For some time, I have had the notion that there are, simply put, too many nonprofits. This may seem like a strange statement to be made from a consultant whose income is derived from nonprofits searching for funding and new executive leadership, but I will stand by my guns and repeat – there are too many nonprofits.
Between 1996 and 2006 the number of registered 501(c)(3) Public Charities increased by 68.7%. This does not include the estimated 350,000 or so congregations that are not registered with the IRS. And while income levels and generosity have increased in the past 10 years, there is no doubt that they have not increased enough to support the 368,000 new charities.
The more people you know who work or donate their time to nonprofits, the more diverse a list of beneficiaries you will learn about. In fact, just this morning I had a conversation with someone who was helping a friend craft a proposal for medical funding in Romania and I was finishing up an annual appeal letter for the Brattle Theatre – both of which fall into that enormous number of charities created in the past ten years.
Of course, there is a need that many of these organizations fulfill, but I question whether each individual organization is necessary. Instead, perhaps we need a series of consolidations or mergers to ensure that the society’s needs are met.
The Cause of the Surge
I believe — with absolutely no facts but a bit of logic — that the great increase in nonprofits is being caused by relatively few factors:
1- the baby boomer population that has worked hard and now wants to make a difference.
2- our society’s encouragement of each individual’s value to the society as a whole.
Oh sure, others may state that there is a new need for nonprofits due to decreases in government funding as well as general economic and environmental factors, but do we need 350,000+ new organizations to create the solutions? I would like to propose that the proliferation of all these new nonprofits is a result of the American view that each one of us has a unique perspective in the world. Add that to the elemental American idea that if we want it done our way, we have to do it ourselves, and we have nearly 100 new nonprofits created each and every single day.
In other words, having two congregations with similar affiliations within a small or diminishing community is essential for the congregants who love their physical space or their clergy and leadership. But, that ignores that a joint community could pool resources – both human and financial – and establish a stronger individual organization. Some programs may be forced to ”sunset”, some members disappointed, and some funding lost but that element of compromise will ensure a less-stressful, long-term survival of the community as a whole.
A Few More Recommendations
As an Associate of a firm that specializes in ensuring the long-term survival of organizations, here are a few other tips:
Consider compromise before you become one of the charities that is forced to close its doors due to lack of funding.
When you or someone you know considers starting a new charity, do due diligence to see if you could aid an existing organization in achieving parallel goals.
If you have time and energy to give and are looking for a way to make a difference, consider making an impact within an exiting organization through friends, families or even websites like boardnetusa.org or idealist.org.
While I do not recommend starting a charity for every new need, I do recommend volunteering. Each of us must give what we can in order to achieve a more perfect world for ourselves and our children – as well as the goals we wish to accomplish.