Op/Ed: Nonprofits are imperative

I’ve worked for more than five years in the nonprofit sector after 30 years on the for-profit side. I’ve been honored to lead Chester County Art Association for the past four-plus years, leveraging my fine arts background and corporate experience to help grow and expand our mission.

A crisis can be described as a balance of fear and opportunity. The pandemic presents many fears and opportunities for all of us. These unique circumstances underscore an important question: what do our communities value? What enhances our quality of life? What educates our minds and nurtures our souls? What gives us courage and hope for the future?

All nonprofits exist to provide invaluable services and programs in communities where there are gaps and needs. Mission-based, a nonprofit’s business model funnels all funds back into the organization. Typically, nonprofits have limited cash reserves, and only a handful have large endowments to supplement what revenue does not cover.

There are many misconceptions about nonprofits’ finances. A nonprofit may be perceived to be for-profit. It may be assumed that there’s significant local/state/federal funding—which usually isn’t the case except for human services. There may be expectations that a nonprofit has plenty of donors. Members may often be more focused on their own benefits than supporting the mission.

The reality is that a hand-to-mouth existence is the norm. There’s a ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul’ aspect in that funds coming in for future activities are used to pay for current needs. There are no ‘extra monies’ to help pay for unexpected expenses like a leaky roof, new supplies, or increased cleaning. Additionally, most nonprofits are understaffed in combination with low salaries and minimal benefits. This leads to a regular turnover of talented and dedicated staff seeking more money and benefits, as well as to the challenge of low turnover of staff tied passionately to the mission but without the depth of experience.

Like the national appreciation for teachers now that most students are doing some sort of at-home learning, I hope there will be an increased appreciation for all nonprofits and what they bring to our communities.

I’d like to see a change in the perception and structure of nonprofits. What nonprofits do is imperative to each of us. It has been said of nonprofits that “our job is to make the world a better place.” To pick up where government and society leave off; to protect the marginalized. To offer an educational path that has often been cut or diminished in public schools. To provide opportunities to explore, create, and think outside of the box. And as COVID-19 highlights, we need creative thinkers to help solve current and future challenges that mankind will continue to face in the future.

Wendy Kershner, Executive Director
Chester County Art Association

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