I love nonprofits. I must. Why else would I voluntarily spend most of my career working 12-14 hour days for less money than the for-profit sector pays? And vacations or retirement? Those are for other people. Because working for a nonprofit isn’t a traditional job. It’s a vocation. A calling. A personal mission.
Nonprofits uplift communities, aid and protect us in hard times, create social change, and inspire action. Whether stemming from religious beliefs, cultural traditions, justice, or simple human decency, nonprofits are what make our world a better place.
“The Third Sector”
Since America’s earliest days, charitable organizations have been the bridge between what the government can provide and what people need. From churches and schools to libraries and community centers, nonprofits have always brought people together. Working alongside the public and private sectors, philanthropic organizations—”the third sector”—create the backbone of America.
As early as 1894, the U.S. government was making tax exemptions for certain organizations. Then came prohibition on private inurement, which ensured that no individual associated with tax-exempt organizations financially benefitted from its existence. To help fund America’s participation in WWI and encourage individual philanthropy, The Revenue Act of 1917 allowed individuals to deduct charitable giving. Corporations eventually followed suit in 1935. In the early 20th century, prominent Americans such as Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, and John Ford sought ways to use their wealth for good and created foundations that still stand today.
How Nonprofits Shaped America
From the Native American tradition of giving as a sign of honor to early settlers seeking refuge from persecution to Cotton Mather’s Essays to Do Good and abolitionists who took great risks to help others, we have a long tradition of philanthropy in this country. It has evolved over the decades, but it is uniquely American.
During World War II, Americans rationed supplies to support the war effort and soldiers. The YMCA, Salvation Army, National Jewish Welfare Board, and several other organizations united under Franklin D. Roosevelt to create the USO. Following the war, Americans sent supplies to Europeans in need and the U.S. government launched the Marshall Plan to help rebuild Europe.
1960s and 1970s
Activism of the 1960s and 1970s reverberates today in the Me Too and Black Lives Matter movements. From the March on Washington to Title IX, the Civil Rights Movement and Women’s Rights Movement were a tectonic shift in society that inspired individuals and foundations to contribute time, money, and passion—and set the bar for modern activism and philanthropy.
With the advent of the internet as well as online and mobile giving, we have seen an unprecedented increase in American involvement in global philanthropic relief following natural disasters such as the Indian Ocean tsunami, Japanese tsunami, and Haitian earthquake. Support and connectivity were cemented closer to home following the devastation of September 11, Hurricane Katrina, and Hurricane Maria. In 2012, that connectivity earned a Global Day of Giving with the launch of #GivingTuesday.
Sounds almost like utopia, doesn’t it? A place of ideal perfection. The word philanthropy, from the Greek philanthropia, means “love of mankind.” I can’t think of anything more ideal or perfect. That ideal is what donors support. That pursuit of perfection is what nonprofits provide. And that’s why I love them.