Non-profits in Vermont

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(Host) ‘Tis the season for charitable giving, and commentator Vern Grubinger has been reading a recent publication about support of the non-profit sector in Vermont.

(Grubinger) It may sound funny, but non-profit organizations are big business in Vermont. That’s according to a report published by the Vermont Alliance of Nonprofit organizations, called Not the Non-Sector: The Facts about the Charitable Nonprofit Community in Vermont.’ The report is based on research conducted by the University of Vermont Center for Rural Studies.

Vermont ranks tops among all states in the nation in the number of charitable nonprofits per capita, with nearly 2,700 statewide. These organizations generate $2.8 billion in revenues, almost 11% of the Gross State Product. Non-profits are also the source of 42,000 jobs, or 12 percent, of all employment.

Charitable nonprofit corporations are formed for the public benefit. But contrary to their name, nonprofits can earn a profit. That profit, or surplus of funds, must be used to support the work of the organization.

In traditional businesses, corporations are formed to benefit the owners or shareholders, and profit is the ultimate measure of success. In the nonprofit world, success is fulfillment of a public purpose, like education, health care, or environmental protection. Most people recognize that hospitals and religious congregations are non-profits. But they might not be aware that their local child care center, community theater, rescue squad, humane society and outdoor education center may also be nonprofits.

A variety of advocacy groups from across the political spectrum are also nonprofit, as are groups that provide affordable housing, social services, and support for the arts. Philanthropic foundations are part of Vermont’s non-profit community, too. In most cases they serve as funding sources for smaller non-profits that deliver services.

The majority of Vermont’s charitable nonprofit organizations are small. About two-thirds of them have annual revenues of less than $200,000 a year, and half of those have revenues less than $25,000.

About a third of Vermont’s charitable organizations rely entirely on volunteer labor, and many others could not survive without volunteers.

So it’s a good thing that we’re eager to help. About 59 percent of Vermonters volunteer, compared to 44 percent nationally. About 85 percent of us also make financial donations, upon which many of Vermont’s nonprofits depend, since more than a third of their revenue comes from private sources.

According to the IRS, Vermonters who itemize their tax returns donate about 2.5 percent of their income to charities. Here, we could improve. The national average is 3 percent of income.

Supporting non-profits makes sense. They provide a structure for Vermonters to work together to solve problems, and by complementing the activities of business and government, they contribute to the community life that makes Vermont so special.

With an ear to the ground, this is Vern Grubinger.

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