A Nonprofit Mash Note

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on February 15th, 2019 in Thoughts & Commentary

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l am not a romantic.  I think Valentine’s Day sends the wrong message:  only really appreciate the ones you love once a year, as opposed to every day.  So, call me hypocritical for suggesting that we should all write a valentine to the nonprofit sector.  Here’s mine. 

Love note

I am propelled to do this in light of a recent conversation my Masters students have been having in response to an assignment.  It is an assignment I give every time I teach this class, and students have the same conversation at some point during the course in response to this assignment. 

The assignment is simple:  over the duration of the eight-week class, pick a media outlet of your choice and monitor its coverage of the nonprofit sector.  Look at the coverage on its own and in contrast with the coverage of the for-profit sector and share your thoughts.  The media outlets selected vary greatly, from traditional print to TV to radio to Facebook and other social media platforms. 

Class after class, year after year, the students reach the same conclusions:  nonprofits are fodder for media when there is a scandal, a crisis to which the nonprofits respond or the media outlet needs a feel-good story or fluff for filler.  This time round, it was really easy for students to spot, as some media did a good job covering how nonprofits were reaching out to help federal employees harmed by the shutdown. 

And while this was nice, and students appreciated it, they also realized that not one of the nonprofits highlighted in any of the stories they found was doing anything different from what they do, day in and day out.  The only difference was the population being served.  That was what made them suddenly newsworthy.  None of the major media outlets in the greater Philadelphia region has a dedicated nonprofit report – the nonprofit beat per se is a thing of the past.  But, media outlets have a dedicated business (meaning for-profit businesses, not our kind of businesses) reporters, dedicated business sections, dedicated business shows, etc.  Do these reporters, sections and shows cover the unusual things that these businesses do or what they do day in and day out?  You got it; the vast majority is the routine, the ordinary.

While nonprofits all have their routine and their ordinary, they are, themselves, anything but ordinary.  They are, on the whole, exceptional.  Nonprofit sector, how do I love thee?  Let me count the ways—though this will not be an exhaustive list. 

  1. We have heart.  Regardless of the mission, nonprofits care passionately and deeply about our missions; we believe in the importance of our work, even when others may see things differently. 
  2. We are tenacious.  Our road is not always an easy one, and it is certainly not paved in gold.  Yet, we continue on with our work until we come to the end, which too few of us can see, because we know our clients, communities and society needs us, even when they don’t support us. 
  3. We are selfless, sometimes to our own detriment.  We care so much about helping others, strengthening our communities and safeguarding our world, that we often forget to care for ourselves.
  4. We are creative.  One of the good reasons that there are (too) many nonprofits is because we see different possibilities for achieving the same outcomes, recognizing that one size never fits all.  We do, however, need to become less risk averse and learn the advantages of taking some calculated jumps. 
  5. We have integrity.  While there have been, and, I’m sure, always will be, some members of our community who forget that we are working on behalf of others and not ourselves, we tend to be a community that values doing what is right, even when, to paraphrase the West Point prayer, it is the harder right rather than the easier wrong.  
  6. We make the world a better place.  We provide safe space.  We counter the ugliness, injustice and hate in the world, while protecting, securing and nurturing the beauty—from the literal environment to the cultures and souls of our world.  We make the world better because of the work we choose to do.
  7. Nonprofits enable us to dream.

Why you love nonprofits?

The opinions expressed in Nonprofit University Blog are those of writer and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of La Salle University or any other institution or individual.