Opinion: Government support is essential for investing in nonprofits

If banks can be saved, so can our organizations.

Stuart C. Kaplan, CEO of Selfhelp Community Services.

Stuart C. Kaplan, CEO of Selfhelp Community Services. Photo courtesy of Selfhelp Community Services.

While the federal government continues to shore up our nation’s financial system, most recently rushing in to save faltering banks, nonprofits across the country are struggling to  survive with a lack of government support. Nonprofits with hailed frontliners just a short time  ago, like Selfhelp Community Services, are continuing to work under a broken system that lacks  investment in our sector, often asking us to do more with less. 

As the CEO of Selfhelp which serves 25,000 older and vulnerable adults in New York state, I see firsthand  how inadequate funding negatively impacts our ability to serve our clients. We can’t raise our  prices to balance inflationary and competitive market trends, yet we continue to provide high quality services to all those who need us at diminishing funding levels.  

Recent news articles have outlined how proposed cuts to city agencies, including senior  services, will be devastating to the nonprofit sector. I am proud that our local public officials  understand nonprofits and how we are a safety net for our local communities, but their  individual support doesn’t cover the systemic budget gaps we are up against. We need a sector wide investment that recognizes the value of nonprofits and truly supports our respective  populations.  

I all too often hear that the solution to our funding shortfalls is philanthropy. In other sectors,  philanthropy isn’t asked to cover government shortfalls and unfunded mandates, yet nonprofits are expected to; what makes us different? In many cases, loyal supporters who believe in a non-profit mission donate to cover programs they believe in, not to serve as a backstop for lack of  government funding.  

Further, healthy margins allow for research and development which is essential for growth in  the corporate world yet why is the expectation for non-profits different? If nonprofits could  carry healthy margins, we too could reinvest into our mission allowing us to employ a stronger  workforce, develop innovative care models, and have access to research that would greatly  demonstrate our value proposition. Sadly, this is not so. Our margins remain greatly challenged  due to government shortfalls and unfunded mandates which stagnate our ability to prosper.  

As nonprofits, we are dedicated to our mission and those we serve. We provide quality  services, and all too often are asked to do more with less or to produce better client outcomes  without any additional revenue. It is true, we often say yes but that’s because of our never ending commitment to our mission and the clients we serve. My CEO peers and I agree,  without adequate government funding many nonprofits will be forced to close or drastically  reduce services.  

Therefore, in the wake of the government’s banking bailout and financial sustainability  interventions elsewhere in the for-profit economy, I call upon the government to prioritize the  sustainability of nonprofits to ensure our society has access to essential safety net services. Our 

local, state, and Federal governments can strengthen communities, support vulnerable  populations, and create a brighter future for all by fully funding nonprofits in this year’s state  and city budgets. 

Stuart C. Kaplan is CEO of Selfhelp Community Services.

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