Non-profits: How do they “profit” our community?

A word from Phyllis Nichols, Knoxville Area Urban League President and CEO

Here in the Volunteer State, we’re known for our willingness to step up and help those in need. The longstanding success of the United Way of Greater Knoxville’s annual fundraising campaign and the solid individual and corporate support of our many area non-profits stand as testament to our area’s philanthropic spirit.

But when we think about non-profits, how do we view them and their significance in our community?

Since Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett presented his FY 2011-12 general budget proposal earlier this month – complete with funding cuts for many area non-profits – there has been much discussion regarding the role of non-profits in our community and how they should be funded.

Opening up dialogue is always a good thing, and I want to take this opportunity to share my thoughts.

In today’s economy, people are struggling like never before. Many of those coming to non-profits for help never dreamed they’d be in a position of needing that help. Businesses have closed, while others have had to downsize and lay off employees. In the aftermath, many loyal, hardworking citizens in our community have found themselves without a job.

A lack of employment quickly leads to problems paying utility bills and the mortgage and an inability to provide basic necessities like food and medical care. It puts things in a whole new perspective.

Recently, we were selling Urban League memberships at the offices of one of our corporate partners. A young lady came to our table and said, “When I saw you all out here, I just had to come buy a membership. You helped my mother keep her house.”

For that young lady, our foreclosure counseling services took on a whole new level of importance. It’s like that. You become a champion for whatever cause has personally touched your life.

My hope is that we’ll all become champions for those things that make our world a better place, not just those things that affect “me and mine.” That we’ll support cancer research not because cancer has affected our life or the life of someone we love but because that research will help others down the road; that we’ll invest in non-profits that help people find jobs, keep their homes or feed their families not because they helped us, but because those services benefit our community as a whole.

I encourage you to take a moment and think about the people in your life. I’d be willing to bet that at least one person in your family, friends or work network has needed help from a non-profit. When you think of the services that non-profits provide, don’t think of those we serve as “them.” Think of your brother or sister or close family friend who is struggling. What resources would you hope to be available for that person you care about?

Now, I ask that you take action to make sure that help is available to those who need it. Give money if you can; volunteer your time and talents to a worthy cause; and speak up in support of the non-profits who serve our community.