Thankful for nonprofits: Accolades, ethics, professionalism

Morgan R. Clevenger

November is always a special time of year as the country pauses to celebrate thankfulness. The Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) has chapters that annually host National Philanthropy Day (NPD) during the month to celebrate those who help our communities and give in a myriad of ways to support the nonprofit community. As a long-time member of AFP, it is a special day to look forward to. Recognitions focus on the nonprofit community and good citizens efforts of volunteers, professional fundraisers, nonprofit leaders, youth, corporations, foundations, media, and communities.

Nonprofits began in the early 1900s as groups organized to help the poor and orphans. Efforts quickly also began organizations to support libraries, faith communities, disaster relief, higher education, hospitals, and civil service communities. In the United States, there is a push-pull effect in providing necessary services among the federal government, state governments, local governments, business and industry, and nonprofit sectors. For example, in 2018 and 2019 when the federal government continued to cut after school programming, a shift had to occur away from government reliance to other providers funded by companies for employees, individual family responsibility, or nonprofits. Typically JCPenney had provided after school programming as it’s national programmatic corporate social responsibility platform. However, the company could not expand its resources to fill the gap, thus family-funded, newly created, or nonprofits focused on after school programming emerged to fulfill the much needed space.

Accountability and transparency have been the plea of the U.S. society since both the for-profit and nonprofit scandals in the 1990s and early 2000s. To that effect, more scrutiny has been placed on management, marketing, cost-delivery, stewardship of resources, quality program delivery, and communication. Thus, nonprofits need to be good citizens. Part of that responsibility is being registered with a state government and the Internal Revenue Service as well as filing an annual Form 990 return each April. Depending on nonprofit status, many organizations may file a 1023-EZ instead. The nonprofit realm is tracked and monitored through a variety of sources including the Nonprofit Quarterly, GuideStar, CharityWatch, Charity Navigator, GreatNonprofits, and BBB Wise Giving Alliance. Independent Sector is also a national organization helping the charitable community including tracking of volunteer hours.

However, with the vital role of nonprofits in society today, a mindset is finally supportive of their efforts to a more reasonable degree of support. Thought leaders such as Dan Pallotta and the Charity Defense Council have paved the way for important thinking to support marketing, professionalism, high-quality service, and appropriate pay structures. Today accountability is more about results than just overhead. Strategic planning, professional staff, high impact program delivery, effectiveness and efficiency, and both a short- and long-term mindset poise nonprofits for success.

Leaders, paid staff, and boards have an ethical and fiduciary responsibility to understand and steward both programming and financial management. Many colleges and universities as well as local agencies provide trainings and important resources. Additionally, the AFP and Society for Nonprofits offer a wide range of nonprofit management resources. Many of these resources may also be helpful to individuals, corporations, and foundations as they support the nonprofit sector.

Morgan R. Clevenger is a professor in the Department of Management, Marketing, & Entrepreneurship at the John L. Grove College of Business at Shippensburg University. His email is mrclevenger@ship.edu.