Big impact: Nonprofits and the community


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By Anne Hindery Camp

Does the term “nonprofit business” seem like an oxymoron to you? Often when people hear of the vibrant nonprofit sector in the greater Omaha area, they are surprised. Maybe it’s because the bottom line of a nonprofit is different than most businesses and that confuses people. To those of us in the nonprofit field, it is simple: the for-profit or private sector is generally concerned with how much money they make for their shareholders, while nonprofits are focused on how much impact is made in the community for our stakeholders.

It is clear that many people don’t realize the tremendous impact nonprofits have on our daily lives.

Consider the following: Omaha’s nonprofit sector provides significant economic benefits. With nearly 4,000 nonprofits in the metropolitan areas and assets of nearly $4 billion, the nonprofit sector generates approximately 10 percent of the jobs in our community. This translates into almost $1 billion in salaries and wages in Omaha and $1 trillion nationwide. Now big business, the nonprofit sector’s vitality, innovation and passion are essential to its success.

Now consider this: Have you or the members of your family ever received services from a nonprofit? While speaking to a civic group the other day, most of the participants responded in the negative to that question. This tells me that a majority of us have a narrow view of what a nonprofit organization is … perhaps the local soup kitchen or domestic violence shelter comes to mind. Indeed, these organizations are there to serve those in great need, but consider the following:

*Is your child attending one of the many quality after-school programs in the area?

*Do your elderly parents benefit from day facilities or specialized nursing care?

*What about the arts? Have you enjoyed any of the free public entertainment this summer or attended an event at a museum or music hall recently? We are lucky to have an abundance of cultural offerings. Again, these are all run by nonprofits.

*Did anyone you know have a baby this past year? Many of our hospitals are nonprofits, and even more nonprofits run early-parenting classes or provide other health-related needs.

*How many of you took a walk in clean, fresh air before work this morning? Well, you can thank the environmental activists who helped pass the 1972 Clean Air Act and worked for nonprofits. Nonprofits aren’t just charities that take care of other people. In today’s world, nonprofits create the social fabric that helps our community see how well we are taking care of each other. At their very core, nonprofit boards and employees take private action for the public good. That’s what builds community and creates true change.

To paraphrase Peter Drucker, “Every great social innovation of the last century began with the passion of a nonprofit.” If you ponder on this, you will likely see that it is true. From America’s public libraries (Carnegie Corporation of New York) to putting white lines on the highways to guide us when we drive at night (Dr. John V. N. Dorr Foundation, New York); from the hospice movement that lets our family members die with comfort and dignity begun by Florence Wald to so many of the health issues that we have faced, from yellow fever (a 30-year program by the Rockefeller Foundation to eradicate this disease) to polio (the Sarah Mellon Scaife Foundation), the Pap smear (originally funded by the Commonwealth Fund), and AIDS in Africa (Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation); and to the first settlement house for the poor organized by Jane Addams in Chicago—so much of what we take for granted today began with the vision and passion of that creativity coming to life through the nonprofit sector, and it helped create so many of today’s public/private partnerships we now take for granted.

From international impact to local efforts, Omaha is fortunate to have a vibrant nonprofit community that all of us should support and be thankful for. Today, more than ever, nonprofit leaders need to know how to maximize their social impact and get more return from their donors’ investments. I invite all of you, as a nonprofit professional, board member or volunteer, to join us at the second annual Midlands Nonprofit Summit on Oct. 30 in La Vista, Neb. This summit will explore innovation in the nonprofit sector and offer ways to connect, strengthen and promote the work we do every day. From national speakers to local experts, the day will be filled with ideas and information to help us with the work we do that impacts our communities so much.

The Midlands Nonprofit Summit is sponsored by Endow Nebraska, the Lincoln/ Lancaster Human Services Federation and the Nonprofit Association of the Midlands (NAM). An all-day event, the summit will be held Oct. 30 at the La Vista, Neb., Embassy Suites. For further details, please visit, call NAM toll-free at 866-765-8052 or e-mail anne[at]nonprofitam[dot]org.


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