Article In Brief:
- The Problem: Nonprofits have long known the value of building community, but our voices have been ignored or devalued. Now we are learning that valuing private profit over community has brought us to the edge of extinction.
- Why it Happens: Our existing economic structure is designed to reward profit-seeking and to devalue community-building. Power has become too concentrated with a few whose interests are opposed to the many.
- The Solution: Nonprofits have been leaders in building sustainability for generations. Nonprofits can be the catalysts for the systemic change in consciousness we so desperately need by advocating for a community-benefit approach in our economic system.
The nonprofit sector has had the solution to what ails our environment for decades.
If you support the mission of a nonprofit as an employee, volunteer, or donor, something in you already understands this truth.
In many ways, the nonprofit sector exists to fill the needs of those who have fallen out of an economic system that was never intended to care for the whole community. Nonprofits endeavor desperately to fill the gaping holes through which so many fall due to our society’s inadequacy in caring for all people, regardless of their economic means. Most nonprofits clearly see economic enablement as part of our missions.
We live in a world where our economic system significantly undervalues natural and human resources and rewards exploiting the natural world for private profits, resulting in degradation of life. Natural resources necessary for all life are controlled by a small group of individuals and corporations.
Video courtesy of climateuncensored.com
As individuals, it’s natural to feel like there’s no stopping this process. We all live inside this system, and it can be hard to see any other way of doing things. We’ve come to believe there is no other way of living.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
We need a drastic change of consciousness in how we define and measure a successful life. Deep down, nonprofits already know what that means.
The Community Benefit Model
Nonprofits have been on the vanguard for generations by showing us the value of community benefit. Through a community-first approach, nonprofits create a sustainable model that works towards the well-being of the entire community, not just those with the most economic wherewithal.
As I have said elsewhere, when your orientation is to the community first, your priorities are aligned in that direction. Nonprofits operate by doing the right thing for their community. That creates long-term thinking, not short-term profit maximization which has led to extensive environmental devastation.
But instead of seeing the nonprofit model as the leadership that our country has needed, and needs now more than ever, nonprofits have been relegated to the fringes of political discourse and derided for their focus on outcomes not private profit.
Ironically, corporations that are destroying our environment often create the very conditions that lead to many of the social problems that nonprofits are trying to cure.
We have been taught to look up to and respect those who serve themselves first rather than those who are working for community. Our culture and economy reward and value the titans of industry who benefit from the system that dramatically undervalues natural resources; we overlook the wisdom of nonprofit leaders who are trying to create a fairer world and treat them like they are second class citizens.
It’s time for that to stop and for nonprofits to take up their natural place in our society. If there is any hope for our country and world, it is through placing the highest priority on caring for the earth, and for all the diversity on it, through community-benefit approaches. It is not about raging against the machine but rather utilizing what nonprofits intuitively know: we are running out of time and need our consciousness tuned to community value.
In a tweet on August 15, 2020, the Dali Lama wrote:
Does this sound familiar? Does it remind you why you joined a nonprofit in the first place? For those of us who have dedicated our lives to nonprofits, we know it’s about the mission of helping others, giving back, and restoring balance. You have known all along that our present economic system is not serving us and you have been doing your best to show a better way. You are not bleeding hearts, you are visionaries. You know in your gut that we need to think differently about how we allocate our resources as a community. Now it’s time to turn that vision into reality.
According to the paper, Experimental Evidence for Tipping Points in Social Convention, once a population has arrived at a consensus, it only takes about 25 percent of the group to overturn the opinion of the majority. Twenty-five percent. Nonprofits are already the third largest employer in America. In addition to that, 25 percent of people in our country volunteer.
That is one heck of a movement in the making! I know that there are a variety of perspectives in the nonprofit sector, but no matter your position on one social issue or another, you are in the nonprofit sector because you want to make a difference. You want to make the world a better place. That is what got you here and that is what keeps you working in the nonprofit sector.
Everything we hold dear is at risk unless we find a way to tip the scales toward a livable world that does not depend on an economic system that must continuously exploit the natural world and all living things on it, to assure the success of a few at the top.
Nonprofits have always known that by working together, by trying to make life better for others, we all benefit. This is the consciousness that must now prevail in our world. Community nonprofits have been right all along.
Nonprofits, Understand Your Worth
Those who work and volunteer in the nonprofit sector understand that preserving and sustaining the community is essential to sustaining life. Now, we must figure out how to do that on a global scale.
We must find an equilibrium that works for everyone. As the divide between the haves and have nots continues to grow, our world is facing a disastrous future. We are all in the same boat and it is heading towards the waterfall. Some live in luxury cabins on the top floors and some are in steerage below deck, but all of us are going to feel the impacts of climate destruction at some point.
We can’t keep taking without giving back — we have to sustain the community. Nonprofits have known that all along.
Leaders in the nonprofit sector have long understood the importance of working together to create community value. There are tens of thousands of you who know more about community organizing than I ever will. How can nonprofits use our vast networks to become a tipping point toward creating a livable world for all? What can we do to harness the power of nonprofits to bring about the change we need now? Share your thoughts by contributing to Blue Avocado or posting your comments below.
Pamela Davis is the founder, president, and CEO of an affiliated group of nonprofit insurers known as Nonprofits Insurance Alliance® (NIA), the publisher of Blue Avocado. Pamela has grown NIA from a loan of $1 million from a group of foundations to over $229 million in premiums and $713 million in assets, serving over 24,000 nonprofits across the country. All NIA affiliates are 501(c)(3) nonprofits, just like the organizations that they insure, and all NIA assets belong to the community, just like they should! Follow her on Twitter @pamela_e_davis
Articles on Blue Avocado do not provide legal representation or legal advice and should not be used as a substitute for advice or legal counsel. Blue Avocado provides space for the nonprofit sector to express new ideas. Views represented in Blue Avocado do not necessarily express the opinion of the publication or its publisher.