What If the Nonprofit Sector Didn't Exist? The Spirit of Giving at Christmas
Do you remember the holiday movie classic “It’s a Wonderful Life?” I watch it every Christmas.
“It’s a Wonderful Life” was produced and directed by Frank Capra in 1946. It’s a fictional Christmas drama based upon the short story “The Greatest Gift” by Philip Van Doren Stern. It's one of the most popular—or best known—Christmas movies ever. It was nominated for five Oscars.
Here's the synopsis from Wikipedia:
The film stars James Stewart as George Bailey, a man who has given up his dreams in order to help others, and whose imminent suicide on Christmas Eve brings about the intervention of his guardian angel, Clarence Odbody (Henry Travers). Clarence shows George all the lives he has touched and how different life in his community of Bedford Falls would be had he never been born.
It occurred to me: What would my employer, The Salvation Army Indiana Division, be like if the organization and its spirit of philanthropy never existed? If you ask an individual on the street their major recall of The Salvation Army, they will tell you it is the sound of kettle bell ringers at Christmas time. This practice goes back to the early 1890s in San Francisco.
In fact, without The Salvation Army in the Central Indiana community over one year:
- Homeless people would not receive 113,830 nights of free shelter
- Adults and children in need would not consume 468,000 free nutritious meals
- More than 2,500 children would not receive a new coat, hat, gloves or scarves
- More than 6,680 individuals would not receive holiday assistance
- More than 35,359 individuals would not receive general assistance
- More than 3,528 people would not obtain much needed substance abuse rehabilitation
- More than 2,036 primarily women and children could not seek relief from domestic violence
- More than 100 individuals could not accept disaster relief services
- Many families would not be changed through our Pathway of Hope Program
And the list goes on and on.
Take a moment and create an annual statistical impact chart of what your organization provides to benefit the community you serve. What if your organization did not exist? On a global scale, what if the nonprofit sector did not exist in the U.S.? I am glad George Bailey experienced a dream instead of reality. It is a wonderful life because we have a nonprofit sector here.
Some nonprofit stats, according to Urban Institute:
- Approximately 1.41 million nonprofits were registered in the IRS in 2013
- The nonprofit sector contributed an estimated $905.9 billion to the U.S. economy in 2013, which represents 5.4 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP)
- In 2014, total private giving from individuals, foundations and businesses totaled $358.38 billion ($373.25 billion in 2015)
- Fully 25.3 percent of U.S. adults (62.8 million) volunteered with an organization in 2014 contributing 8.7 billon hours. The value of these hours is $179.2 billion.
Think of the impact of time, talent and treasure the nonprofit sector provides on a macro level in the U.S. in a given year. Millions of men, women and children receive free benefits from thousands of organizations dedicated to serving populations in need. What would happen if these organizations did not exist?
We all work in the nonprofit sector because we want to make a difference. Each day, we strive to make a wonderful life for others, because that is what we do. I love one of the final scenes in the movie, when people in Bedford Falls give joyfully to help George, who was in need. In this profession, we all constantly strive to motivate others to give, to make society a better place. May all of us continue to capture the spirit of Christmas throughout each year. In many ways you are an angel in the eyes of those you serve.
Duke has extensive experience as a nonprofit practitioner, author, lecturer and consultant. He has been a contributing author to NonProfit PRO for the last 11 years. He has been a long-standing member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals where he was previously named the AFP Indiana Chapter Fundraising Executive of the Year and has held the CFRE designation for many years.
He received his doctorate degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in education administration, master's degree from Marshall University with an emphasis in public administration and a bachelor's degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in marketing/management. He has also completed post graduate work at the University of Louisville.
He is currently executive director of development for The Salvation Army Indiana Division in Indianapolis, Indiana. Contact Duke at firstname.lastname@example.org or 317-224-1029.