Importance of the Nonprofit Sector Amid Crisis

“What a difference a week makes!”  I’ve heard a lot of that sentiment in recent days, comparing our collective lives this week with what normal life was just a week or two ago—pre-COVID-19, pre-social distancing, and pre-economic shutdown.  Obviously, a lot has changed.  Many suggest that some things will never be the same—and that that may ultimately be a good thing.

One thing is for sure: there’s an enormous amount of uncertainty now.  People are anxious and scared.  Many working people—scraping by, living paycheck-to-paycheck, and now seeing those paychecks stop—are suddenly thrust into crisis mode.  Many of the rest of us also feel a sense of this international crisis, but really, we’ve just experienced some disruption and inconvenience, not the bona-fide crisis that the most vulnerable among us are facing.  It makes one stop and think.

It makes me reflect with gratitude for New Hampshire’s, and our nation’s, robust nonprofit sector—that sector of the economy that employs more than 100,000 people in New Hampshire, and which comprises more than 12% of the nation’s GDP.  Included among the more than 1.5 million nonprofits nationally are countless private schools, large colleges and universities, hospitals and research institutes, and other organizations that support economic and social progress.  But there are countless more smaller nonprofits – well over 5,000 in New Hampshire – that collectively, are absolutely vital to the quality of life and sense of community that most of us enjoy—and maybe until recently, mostly took for granted.

I go for a walk in the woods and I think with appreciation about the people and nonprofit organizations that work to preserve our forests, clean water, and beautiful landscape.  My dog walks with me, and I reflect with appreciation for the many nonprofit shelters and rescue organizations that are the protectors of our four-legged friends.  I pass a neighbor on the trail and consider appreciatively the nonprofit elder-services and veteran services he gets that contribute to his active and healthy lifestyle.

I think, too, about some of the people that we serve in the nonprofit I work at—people whose disabilities require care 24/7, 365 days/year.  And I think about the direct-care workforce that provides their care—still showing up, still plugging in.  Anxious, like the rest of us, about the uncertainty, about their own health and vulnerability, but undeterred in doing the work required to care for those who require care.  The same is true, of course, of our healthcare professionals and first responders.  These are nonprofit people doing the work of humanity, protecting our communities and the most vulnerable among us.

I stop and think, and reflect with gratitude for all that the nonprofit sector does to meet people’s basic needs, to make our world more livable, and to protect and support us in times of crisis.  And I’m humbled anew.  I realize that I can do more.  That youth-support organization I’ve been thinking about volunteering with: sign me up.  That Board role I was asked to consider accepting: yes, I’m ready to serve.  The several nonprofits whose year-end appeals were relegated to the B pile: I can sacrifice a bit extra and belatedly send a gift.  And yes, the many area nonprofits that hadn’t even been on my radar, but which I see now are doing vital work in response to this current COVID-19 crisis, I can pitch in to those too.

Maybe you’re one that long-ago recognized the value of the myriad nonprofits in your community.  Or maybe in this time of crisis, you’re just newly beginning to take stock in what these community institutions contribute.  Either way, it’s a great time to reflect on what nonprofits mean to you, and to evaluate how well you align your resources to reflect that value.  We all have something to give—our time and talent foremost, our energy and interest, our advocacy.  And for those with even modest financial discretionary capacity, our giving of dollars too—yes, even when the market is going south.  Maybe especially when the market is going south.

The daily news these days is definitely unnerving, but there’s also a growing sense of community-mindedness, of people looking out for each other.  Many of us are thinking about what we can do to help during this time of national crisis.  We can, as many of us are now doing, look out for our neighbors, and we can also look out for the nonprofits in our community that look out for our neighbors—especially if, like me, you might just have been taking your community’s nonprofits for granted a bit more than you realized.

Nonprofits are vital in times of crisis; that’s perhaps easier to recognize in such times as these.  But nonprofits perform vital community-building, life-enhancing services every day.  And their success and impact is inextricably tied to the communities they serve, which support them.  Gratefully, many, many people do support their local nonprofits.  Most of us can do more—and perhaps seeing more clearly during this time of crisis how valuable nonprofits are—we will do more.

Some things will never be the same—and that may be a good thing.

Jim Hamel
Vice President of Development