Have you ever: been to a public library, made use of a senior service, attended a support group, participated in a book club, entered a place of worship, taken advantage of free job training or other classes, adopted a rescue dog or cat, gone bird watching with a group, attended a historical society talk, used a community garden, received free legal advice, or played bingo? The number of resources that one might have to choose from can depend on the size of the community you live in, but chances are good you have taken advantage of similar offerings.
According to the National Center for Charitable Statistics (2015), there are 1,561,616 tax-exempt nonprofit organizations in the US (There are many other nonprofits that are not tax-exempt). This number covers a wide range of uses, but safe to say that there are many different kinds of nonprofit resources available to many communities. In the United States, Nonprofits, or Not For Profits (the names can be used interchangeably) have 34 IRS classifications. For convenience’s sake, I will only use the term, “nonprofit,” and will focus on charitable organizations – the resources found in most communities.
If you are not aware of many nonprofit services and don’t automatically think of them as your own personal resource, it may be because, unless you go looking, many of them simply are not that visible. Being visible, or invisible, has several causes, among them: size of community (one organization can get lost in a medium-to-large city), advertising (nonprofits often have very limited funds to spend on advertising), staffing (nonprofits often have limited paid employees and volunteer-sustained organizations may have few skilled people for marketing or networking), and competition (in a crowded field, many organizations are competing for funding and attention).
Active members of nonprofit organizations are often inspired, and are usually experienced locally committed individuals who really like what they do. Nonprofit community groups offer some of the best local resources a community could wish for. Whether it’s the volunteer ambulance service, chess club, or food bank, they actively engage with the local population, trying to fulfill what people need or want.
One organization that rates nonprofit organizations in the US displays their list of major categories and numbers:
Arts, Culture, Humanities (1266)
Community Development (840)
Human Services (2583)
Human and Civil Rights (382)
Research and Public Policy (229)
Nonprofit services and activities are the unseen glue communities depend on to help hold the fabric of life together. Nonprofits are where the individual meets the resource community.
Relationships and resources
This is your community and maybe you want to expand your horizons: you’re restless, lonely, ambitious, frustrated, highly social, socially shy – and you want to do something, take some sort of action. Actually the worst possible state to be in under these circumstances is one where you unconsciously assume there is no place to go exploring. You think you already know nothing exists, you are convinced of it. That assumption pretty much ends the search right there, and perhaps the desire, right at the starting line. With that “knowledge” you are almost guaranteed to find nothing.
Being able to see all the resources there are to see offers the greatest ability to explore, and the best odds of finding something of value. The greater the access you have to resources, the more options you have, and the more options you have, the better choices you can make.
Resources as privilege
A privileged position in life can involve many more things than just the amount of money one has, things like gender, skin color, physical attributes (good looking), physical health, mental illness (illness can play havoc on ones timeline), and other genetic traits.
There are also personal characteristics, shaped by experiences, that can affect our lives – social skills or cultural proficiencies – and they can be influenced by the communities we live in. We may accept many of these as a given, like language and social customs, but they can be significant in terms of how we are accepted in society.
Community resources, like the ones supplied by nonprofit organizations, can represent a significant advantage for people in many ways – social, economic, and cultural. Just one example, an article by the American Sociological Review (2017, Vol. 82), Community and the Crime Decline: The Causal Effect of Local Nonprofits on Violent Crime, states in part, “Instead of seeing the drop in violent crime solely as the result of a set of external processes, forces, and policies imposed on communities where violence was concentrated, their stories expand the focus to the role that communities played in responding to the challenge of violence through the development of local efforts and local organizations.”
Another report from The School of Policy, Government, and International Affairs at George Mason University makes the following points: “Park and recreation agencies contribute to their local economies in a variety of ways. Strong park and recreation departments generate significant direct and indirect economic impacts through their employment and spending, and proximity to well-maintained parks can boost property values…park and recreation departments can collaborate with local and other organizations to promote their contributions to economic development.”
There are many indicators that demonstrate direct and indirect positive effects nonprofit organizations can have on society. Having access to, and knowledge of, these resources is one way people can gain a “competitive” advantage, socially and economically.
The fundamental thing that sets a nonprofit corporation apart from a for-profit is intent: a for-profit exists mainly to make money; the nonprofit can do both, but its mission is first to serve.
There are many different forms of nonprofits. Large organizations work to promote their mission often on a national level, and may also assist smaller associated local groups. Smaller nonprofits often function only on a local level.
UNA (Unincorporated Nonprofit Associations) services and activities are offered by individuals who are not incorporated (but may be registered as a Section 501(c)(3) organization). As with nonprofit organizations, we can create two broad categories of UNA resources: self-employed, and volunteers. Self-employed are individuals who, as a UNA, offer some portion of what they do for free while also hoping to sell a service or product at some point. Volunteers will offer something with no interest in developing an income. Both of these types may be familiar resources in a community.
The following are a few examples of UNAs and what they have to offer.
- Skill Presentation: Public libraries may offer space for individuals who have a skill or special knowledge to share. This information may be connected to a book they wish to sell, or a service they can offer, but initially at least, the information is given for free.
- Experience and personal story: Book clubs, discussion groups, someone with an interesting story to tell or a cultural observation to present, career talks.
- Personal assistance: Offering neighbors transportation to appointments, participating in a local clean-up event, tutoring, volunteering.
UNA’s may be widely used, but may not be fully appreciated nor fully promoted as the community resource they are. I like to think of UNAs as resources with attitude. That is, they provide resources with each provider presenting their own distinct unique personality. A focus on UNAs can have a significant impact on community awareness.
A community network directory can bring together disparate resources into one space for everyone to see.