I was just looking over a list of Pitkin County nonprofits and it struck me. In many ways these groups, hundreds of them, account for a significant, if not the biggest, part of our valley economy. For me personally, I have found meaningful work in community radio at KDNK. This was a real relief because the commercial sector was outsourcing, maximizing profits and abandoning creativity.
That kind of thing is what spurs nonprofits to rise and grow in the first place. People are eventually repulsed by outsourcing, maximizing profits and abandoned creativity. Better yet, despite all the distractions, people want more than just stuff, and that’s where the nonprofits often come in. From human health services to Pica protection, thankfully, there is someone on it.
Nonprofits mostly do their special work in the background: protecting kids from abuse, suicide prevention, hospice, solar energy training, after-school programs, veteran’s programs, disabled services, pet shelters, clay, art, justice, environmental protection, writing, music, poetry, theater, volunteer groups, senior support, language assistance and on and on.
I say that the myriad of nonprofits not only displays the needs of a community, but also the level of civility, compassion and creativity of a community. By those measures the Roaring Fork Valley is the cradle of civilization. And, despite the down economy for most of us, there are still many nonprofit businesses standing. This is testimony to their importance and resilience.
Every time a new nonprofit is announced it is a bittersweet moment. Those of us working in the sector know that the support for our segment of the population is limited, whimsical and uncertain. The pie of supporters does not necessarily grow with the amount of need or nonprofits. We compete against each other for funding while we often collaborate on serving the community.
Nonprofits spring up when funding is cut. After-school programs are a good example. Tax support goes away, but the service is still needed. So now that expert in engaging youth through art or sports has to stop that and start studying fundraising. Teachers are not always great fundraisers, but that’s where we often find ourselves.
Many of the valley’s nonprofits provide their services for “free” and then go looking for financing to continue to provide their service. Community radio is a good example. We broadcast 365 days a week, 24 hours a day, including local news, community calendar, NPR, Democracy Now!, local and worldwide music, youth radio and a lot more. Twice a year we go on the air and ask people if they care for it enough to send us a check. It’s a tough way to make a living, but thankfully there are enough people out there engaged in their community to see the value of what we offer.
I’m sure that many of my comrades in local nonprofits see donations not as a way to prosper personally, but as a vehicle to better the level of service. A well-run organization can only put out what comes in.
Looking over the list of nonprofits is staggering and educational. Who knew there was so much going on in the background? There’s obviously a lot of philanthropy happening as well, or we would not be enjoying this level of civilization.
This silent segment of our economy is often and easily overlooked, but I’d argue that investing in these entities is investing in our economy (lots of jobs) and our community’s health. In Carbondale, the Third Street Center is brimming with creative nonprofits, all doing compelling work that serves mankind. Most of the people you find toiling away in these jobs are not in it for the money; they feel a need to serve.
I would not be surprised if nonprofits collectively are the largest employer in Carbondale, especially if you count the financially up-against-the-ropes schools. That these groups exist in this economy is testament to their resilience and creativity.
A new report from Aspen Journalism points out that there are 50 billionaires in Pitkin County. I know lots of folks in the community that would love to hear from them.
Steve Skinner is going back to work for the people. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.