Given the role that local nonprofits have played on the front lines of the pandemic response—distributing food to homebound seniors, providing childcare for essential workers, strengthening families through door-to-door mental health services and wellness checks, and vaccinating thousands of vulnerable residents – we are shocked that several San Jose candidates for elected office have downplayed the value of the work of the nonprofit sector.
Last week, a candidate posted on her social media that the fact that her opponent “has only ever worked in government and nonprofits leaves him wanting to tackle real-world issues.”
Another candidate sent out a mass email, stating that “nonprofit executives are not paid to solve our city’s problems, only to manage them. They have no incentive to deliver results.”
We could not disagree more with these statements.
We have never met a nonprofit staff member who is not a professional who strives to improve lives. Nonprofit staff want to address the root causes of social problems, while recognizing that few of these problems can be solved overnight by a single organization. Often turning down public and private sector roles with significantly more lucrative compensation, nonprofit staff are driven to help others.
Nonprofit staff are passionate about serving; create prosperous, healthy and equitable communities; and working together to create results. Nonprofit leaders must be adept at managing complex budgets with multiple funding sources, time-limited grants and contracts, detailed restrictions, and tightly restricted overhead. They must also have the ability to raise funds from a variety of different sources: individuals, corporations, foundations, and the government. Some of our colleagues are managing multi-million dollar annual budgets; others are saving lives with extremely limited financial means.
The nonprofit staff is results-oriented; in fact, many funders routinely require nonprofits to demonstrate quantitative and qualitative results each year. From crises like the Coyote Creek floods in 2017 to the initial chaos days of the pandemic, local government immediately turned to nonprofits for help because of the nonprofits’ track record in delivering results. rapid.
Nonprofit organizations are businesses. In fact, they are businesses where demand often exceeds financial resources, and nonprofit leaders must stretch in all directions to serve their stakeholders. Many nonprofit leaders don’t have the luxury of having a dedicated human resources, facilities management, compliance, marketing, or strategy department, which means nonprofit leaders are responsible for EVERYTHING, and sometimes even take the risk. trash at the end of their 14-hour shift.
At our Silicon Valley nonprofits, you’ll find leaders with doctorates, law degrees, Ivy League credentials, and MacArthur Genius Scholarships. You’ll also find leaders with first-hand, lived experience in the communities they serve, fluency in multiple languages, and interpersonal talents that allow them to instantly build trust with clients and patients.
When the pandemic shelter-in-place orders hit our community in March 2020, the nonprofit sector did not hesitate. It was put into action to exponentially expand services to meet the needs of the community. Many nonprofit staff members continued to report to work, seven days a week, in person, at significant risk to themselves and their loved ones. Others immediately switched to offering healthcare and education online. They tackled real-world, real-time issues facing local residents. And they were doing this work before the pandemic and they will continue this work after the pandemic.
Our community thrives when businesses, nonprofits, and government work together. The public and private sectors are a critically important part of the solution to address the problems facing Silicon Valley. The challenges are so great and deep that we need all hands on deck to meet them. We need our elected officials and candidates to work with our nonprofit sector, not throw unwarranted criticism at us.
The nonprofit sector is essential to making our world a better place. Putting down nonprofit workers is discouraging, disrespectful, and just plain wrong. We urge all candidates for public office to join us in saluting our fellow nonprofits and thanking them for their heroic work.
Michele Lew is CEO of The Health Trust. Alison Brunner is Executive Director of the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley.