The Invisible Nonprofit | submitted by Salli Martyniak

I spent the last two days at the second annual nonprofit summit sponsored by the Wisconsin Nonprofits Association. Yes, just like other sectors have their associations — builders and contractors, lawyers and accountants — so do nonprofits. But in the case of Wisconsin nonprofits, it’s been a long time coming.

For too many years, our state was only one of nine that did not have a nonprofit association — and it worked against us. Our nonprofits don’t really have a voice — if we do, it’s very weak. And are we rarely have a “seat at the table” even when conversations are about us.

Tim Delaney, president and CEO of the National Council of Nonprofits Associations and keynote speaker, summed it up when he said this, “Nonprofits. We’re everywhere yet we are invisible.”

By national statistics, there are approximately 1.4 million nonprofit organizations registered with the IRS. These nonprofits vary in both size and mission, ranging from neighborhood associations that have no paid staff to multibillion-dollar hospitals and universities. (That wide disparity between nonprofit size and purpose will be a topic for a later blog — I promise you.)

When compared to other sectors of the economy, the nonprofit sector accounts for 5.2% of the gross domestic product. Nonprofit employees represent 10% of the total US workforce. Yet, we are invisible.

Here in Wisconsin, there are an estimated 6,500 reporting nonprofits. They provide nearly 250,000 jobs for Wisconsin residents, making them the fifth largest employer in the state – behind manufacturing, retail trade, services and government. Yet, we are invisible.

I have the pleasure of working with just a small portion of those 250,000 nonprofit employees and I can tell you that they are far from invisible. They feed the hungry. Shelter the homeless. Care for the elderly. Teach the illiterate to read. Take care of the sick. Provide safe childcare. Bring art to our everyday lives. Find jobs for the unemployed. Give comfort to the dying. And, the list goes on.

We have the good fortune of living in a community that is relatively safe, sound and secure. Whenever our community is recognized for being #1 in “this” or #1 in “that,” there are a lot of people lining up to take the credit — as they should. But far too often, nonprofits are not part of that line-up … because they are invisible.

Day in and day out, our nonprofits contribute to our quality of life.

For the next week I challenge you to pay attention to your surroundings. Think about the times a nonprofit crosses your path — or you cross theirs. Whether it’s a neighborhood community center, a hospital emergency room, a food pantry where you volunteer, a friendly daycare center, an enviro group, the chamber of commerce, a local arts group — whatever it is, take notice. At least for a week, do not render them invisible.