Too Many Nonprofit Organizations?

All nonprofits – whether they are food banks, hospitals, day care facilities, drug rehabilitation centers, museums, or historical societies – share the same core mission: providing some benefit for the greater good of the community.

Of course, each organization’s specific mission is based on its unique position in the community, but in the end, we all believe our nonprofit is unique and indispensable. The President of the Napa Valley Community Foundation addressed this issue in a recent newsletter: “Are there too many nonprofit organizations?”

Our local community has 563 nonprofit organizations and only 130,000 residents. That causes stiff competition for scarce funding resources. Some of these nonprofits are concerned with fulfilling basic human needs. Our county, for example, desperately needs its three hospitals. But what about the thirteen organizations dedicated to preserving local history and related missions?

One museum covers the county; another is concerned with the valley’s history. We have a museum dealing with preservation, while a fourth focuses just on landmarks. We have specialty museums about the region’s fire fighters, the police, Robert Louis Stevenson, the Jewish community, and the Biographical and Genealogical Society. Then there’s the Sharpsteen Museum, the American Canyon Historical Association, and the St. Helena Historical Society. Because of budget cuts, volunteers help run the local state park.

Collaborating and/or merging organizations with like-minded missions may resolve much of this problem.

I have coordinated many collaborative events and educational opportunities for these groups, but I’m curious about what other communities do when they face this situation.

What are your thoughts?

2 Responses to “Too Many Nonprofit Organizations?”

  1. May 10, 2012 at 10:05 am, Kirk Gothier said:

    Maybe non-profits should adopt a more entrepreneurial culture instead of assuming that they are locked in a “zero-sum game” with stiff competition for scarce funding resources. There is a huge demand for intense personal experiences (think movies, plays, sports, etc.), and all non-profits can offer such experiences in ways that will always exceed what people seek daily in the entertainment industry.

    Our Small Museum in Ferndale California has shifted it’s culture in the past 3 years in a number of engaging ways, including: filmmaking, use of social media, and transition to a more entrepreneurial culture. As a result, we have seen our membership, which had dwindled to 250, double to 500 in the first year and continue to grow well beyond 600 in our quaint, Victorian Village of 1,200.

    More importantly, we’ve been recognized by the President of our local Chamber of Commerce as “the most successful small business in town!” It’s really fun to be part of a non-profit that offers something people want to experience, instead of something they feel badgered into supporting financially, in a small way, occasionally…


  2. May 11, 2012 at 3:45 pm, Mary Warner said:

    Bouncing off Kirk’s comment regarding nonprofits taking a more entrepreneurial role, the latest issue of Dispatches from the Future of Museums features an article by Richard Dare on Huff Post called “Pride & Prejudice: (What) Can Nonprofits Learn From the For-Profit World?”

    It’s an interesting article, but in my rabble-rouser mind, I wonder why for-profit organizations are always the default for every other sector of the economy. Why don’t we ask for-profits to act more like nonprofits? I wrote a blog post on the topic back in March 2011 called “Why Is Business the Gold Standard?”

    I’m heartened by the latest organizational structure, the L3C or low-profit, limited liability company that has been adopted by a few states.

    It might be too early to judge the success of L3Cs, but hopefully this will be a viable option for the museum field.


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