How Strong Nonprofits Impact Health

This is the final article in a five-part series being published in newspapers throughout Western North Carolina. Our aim with this series is to expand the public’s understanding of social drivers of health and the struggles individuals face when they are unable to modify these factors.

We are grateful for the media’s support and for helping us share this informational series.

Have you ever stopped to consider why a particular nonprofit was established or why the ‘nonprofit’ business classification even exists?

“Essentially, nonprofit organizations exist to fill in the gaps left by what government can do for its citizens and what for-profits are willing to do based on their interest in growing financial assets for owners and shareholders,” said Nantahala Health Foundation Executive Director Lori Bailey.

For example, nonprofit organizations exist to address a wide range of social, environmental, and community needs. Their primary purposes of people-focused nonprofits are:

  • Addressing Social Issues: Nonprofits are created to tackle pressing social or humanitarian issues that may not be sufficiently addressed by the government or for-profit sectors. These issues can include poverty, hunger, homelessness, healthcare disparities, education gaps, environmental conservation, human rights, and more.
  • Filling Gaps in Services: Nonprofits often step in where to fill gaps in essential services. They may provide assistance to marginalized or underserved populations who lack access to critical resources, support, or opportunities.
  • Advocacy and Awareness: Many nonprofits focus on advocacy and public education, working to raise awareness about certain issues, influence policy decisions, and mobilize public support for change. They act as voices for those who may not have a platform to express their concerns.
  • Community Building: Nonprofits foster a sense of community by bringing people together for common causes. They provide a platform for individuals who want to make a difference in their communities and connect with others who share similar interests and values. Often, annual fundraisers are so deeply woven into a community they become part of its identity.
  • Public and Private Partnerships: Nonprofits often collaborate with government agencies, corporations, and other organizations to leverage resources and expertise in addressing societal challenges. These partnerships can amplify the impact of nonprofit initiatives.
  • Civic Engagement: Nonprofits promote civic engagement by encouraging individuals to take an active role in shaping their communities. They often provide opportunities for volunteerism, civic education, and community participation.
  • Charitable and Philanthropic Giving: Nonprofits facilitate charitable giving by receiving donations from individuals, foundations, and businesses – all of whom share the nonprofit’s desire for change and want to help. For their willingness to help, donors in many cases are also rewarded with a variety of government-endorsed tax incentives. These donations are then distributed to support the nonprofit’s missions. This philanthropic aspect is central to the nonprofit sector’s existence.

In essence, Bailey said, nonprofits exist to contribute positively to society by tackling issues that impact the well-being of individuals and communities. They play a vital role in creating a more equitable and compassionate world, working toward solutions that might not be financially viable for profit-driven organizations or may fall outside the scope of government programs. Nonprofits are motivated by a commitment to social good rather than financial gain, making them essential components of civil society.

“Top of Form

Now that we understand a little more about why nonprofits exist, let’s revisit the idea that nonprofits are a type of business, and that all successful businesses need strong leaders to be successful,” Bailey continued. “If a for-profit’s leadership decisions disappoint its paying customers, they will, due to the competitive nature of most for-profits, seek out alternatives to the services they need, whether it’s a grocery store, furniture retailer, pet groomer or auto body repair shop. When customers go elsewhere, the business will suffer.”

“The same is true for a nonprofit, except that the suffering can be more substantial when the needs being met involve serving healthy meals for food insecure individuals, providing indoor sleeping arrangements for families, or seeing a doctor when that cough is not getting better on its own,” Bailey said. “In rural areas, competition between nonprofits is nearly non-existent.”

To best serve the people who depend on assistance, nonprofit leaders must possess all manner of professional talents to ensure lives are changed. In our region of Western North Carolina, resources designed to train and retain leaders have been lacking.

“Under-resourced for generations, human service-focused nonprofits operating in Western North Carolina do their best to fill gaps despite a long tradition of facing professional leadership capacity challenges. These challenges start with attracting and retaining talented individuals willing to accept nonprofit’s notoriously high workloads for even more notoriously low salaries.

“Next, engaging and growing talented individuals from diverse perspectives within existing communities has also been challenging, though necessary due to less professional-level and working-age migration into rural areas,” she continued. “This leaves agencies dependent on recruiting from a smaller talent pool. Magnifying the issue, younger residents with leadership potential often leave their rural hometowns for perceived increased opportunities in urban areas. A general lack of social diversity underpinned by a scarcity or deficit mindset rounds out the long list of barriers to full engagement in underrepresented communities.”

To help address these challenges, Nantahala Health Foundation convened regionally respected leaders from various professional backgrounds to design a training program specifically to address the challenges unique to our region.

“The result is Now + Next, a leadership capacity building program that gives executive-level leaders and their staff the room they need outside their office environments to enhance their skills, empowering them to become more effective, empathetic, and adaptable leaders,” Bailey said. “Through this program, Nantahala Health Foundation is graduating leaders who will positively impact their teams and organizations toward mission fulfillment. Along with the gaining the tools and knowledge to drive organizational growth, increase efficiency and achieve strategic objectives to benefit those they serve, program alumni are making valuable connections and forming alliances with others, thus building everyone’s capacity.”

Now + Next is addressing fundamental needs within our communities where effective solutions are required today and in the future by growing successive leaders. These solutions serve as building blocks for success in other areas, including critical gaps in support of social health drivers and community contexts, as well as civic engagement, discrimination, and social cohesion.

“As a public foundation that does not provide client-facing services, Nantahala Health Foundation’s mission can only be accomplished through partnerships with existing and future human-service leaders,” said Bailey. “It is critical that these leaders’ skills are aligned to address health disparity root causes, not just their symptoms.”

Applications for upcoming Now + Next sessions are available on Nantahala Health Foundation’s website.