Nonprofits: A community-based role

Nonprofits play a massive role in our community by trying to fill gaps of need that are not addressed by the government or the private sector, says Roger E. Hartley, professor and director of the Master of Public Affairs Program at Western Carolina University.

Nonprofits also “identify key problems in our community because people who work in nonprofits are on the front line of serving individuals and families who are in need,” he says.

Of course, not all nonprofits provide direct services, Hartley notes. Other nonprofits fulfill their missions by advocating for causes.

Hartley, a board member of United Way of Asheville and Buncombe County, believes nonprofits should keep working to address community needs — plus continue to partner with government and other nonprofit agencies to solve major societal problems as well as do advocacy work to help community leaders make better public policy. “Nonprofits have an understanding of issues in a depth that most individuals and political leaders do not,” Hartley says. “And having their voice at the table is really crucial to making good public policy.”

Xpress queried a few other community leaders and experts, from Buncombe County Board of Commissioners Chairman David Gantt to Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer. We asked them what role nonprofits do (or should) play in our communities. In the following pages, look for their observations and comments about nonprofits.

“Nonprofits have an understanding of issues in a depth that most individuals and political leaders do not. And having their voice at the table is really crucial to making good public policy.” — Roger E. Hartley, professor and director of the Master of Public Affairs Program at Western Carolina University

“Nonprofits play a greater role in our community than ever before, filling in where local, state and federal government is lacking. From feeding the hungry, to providing after school programming for students, providing shelter for battered women, providing affordable housing, representing indigent clients, and supporting and promoting the arts, to describe a few functions, nonprofits play a vital role in our community. … There is an evolving role for nonprofits in the United States and more often nonprofits are providing essential services that allow people to experience an improved quality of life. A continued exploration of the needs and services lacking in a community should help guide the expansion and creation of nonprofits.” — Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer

“Involvement is a cultural value in Asheville.  Nonprofits give people a way to be meaningfully involved in addressing important issues in the community.We have a lot of nonprofits which makes me worry that we’re fragmenting our resources, both human and financial.  Collaboration is another community value and some issues are so large that they require that organizations work together.  There’s strength in that.  I’d like to see more of it.” — Kit Cramer, President & CEO, Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce

Nonprofit organizations are the backbone of communities across Western North Carolina. Not only do they provide necessary services in hard times, nonprofits also employ thousands of individuals and spend their budgets locally. Nonprofits protect our environment, nurture our children, provide shelter from the cold, delight us with creative performances and stimulate the economy. … Like a backbone, nonprofits help our mountain region stand tall. WNC Nonprofit Pathways is proud of our robust nonprofit sector; we are here to help make it even stronger. Learn more at” — Cindy McMahon, senior consultant, WNC Nonprofit Pathways

“I believe that partnering with existing nonprofits gives our citizens the best possible delivery of desired services at the lowest possible cost.” — Buncombe County Board of Commissioners Chairman David Gantt

“The need for nonprofit organizations in our community is easily demonstrable when we simply count how many there are operating in WNC, covering such issues as housing, education, employment, environmental sustainability, public safety, healthcare, mental health, family and children, among others. Nonprofits fill service gaps, provide education and support, advocate for change, and assist WNC families in meeting their basic needs. Without them, there would be much more pressure on local governments to provide services. It would be impossible for local governments to provide as much support and conduct as many services as do our local nonprofits. Without these organizations, there would be an alarming increase in the number of individuals and families who are homeless, unemployed, hungry, repressed, and struggling to meet their basic needs and contribute to our community.” — Lucia Daugherty, program director, Asheville-Buncombe Community Relations Council



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