Nonprofits face their own sustainability issues

In fulfilling their mission to help make Western North Carolina’s communities more sustainable, our nonprofits rely on grants, fees and donations to continue fulfilling their charitable missions. A sustainable cycle of giving and receiving lies at the core of their survival.

Nonprofits are deeply woven into the fabric of WNC. They provide direct services, such as feeding the hungry and helping the ill or dying. They educate the public about vital issues, such as domestic violence or learning disabilities, and they nurture our culture through live stage, museums, music and history preservation. Some groups advocate for the disenfranchised, including children, seniors with disabilities and animals that can’t advocate for themselves.

In addition, many work to shape government policies through advocacy and lobbying. “Direct services alone are only a part of nonprofits’ role,” stresses local philanthropist Jennie Eblen. Advocacy, she says, can bridge the gap between the services that nonprofits provide and the needs that far exceed their resources.

Beyond what nonprofits offer in goods and services, they also provide 400,000 jobs in our state, according to the N.C. Center for Nonprofits — about 1 out of every 10 jobs. In Buncombe County, about 13.6 percent of all employment (16,000 people) are employed through nonprofits. Nonprofits have a $38 billion annual economic impact on the state’s economy — $1.6 billion in Buncombe County — according to the center.

Finding the revenue

The monetary support that fuels nonprofits must be replenished in order for nonprofits to survive, and that largely happens through fees from goods and services provided, private contributions and government grants.

Statistics from the N.C. Center for Nonprofits show that nonprofits receive 9.5 percent of their funding from government grants. In Buncombe County, nonprofits in 2014 received $2.3 million through this channel. “It is typical for organizations doing more public work to stream funding from local government,” says David Heinen, the center’s vice president for public policy and advocacy.

In addition, nonprofits receive about 23.2 percent of their funding through selling their goods and services to government sources, according to the center. “Buncombe County is well-known in North Carolina for partnering with nonprofits and for-profits to get things done,” says David Gantt, chairman of Buncombe County Board of Commissioners.

On the other hand, about 46.6 percent of nonprofit funding comes through the goods and services they sell, according to the center. This includes anything from medical care provided by hospitals, such as Mission Health Care, to more creative projects like the Brother Wolf Animal Rescue thrift store. Denise Bitz, founder and president of BWAR, explains that her group “started a few businesses to fund the rescue work that we’re doing. We have two thrift stores, a store where we sell pet supplies and a grooming salon. We had to get creative because the work we do is very expensive.”

Private contributions provide a vital part of the financial picture for nonprofits. In 2012, 12.6 percent of the nation’s nonprofit funding came from donations from private citizens and organizations. For some nonprofits that don’t receive government funding, the percentage can be much higher. For example, Brother Wolf’s individual donations constitute the vast majority of the group’s revenue. “We survive mainly on people that are donating $20-$40 a month,” Bitz says.

While there are a lot of nonprofits vying for limited resources, there is a great deal of creative collaboration among the groups, explains Elisabeth Bocklet, marketing and communications director at the United Way of Asheville and Buncombe County. “There’s always going to be some amount of competition, and that’s healthy. But even more so, there’s a beautiful amount of collaboration in this community,” Bocklet says.

What’s more, collaboration helps keep nonprofits healthy, according to Ann Marie Traylor, executive director of the Environmental Quality Institute. Her institute’s projects are funded, she says, “through a partnership with other nonprofits and local agencies [that] work together with groups more than compete.”

Seventy-eight percent of nonprofits saw a demand for services in 2014, but only 40 percent of those nonprofits were able to meet the demands, according to the N.C. Center for Nonprofits. While North Carolinians give more than the national average, they still give less than residents in some other Southern states, according to the center.

In terms of donation revenues, it’s up to all of us to replenish our nonprofits’ resources in order for these groups to fulfill their charitable missions within the WNC region and beyond.

For more information, see also “Nonprofits by the numbers.”

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One thought on “Nonprofits face their own sustainability issues

  1. Yep

    many of the non profits don’t deserve ‘sustainability’ … when I hear someone say they work for a ‘non profit’ I roll my eyes and
    wonder WHY ?

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