This is the question that we tried to answer in our recently released report, Beyond Charity: Recognizing Return on Investment, on how the nonprofit community impacts Greater Washington. Beyond Charity reveals some of the many ways in which local nonprofits raise the quality of life for all of us, and are the lifelines to our most vulnerable neighbors.
What I would like to write about, however, is not our findings, but rather the reasons why we even launched the inquiry.
We already knew that when people give, they give with their hearts. But, does doing the right thing also make economic sense? Is an investment in a local nonprofit an investment in your community?
When the Nonprofit Roundtable first raised these questions over a year ago, we could not find any reports that attempted to document and add up evidence of nonprofit return on investment. The data that was available was either on the impact of a single organization or of a group of organizations on a single issue.
So, in partnership with the World Bank Group, we embarked on an effort to create a fuller picture by recording the return on investment of a wide range of nonprofits. We reached out to our 175 members – to more than a dozen area foundations and to dozens of other nonprofit organizations and experts. We imagined the power of a report that would sincerely begin to answer how nonprofits make a difference.
Washington Area Women’s Foundation was a big help and many of the examples in the report are of their Grantee Partners.
Of course, no one sets out to issue a report that sits on a bookshelf. Our hope is that Beyond Charity has multiple uses:
- To create a baseline picture of the difference nonprofits make across the District of Columbia, suburban Maryland and Northern Virginia.
- To deepen the nonprofit community’s own understanding of our value and the importance of tracking return on investment.
- To create a common understanding among government, business, nonprofit and community leaders about the impact of nonprofits in order that we may work together more effectively on our region’s problems and aspirations.
We hope that as you read Beyond Charity, you are inspired to act.
Do you see a new opportunity to work collaboratively? Are there community leaders who you believe really need to understand the impact of nonprofits and the expertise of nonprofit leaders? And, do you have your own example of nonprofit return on investment? If so, let us know!
Here’s our punch-line: when government, business, and concerned citizens partner with nonprofits – everyone profits!
Chuck Bean is executive director of The Nonprofit Roundtable of Greater Washington.