GR Press Letter to the Editor: Nonprofits Need Community-wide Engagement to Succeed

Today the Grand Rapids Press printed my letter to the editor, which can be read in section A15 of the Grand Rapids Press. It is a shortened version of what I initially wrote, before I realized that they had to be limited to 200 words of less. Here is the full version:
Letter to the Editor: Nonprofits Need Community-wide Engagement to Succeed

On Sunday, an article by Rick Haglund in the Michigan Business section reported on how nonprofits kept Michigan afloat during the Great Recession. The report details that while Michigan lost a net of 850,000 jobs, employment in the nonprofit sector grew nearly 23 percent over the past decade. In fact, about 375,000 workers or nearly 1 and 10 workers in the state of Michigan work at a nonprofit organization.
The article asks, “Is that a good thing?” The answer is not quite as clear as it may seem.
First of all, the nonprofit sector is hardly a homogeneous entity. The diversity between missions, types of organizations, and structures is astounding. Nonprofit organizations include faith-based, arts and culture, international development, trade and membership organizations, lobbying and political vehicles, governmental agencies, human services, mental and physical health, environment, education, and much more. We all share a few characteristics, but differ greatly on others.
Speaking to the consequences of the Great Recession, nonprofits have reacted in a variety of ways. Human services agencies have struggled to meet increasing demands of a population that is more economically challenged than ever before. Arts and culture organizations struggle to convince donors why they should receive funding despite the increasing reliance on basic needs services. Educational institutions face budget cuts, and health care organizations continue to serve more needs, expanding in both scale and scope.
Nonprofits are renowned for their ability to innovate and creatively address our most challenging problems. With unfettered visionary leadership at the executive and board level, we have the flexibility to experiment, succeed, take risks and in turn learn from our failures. We have and will continue to catalyze the grassroots work of improving our communities, both near and far away.
However, in order to continue the work we do, we need your support. As government continues to cut services and funding, nonprofits continue to pick up the slack. We supplement government services like never before. Though there is great strength and innovation in the work we do, we cannot do it alone.
We fill the holes, plug the gaps, and service new needs, but struggle to plan for the big picture. We need effective government to succeed. We need engaged citizens who care about civic issues. We need a public that supports us and gives passionately. We need a private sector that looks beyond business objectives, extending to improve the communities it works in. We need nonprofit organizations and foundations that are supporting the professional development and growth of nonprofit leaders in the field.
As always, nonprofits will continue to innovate, build relationships, and improve our communities. But until the public is fully engaged, we can only do so much.
Kevin Lignell
Board of Directors
Young Nonprofit Professionals Network of Grand Rapids

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