Monday, June 8, 2009

Mobilizing the Nonprofit Sector

Staff and board of nonprofit organizations carry with them an image of the nonprofit sector as small, and are often amazed to learn just how big and powerful we are (or could be, if we would mobilize our power.)

The nonprofit sector in the United States has mushroomed over the past 20 years. It is now immense. There are 1.5 million organizations incorporated under the Internal Revenue Service 501c law. The total income of the sector is about $1 trillion per year; if it were a single industry, it would be our nation’s largest. The nonprofit sector employs 10% of the workforce and is, in general, an enormous economic driver.

Other counties around the world have equally, or sometimes larger, nonprofit (or NGO) sectors. In fact, worldwide, the nonprofit sector employs 4-5% of the workforce. And, there is an almost immeasurable number of volunteers whose time augments the often low pay of the staff.

Yet, little organizing is aimed at nonprofit staff. Often staff are asked to help organize their constituents, there is some organizing efforts aimed at boards and volunteers, and all of this is valuable.

But let’s look at the numbers of people are talking about if we focus organizing efforts just on a small segment of paid staff who work for nonprofits. There are almost 140 million people in the workforce in the United States. Fourteen million of these work in nonprofits. Are all of them progressive? Certainly not, and in fact, some of them work for anti-tax, anti-commons organizations, and a much larger number work for organizations that don’t take any position on commons issues. But given how few people vote, and how many local elections that determine critical tax issues are decided by a few thousand, or sometimes even a few hundred votes, those of us dedicated to making our tax system more progressive only need to reach a few hundred thousand of these staff in order to really make a difference. This addresses the idea that there is nothing we can do to change tax policy. We only need to talk to each other and we could have a profound impact.

No comments: