Since I’ve been working with the Paul Clarke Nonprofit Resource Center I have been observing a certain type of knee-jerk reaction within myself in response to perceptions of what it means to be a Nonprofit.
When one says ‘Nonprofit’ I hear ‘Public Charity.’ This is not an entirely inaccurate rendering. Many Nonprofits are Public Charities. However, Nonprofits (organizations eligible to be exempt from some federal income taxes, as defined by Section 501(c) of the U.S. Internal Revenue Code) fall into nearly 30 different IRS categories. One of those categories is filled by organizations called Public Charities. Category (3).
Some of the reasons that Nonprofits equal Public Charities in our minds, to the exclusion of 29 other categories, go back to the 17th century with the Elizabethan Poor Law and a certain Franciscan Brother, Juan de Escalona*. Some of the other reasons have to do with the role the Christian church and its doctrine concerning charity has had in shaping our culture; governmental, social, and commercial.
Sitting through Board Bootcamp Friday morning I found it very interesting (that I got to SIT through Bootcamp, yes, but no) to watch the ways in which this Nonprofit Halo Effect (in short the equation of Nonprofits and charitable causes) affected responses made on the opening True/False quiz given to the participants. (Board Bootcamp, you ask? Absolutely. Perhaps you would like to join us again in March. Click here for more info.) For example, for many of us, the idea of giving the CEO of a Nonprofit a year-end bonus was ethically questionable. The CEO’s acceptance of such a reward seemed to conflict with the Halo hovering above them. (Here I leave you to your own reflections.)
The point is, Nonprofits get a Halo, and many of them have earned those Halos through self-sacrifice, concern for marginalized issues, reduced salaries. In some ways such a Halo can be compensationally frustrating. In other ways the Halo is great, because it builds moral authority and influence for Nonprofits within a community. Be encouraged today if you have a Public Charity Halo. Seek to understand the ins and outs of this culturally specific phenomenon and let it give you Wings. People are watching and they like what they see.
*Hammack, David C., ed. Making the Nonprofit Sector in the United States. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1998. Print.