The Importance of Non-Profits

October 4, 2019


Jordan A. Washington (Campus Compact Illinois) 

           Non-profits do a lot of important work and sometimes, as a society, we often forget that. They provide many resources and services to those who may have not had access to them otherwise and they help engage communities and society to help make this country a better, more informed place. Reducing the presence of non-profits within our society will only lead to grim outcomes not only for the present but for the future as well. 

Non-profits often fill the space between people and the governments that represent them. Due to that, they often deal with issues that affect a community more directly. From personal experience as an AmeriCorps VISTA that works for a small non-profit, a lot of smaller non-profits such as  Campus Compact Illinois (CCI), the organization I work for, do very important work for the communities they serve but they lacked some fundamental resources.

Campus Compact Illinois is an Illinois-based non-profit office of Campus Compact, which is headquartered in Boston, Massachusetts, that helps bridge the gap and build relationships between Illinois colleges/universities and the communities they serve. They specifically focus on issues such as social justice and through that work, they also help to nurture a stronger democracy within the colleges and communities they serve. Recently, CCI decided to merge with its national office, more directly. CCI Executive Director, Natalie Furlett, said that the reason why Campus Compact Illinois joined its national office was that “…we’re now able to effectively use our budget. It also takes the sole financial burden off of our shoulders since we are a smaller organization. We also get to work with other Campus Compact employees more closely, directly.” 

Furlett also believes that a reason why smaller non-profits are often underfunded is that to receive funds, smaller non-profits often have to, “come with proof that they can handle big money.” Due to the smaller size of these types of non-profits, the organization in need of funds usually, “doesn’t have the support or the capacity to handle that type of money,” she later explained. Furlett also believes that the work CCI does is very important because “College is where ideas are nurtured. If we don’t add the element of social justice to those ideas, we’re not doing our jobs. Doing the work that we do can also help jump-start discussions on civic engagement in all spectrums, which is very important.”

Being underfunded is a big issue when it comes to non-profits’ success/survival rates, but they do face other obstacles as explained by Kathleen Kelly Janus, a lecturer with Stanford University’s social entrepreneurship program. Over a decade ago, Janus founded a non-profit organization based in San Francisco named Spark and it focuses on encouraging millennials to crowdsource grants and offers pro bono professional services and investment connections to grassroots women’s organizations.

After growing its donor base to more than 10,000, Janus struggled to obtain funding for the next steps for the organization. “We had all this success and we hit a wall, and we couldn’t get the funding that we needed to grow to the next level, to expand to other cities and to deepen our impact in San Francisco,” she explained. After that event occurred, Janus took it upon herself to survey 250 non-profit organizations based in the United States to see what organizations are thriving regarding funding and how are they doing it when other non-profits are on the brink of collapse, financial wise?

What happened with Janus’s organization isn’t a unique issue for non-profit organizations. According to Janus’s findings listed in the article ‘5 Ways Non-Profits Struggle’ by Ben Paynter,  there are five statistics as to why non-profits struggle. It’s either because only 20% of nonprofit funding in the United States is unrestricted, 75% of nonprofits collect data but few feel they are using it well, 81% of nonprofit leaders say access to capital is their biggest challenge, 50% of nonprofit employees feel either nearly or totally burned out and 53% of nonprofit leaders spend less than two hours preparing for a speech. 

In recent memory, non-profits that do very important work are often at risk of having their funds discontinued, especially at the state level. Planned Parenthood, a well known non-profit organization that gives affordable healthcare to those of low-income backgrounds, has recently been under attack in some regions of the country. Those opposed to having Planned Parenthood funded are usually coming from a religious viewpoint.

Planned Parenthood provides important healthcare such as STD testing, birth control, vaccines, prenatal care and they also provide transgender people with hormone therapy among a plethora of other valuable services. Even if Planned Parenthood is a larger non- profit, they too face the risk of losing funds that can negatively impact individuals who need the care they offer. If different locations across the country close, a lot of innocent people will no longer have access to much needed, affordable healthcare in their neighborhoods and that alone can set off a plethora of other complications.

From Campus Compact Illinois to Planned Parenthood, non-profits do incredibly important work. They help people of communities/certain identities that often don’t have access to much-needed resources and they not only help improve the quality of those people’s lives but they also help improve the communities they reside in. If non-profits, especially smaller ones, lose access to funds and other forms of crucial support, they cease to exist and if they cease to exist, they can’t do the important work they do for the communities/people they serve. A world without non-profits is not a world where society thrives and this is precisely why non-profits matter.