines, launching the Center’s own blog has taken longer. For me, it’s like exercising regularly – the hardest part is getting started (still working on that one).

Considering a topic for our first post, I remembered a question I was asked during a recent Live from Trenton podcast: what are the most important things the public should know about New Jersey non-profits?

Here’s my starting list – and I hope you’ll chime in with your additions:

  1. The non-profit community is deep, broad, pervasive and indispensable. How is Your Life Better Because of a Non-Profit?New Jersey’s 30,000 501(c)(3) non-profits touch our lives every day in every way, in ways that are more and less visible. Educating children and adults alike. Treating and curing illness and disease. Providing comfort and counseling. Building affordable housing. Uplifting our spirits and souls. Protecting our natural resources. Speaking out on critical policy issues. Training our work force. Informing our citizenry. Everywhere you turn, non-profits are saving lives and making life better.
  2. Non-profits are vital contributors to our state’s economic well-being. In New Jersey, 501(c)(3) organizations employ over 314,000 people – nearly 10% of the state’s private work force, and more than many major for-profit industries – generating payroll and income taxes, and helping to reduce public assistance and unemployment rolls. New Jersey non-profits spend upward of $37 billion each year, much of it in the Garden State. Non-profits purchase goods and services from local businesses; pay utilities, telecommunications and related taxes; AND provide essential services to people in the community. Their employees live, pay taxes and patronize merchants in the area. Many provide vital job training and skill building to prepare and enhance a high-quality workforce. Non-profits provide the kinds of amenities, programs and services that make communities attractive to for-profit businesses and their employees as well as visitors and tourists.
  3. Non-profits can’t do their work without money. Sounds obvious, right? But the reality for many non-profits is that demand for their services continues to skyrocket while the financial resources needed to do this work are not keeping pace. As the government continues to reduce its role in providing important services, non-profits are being expected – unreasonably and unrealistically – to shoulder an increasing burden without any extra funds. The situation is not only unfair, it’s completely unsustainable.
  4. Non-profits also can’t do their work without people. Again, pretty obvious. People – employees, volunteers, board members, supporters and constituents – are what make non-profits run. And non-profits need you.
  5. YOU can help. Fortunately, there are countless opportunities to get involved. Volunteer. Donate. Join a committee. Commit to board service. Consider non-profit employment as a career path. Talk up the causes and organizations you care about. Be a non-profit evangelist! These actions are not mutually exclusive. And the best part? You get just as much out of them (or more) as you put in. It’s a win-win for you and society.

Clearly, these items are just the tip of the iceberg. We could talk about overhead, infrastructure support, advocacy and so much more – and we will. This blog will feature posts not only from the Center’s staff, but also from our board members and guest authors covering a variety of topics.

We’re looking forward to the conversation.

What would YOU say? What else should the public know about non-profits?

 
Linda M. Czipo is executive director of the Center for Non-Profits, New Jersey’s statewide umbrella organization for the charitable community.  Through advocacy, public education, technical assistance and cost-saving member services, the Center works to build the power of New Jersey’s non-profit community to improve the quality of life for the people of our state. 

2015 NJ Non-Profit Conference - December 2, 2015

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8 Comments

  1. To elaborate on point #3, Non-profits complement government programs, they cannot replace them. While Non-profits do incredible work in our state every day, they are not well suited to provide every form of service that is currently provided by government programs. As the drum beat for “privatization” continues to beat, it is important to lift up the ways that non-profits and government services work together, rather than seeing the former as a replacement for the later.

    1. Very true, Serena. Non-profits can’t – and shouldn’t – replace what government should be doing, and neither can private philanthropy. Thanks so much for weighing in.

  2. Almost every week, we read in the media that personnel working at or volunteering for a non-profit, have embezzled or otherwise misappropriated resources. Also, not every non-profit is equally efficient & effective in carrying out their mission. It’s the responsibility of supporters to do their homework, to know how well-run non-profits are, when considering supporting them!

    1. Hi, Eve, I have a few thoughts:

      First – the overwhelming majority of non-profit employees, volunteers, and board members act in the most ethical and responsible manner. Stories about wrongdoing are generally considered more “newsworthy” by mainstream media, so they receive more prominence and attention than the vast majority of organizations, workers and volunteers that are doing things right.

      That said, even if those who engage in illegal and unethical practices are a very small percentage among the many thousands of organizations that are doing important work, unfortunately their actions taint the reputations of the entire non-profit community. It’s up to all reputable organizations to uphold the highest standards of ethics and good practice in pursuing their missions, including compliance with the law and investment in staff training and professional development.

      As you point out, a well-informed donor is a charity’s best friend, and effectiveness and impact should be highest on a donor’s list of questions that donors ask. The Center for Non-Profits has an article, “Tips for Making Informed Giving Decisions,” to provide some suggestions for donors. It’s available at http://njnonprofits.org/InformedGivingTips2012.pdf .

      Thanks for taking the time to share your views.

  3. Congratulations Linda and the team at the Center for Non-Profits on the launch of your new blog! Thank you for this thoughtful piece and looking forward to reading more!

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