Thursday, May 10, 2007

Nonprofits Profit the Region

The Community Research Institute (CRI) at the Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Leadership at Grand Valley State University recently conducted studies of the impact of nonprofits on the economy in Kent, Ottawa, Muskegon and Newaygo counties. In Kent County alone the estimated impact of nonprofits is $2.2 billion.

While part of that impact is the jobs and salaries these various organizations provide, the nonprofits also have mutliple monetary benefits as measured by everything from reducing crime to improving the quality of life that attracts businesses and the knowledge workers so sought after these days.

From a PR perspective, and as one who's PR career was primarily with nonprofits, I think these studies need to be more highly touted. There's an arrogance among many in the business community that nonprofits need to be run like businesses, and that PR majors should be in the business school. Never mind that a nonprofit is different than a business, that they have missions much broader than making a profit, and that many business leaders could learn a thing or two from nonprofit executives about integrity, inspiration, organization, efficiency and leadership.

As for public relations, the majority of practitioners do not work in businesses. They work in government or nonprofit. By the business advocate's logic, the PR major should be in the political science department, or in the School of Nonprofit and Public Administration. But wait a minute. PR is fueled by communication theory, its practitioners primarily conduct or advise on communication issues, and that unique perspective provides the kind of "outside the box" thinking most businesses say they want. So, here's a thought, let's keep the PR majors in the schools and departments of communications.

And let's recognize that nonprofits don't need "marketing" advice from businesses. They need PR--relationship building--to accomplish their varied and vital social missions. The bottom line of the recent study shows they're doing just fine, whether the metric is in dollars or otherwise.

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