Nonprofit organizations exist under multiple designations within tax-exempt 501(c) rules. Even your local chambers of commerce and other business organizations are NPOs with 501(c)(6) status. I have been privileged to serve as a nonprofit administrator for more than 25 years, including eight years as president of a chamber of commerce.
While I do love the chamber of commerce, when I think of my favorite NPOs, I think of human service organizations. I think of community service and caring for our most vulnerable neighbors. We have so many fantastic NPOs (and philanthropic support) in Greater Peoria who are filling a need for the families and individuals they serve, as well as providing excellent employment for a myriad of professions.
A study of just 54 human service organizations in our Tri-County region reported those organizations employed a total of 3,345 professionals with a combined economic impact of more than $328 million. Additionally, for every dollar of funding these organizations receive, they return $2.13 in net economic input for the community.
From my vantage point, the single most important aspect of NPOs is the personal touch and experience. Certainly this is important for the client being served, but what about the provider? What about those who support the work through volunteer hours and financial contributions? None of it happens without the experience. The experience of giving and receiving. The experience of seeing a child find happiness for the first time. The experience of a parent overcoming an addiction and getting back on their feet. None of these experiences happen without genuine human interaction.
It seems pretty obvious, right? Think for a moment about the recent news of Toys “R” Us closing its brick-and-mortar stores—all of them! (I recognize the work of our social service agencies is vastly more important than Geoffrey the Giraffe restocking toy shelves, but stick with me for a moment here.) This mass exodus from the ringing of cash registers and aisles of children climbing display cases is obviously predicated on our changing shopping habits. We can buy the same product online, have it delivered to our front door, and thanks to what I judge to be unethical activity, we can even avoid paying sales tax in most cases. (That is a whole different column: the importance of Shop Local).
While Toys “R” Us is leaving the confines of brick and mortar, have you heard who is doubling down and increasing its physical footprint? Build-A-Bear has increased its number of physical stores by 12 percent in five years and is planning for further growth. People are paying for an experience. They are paying to feel the stuffing, kiss their bear’s new heart, and give their new buddy their first bath.
You can buy any piece-of-junk toy on the Internet without thought or sentiment. What you cannot do on the Internet is make a memory. This would include both good memories and those which may be better forgotten. Those times when a bloody lip needs a cool washcloth. When a hungry infant needs a nourishing breakfast. When a tired parent needs a warm bed to get their family through the night. These will always be the times we need our NPOs taking care of us.
Please join me this month in reinforcing your efforts with some very worthy causes. As always, if you want to know more about an organization, please contact the Chamber. You would be surprised just how many NPOs support our efforts! iBi