Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the importance of the narrative in the nonprofit sector. More and more, we are being told to tell our stories, and with good reason. The story is the core of an organization; it is both an organization’s raison d’être and its most significant tool.
With the breadth of diversity in the nonprofit sector, our organizational narratives are varied and unique, depending on our cause and mission. But often, our narrative as a sector can be condensed to one word: heart. We care. We’re here to help, to give, and above all, to do good.
But are we saying everything we want to say as a sector? An increasing number of people suggest that there should be more to the story. The nonprofit sector in Canada employs 2 million people and accounts for 8.1% of Canada’s GDP, and many agree that it’s time to bring that to the table.
There is a wide range of opinions on the economic role of the nonprofit sector:
- Some, like Robert Egger, a nonprofit activist and social entrepreneur in the U.S., envision a world where nonprofits are equal partners in the economy, arguing in a 2011 interview that the work of nonprofits “enables businesses to make profit”.
- Dan Pallotta, American entrepreneur and activist, asserts in his book Uncharitable: How Restraints on Nonprofits Undermine Their Potential that the nonprofit sector is at a severe disadvantage to the for-profit sector, and needs to advocate for its economic rights.
- Others caution against going too far in equating nonprofits with for-profits. As Phil Buchanan, President of The Center for Effective Philanthropy, writes, “The best case nonprofits have to make is that they are effective in dealing with the challenges that the markets…cannot, or will not.”
While there is a fair amount of disagreement, the idea that we should be portraying ourselves as major economic players has certainly gained traction.
Brian Emmett, Chief Economist for Canada’s Charitable and Nonprofit Sector at Imagine Canada, recently suggested that the nonprofit sector needs a new, stronger message as a mature, essential part of the economy. He writes that the nonprofit sector not only improves quality of life, but that it “provides people with a community in which to live and participate, to volunteer and donate, and to make a difference in the country and world around us. …charities provide the opportunity to be fully human, the opportunity to participate in imagining what Canada can be.”
Most of all, it is this last opinion that resonates with me. In the very human, heartfelt act of responding to the needs of others, the nonprofit sector has managed to accomplish so much more, establishing strong, vibrant and collaborative communities from which everyone – nonprofit, for-profit and individual – benefits. Socially and economically, the impact of the nonprofit sector’s work is immense. Now that’s a story worth sharing!
Read Jennifer’s recent post “Nonprofit storytelling tips” for some things to consider when sharing your organization’s stories.
Rachel Pereira, Program and Administrative Coordinator