January 11, 2023

POV: The Fragility of Nonprofits—Myth or Reality

By Jill Bennett

When someone learns that I work for a nonprofit, they often coo, “Oh my goodness, that’s soo important and soo special,” followed by treating me like I am a mystic, slightly daft, or a 21st century version of Mother Teresa. (For the record, I am neither mystic nor saint.) A recurring theme in these interactions is that nonprofits, and the people who work for them, possess a certain level of fragility, that we are not as sophisticated, or realistic, or as tough-minded as our for-profit counterparts.

While much of that is patently false—nonprofit professionals are among the brightest, most resilient, and hard-nosed people I’ve ever met—they are not all wrong. Nonprofits and the people who work for them are fragile. Many of us do operate on shoe-string budgets. We’ve faced increases in the demand for our services, decreases in revenue, changes in donor behavior, macro-economic shifts that have impacted our buying power and our ability to attract and retain talented people, and, oh yeah, that pandemic-thing. Yet we’ve emerged—some of us broken, some of us bowed—and most of us are still here. We are living proof of Frida Kahlo’s quote, “At the end of the day, we can endure much more than we think we can.” 

I don’t know about you, but I want nonprofits to do more than just endure—not in spite of our fragility, but because of it. We can embrace that fragility and be the better for it. The quote, “Not fragile like a flower, fragile like a bomb,” which has been attributed to Kahlo and used to describe Ruth Bader Ginsburg, applies in more than equal measure to nonprofits. Here’s why. 

We. Do. Not. Understand. Our. Power. 

Utah’s over 10,000 nonprofits employ 6.7% of our workforce and in 2021, engaged over half of our state’s population in volunteering. That’s more than enough fuel to sustain a long-lasting impact on our communities. The 2023 General Session of the 65th Legislature in Utah starts on January 17 and runs through March 3. Nonprofit Day on the Hill, February 9, is our starting point for nonprofits to come together and harness the power of our collective voice, amplify our shared concerns, and be heard by our elected officials.

Spark your advocacy action by registering for Nonprofit Day on the Hill (it will fill up!) and stay tuned for more UNA resources to build your advocacy toolkit.