nonprofits.org

by For the MBJ

Published: April 17,2000

I am delighted to introduce a new series of columns about nonprofit organizations which will appear monthly in the Mississippi Business Journal. The vision for this column belongs to MBJ publisher Joe D. Jones, who recognized a gap that this column is meant to fill. I wish to give him my personal thanks for his dedication to shedding light on all corners of Mississippi business and for his genuine commitment to community service, of which this is just one example.

The source of these columns will be the Mississippi Center for Nonprofits, a nonprofit management resource center and a statewide association with a membership of about 200 nonprofit organizations in Mississippi. The Center has existed since 1992 with a mission of strengthening the capacity of nonprofits to serve the people and communities of Mississippi.

I will write from my perspective as executive director of the Mississippi Center for Nonprofits, and you may see guest columnists representing different voices from the nonprofit sector as well. For most of my life I have studied, worked for or volunteered in nonprofit organizations. I will be glad if this experience can contribute a few new insights to the wealth of information in each issue of the Mississippi Business Journal.

So, why should there be a column about nonprofit organizations in a business journal, anyway? (I’m talking about intentionally nonprofit organizations, of course.) In many ways, nonprofits are businesses, too, facing many of the same issues and some unique ones as well. They buy and sell, succeed and fail. They face a multitude of challenges as they provide goods and services, raise funds and manage both paid employees and volunteers.

The winners or losers in this business are the people and communities these organizations are set up to serve. This means everyone, since what happens to our communities affects us all.

There are already many references to nonprofit organizations in each issue of the Mississippi Business Journal. Nonprofits include everything from colleges, hospitals, museums and churches to soup kitchens, neighborhood associations, youth groups and advocacy coalitions.

In Mississippi alone, there are over 1200 charitable or “501(c)(3)” nonprofit organizations big enough to file annual information returns to the IRS, not including several thousand smaller organizations, churches of all sizes (which are not required to file returns) and other categories of nonprofit organizations.

Even trade associations and chambers of commerce are normally nonprofit in structure, although they usually fall under the “501(c)(6)” IRS classification. It is likely that you are already involved with several charitable nonprofit organizations, whether as a member, board member, donor, volunteer, participant, customer or supplier — or at least as a recipient of fund raising mail!

We really live in a three-sector economy, made up of business, government and the nonprofit sector, each distinct but interconnected. The nonprofit sector is the smallest of the three economically, providing about 7% of national employment, but this does not include the work of over 100 million volunteers every year.

The economic impact of nonprofits can be substantial. For example, the Mississippi Arts Commission recently estimated that nonprofit organizations in the arts generate $55 million in economic impact each year in Mississippi, and this is just one part of the nonprofit sector.

When people around the world look at America and what makes it great, they see our market economy and our system of democracy, and they also see our nonprofit sector. I have been amazed that just in our local office at the Mississippi Center for Nonprofits, we have had visitors from more than a dozen countries in Eastern Europe and around the world who have come specifically to learn about the nonprofit sector in the United States. Sometimes our nonprofit organizations are more visible to others than they are to ourselves. We must be careful not to take for granted the unique social and economic accomplishment that our nonprofit sector represents.

Nonprofits are crucial to our way of life, but they also have their problems and limitations. We have all read about nonprofit scandals in the newspapers and fragmented or inadequate services are too common in many areas.

This column will address both the strengths and the weaknesses of the nonprofit world — or as I sometimes say, the halo and the shadow. It will explore the relationships among nonprofits, business, government, and the people of Mississippi, as well as seeking to provide practical information about the nonprofit corporate structure.

I thank the Mississippi Business Journal for making this space available, and I hope it will prove useful to you. If you have a comment, question, or suggestion related to this column, I may be reached at (601) 968-0061 or by e-mail at nathan@msnonprofits.org. The Web site of the Mississippi Center for Nonprofits is www.msnonprofits.org.

Nathan Woodliff-Stanley is the founding executive director of the Mississippi Center for Nonprofits, a statewide association which has provided management support to charitable nonprofit organizations since 1992. He is a graduate of the Yale School of Management with a focus on nonprofit management.

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