In addition to performing social services within the community, nonprofits may have large, tangible economic effects on local residents.
Nonprofit organizations may be one of the biggest factors in the Southern Tier’s economy, according to one speaker during a SUNY Business and Education Cooperative of the Southern Tier (BEST) presentation on Thursday.
The presentation featured executive director of United Way of Broome County Alan G. Hertel. United Way is the largest philanthropic fundraiser in the world and the second largest funder of human services, behind the government.
Currently, the nonprofit sector employs approximately 10 percent of the nation’s workforce and 15 percent of New York’s workforce, according to Hertel. Being a $1.5 billion industry in the Southern Tier, there are officially 1,438 nonprofit organizations in Broome County, according to a 2010 Binghamton University capstone project, which was analyzed by the South Central New York Executive Directors Group (SCNYEDG).
“Not-for-profit organizations truly are a career opportunity,” Hertel said.
However, Hertel also said the large number of nonprofits and the lack of cooperation within the nonprofit community has a detrimental effect to the sector as a whole.
“We have too many not-for-profit organizations in Broome County and in the country. I think that there’s a lot of duplication of service and that we can provide the same level of service for less cost if more folks worked together to collaborate and form coalitions,” Hertel said.
According to Hertel, most nonprofit organizations exist for the sole purpose of serving the public. Due to their contributions toward society, members of the nonprofit communities receive federal income tax exemptions and individualized tax exemptions. Hertel said that supporting the nonprofit communities in addition to similar government organizations ensures cost effectiveness.
“The not-for-profit community helps reduce the burden on taxpayers. If the government took on all of these services, then there would be a much higher cost that would have to be supported by the taxpayers,” Hertel said.
Hertel said there are also many struggles for nonprofit communities. Unlike businesses within the private sector, overhead costs, or operating expenses, must be closely monitored and kept at a minimum for nonprofit corporations.
“There’s been pressure internally to keep overhead as low as possible. I think that’s a bit of disservice because, it’s like the old adage, you get what you pay for — if you don’t have qualified people, you’re not going to get good product,” Hertel said.
Hertel attempted to dispel misconceptions of charity being a “free handout.”
“The not-for-profit world doesn’t exist just so people can get free handouts. I think it really is attempting to improve people’s lives,” Hertel said. “We try to give them some tools and resources to use and get started on their own lives because as a society I think that it’s kind of important that we have that kind of safety net.”
Thomas Kowalik, the director of the Center for Innovative and Continuing Education (CICE) and a founding member of SUNY BEST, organized the lecture to raise awareness of the potential career opportunities within the nonprofit sector.
“A lot of people are not aware of the large scope the not-for-profit community has on the nation’s economy,” Kowalik said.
Lan Lu, an intern for SUNY BEST and graduate student studying accounting, said that nonprofit organizations should be less specific about the level of expertise required by their employees.
“I don’t think that [not-for-profit organizations] need high expertise in some areas. I think that they just need someone who has the knowledge to meet the basic needs and help others to benefit society,” Lu said.
Yu Cheng, an intern for SUNY BEST and senior majoring in English, said the philanthropic aspect of many nonprofit organizations is rewarding and encourages students to look into the possible job opportunities within the sector.
“[Nonprofit organizations] take students out of the classroom and encourage them to think about the community they live in,” Cheng said. “You’re not just giving back — you’re putting out there something that wasn’t there before.”