By Elaina Bedio, Nashua Digital
Editor’s note: The city of Nashua boasts approximately 365 nonprofit organizations. Nashua Digital's new series seeks to shed light on the meaningful work and crucial services these organizations provide to the communities of greater Nashua. The intention is to highlight various organizations and the work they do in hope that more awareness leads to more support for their services. In this series, a nonprofit organization is defined as a charitable organization with tax-exempt 501(c)(3) status per the Internal Revenue Service.
Nonprofits play an important role in Nashua and range from the small (The Pride Room) to the quite large (Southern New Hampshire Medical Center) and cover many areas, from social services, arts and culture to conservation, animal welfare and education, among many others.
“First and foremost, I think that nonprofits build communities where people want to live and work. So they're really essential to the economic well-being of any state,” says Kathleen Reardon, CEO of the NH Center for Nonprofits, which provides a range of programs and resources to organizations around the state. “If you think about what attracts people to a community, many of those assets are driven by nonprofits.” According to Reardon, 15% of New Hampshire's workforce is employed by nonprofits.
It is no secret that nonprofits are always striving to provide as much support as possible with limited resources. And there never seems to be a shortage of challenges.
Both Reardon and Mike Apfelberg, president of the United Way of Greater Nashua, pointed to shifting trends in volunteerism – with the latter citing a shortage of volunteers, due to employers requiring staff to return to the workplace post-pandemic.
“We've done a lot to promote Volunteer Greater Nashua,” says Apfelberg. “We also host a Facebook page called Community Connections, which is really just for nonprofits to post stuff about what they've got going on and getting volunteers.”
Reardon described the newer, “more sophisticated” ways organizations are utilizing their volunteers. “We see volunteer interest has changed as well,” she said. “One of the things that we see is more and more people want to volunteer their skills. Certainly, there are people that still want to do that hands-on service, but I think nonprofits are being more sophisticated in thinking about 'if somebody comes through the door with marketing expertise, we can tap into that just as well as we could have you throwing cases of food in a line.'”
The COVID-19 pandemic also has had a lingering effect on the region’s nonprofits. Government assistance provided during the height of COVID was a great relief for many organizations, but Apfelberg expressed concern that they became reliant on those funds and are finding themselves in a pinch now that the programs are ending.
“There was just a lot of funding that was infused into the system, and my sense is that a lot of nonprofits built programs based on that funding that are now on sort of shaky ground because those dollars were never intended to be long-term, sustainable dollars. They were intended as one-term, one-time funding.”
For her part, Reardon advocated for a continuation of that kind of support. “What we saw then was a lot of government programs that put funds out with much less restrictions, and nonprofits managed them well. Companies and foundations let go of some of those restrictions, provided operating funds and nonprofits put that to use. So we could make some of those changes. We could take advantage of the lessons that we learned during the pandemic.”
The very nature of fundraising itself has evolved in recent years. For Apfelberg, it is a shift in methodology. “I would say that people's behavior has changed. People are looking for experiences. Younger people in particular, especially millennials and younger, are looking for a real connection to the work they're doing. The baby boomers, that generation into Gen X, was more comfortable with the idea that 'I'm going to give to the United Way, and the United Way is going to make sure the money goes where it's needed most.' That type of giving has definitely changed.”
One of the biggest elephants in the proverbial room is the ongoing workforce challenge that nonprofits, like so many businesses, face in the form of employee shortages and retention. “We continue to see leadership transitions within the sector, which creates opportunities as well as challenges,” says Reardon. “With the workforce shortages, many nonprofits have been increasing their pay, but they still worry about keeping pace with market rates and competition. And nonprofits, unlike for-profit businesses, can't necessarily just raise their prices to be able to afford paying people well.”
Reardon adds: “The way that nonprofits are funded contributes to some of the challenges in the workforce issues. It has been going on for a long time, but I think the more that we rely on nonprofits to do this critical work, the more important it becomes for us to address it.”
While nonprofits undoubtedly face many challenges, there are several things they can feel hopeful about. In terms of volunteerism, there are more resources than ever for people to find volunteer opportunities, including a NH Center for Nonprofits online directory with links to all of its members, “so you can link and check them out,” said Reardon.
In addition, she said, Volunteer NH has a website that is searchable by cause for people who want to volunteer in their communities. And there’s the NH Center for Nonprofits’ annual statewide fundraising effort, NH Gives. “Part of our focus on creating NH Gives is to raise funds and awareness for nonprofits. It's also searchable by cause and location,” says Reardon.
On the local level, Apfelberg has some suggestions as well. “Volunteer Greater Nashua is a portal we provide to support volunteer engagement,” he says. “Along with that, we've also hosted, for the last couple of years, a volunteer fair at the
public library, open to all nonprofits. This past year, we had 46 nonprofits participate at the public library and hundreds of of people from the community came to volunteer.”
Nonprofits also have learned how to flex and find creative ways to fundraise in the wake of the pandemic, with more organizations utilizing virtual and peer-to-peer fundraising events. There has also been an uptick in online tools like GoFundMe and personal Facebook fundraisers. There are more opportunities than ever to give, and a method for every donor – those who like to attend events, browse online auctions, participate in a walk, and so on.
Advocacy continues to elevate the voices of charitable organizations in support of reduced restrictions on government funds and grants and their continuation of support similar to that which was provided during the pandemic. Legislators also have enacted laws enhancing charitable gaming, which allows casinos to offer gambling with the expectation that they donate a significant portion of their profits to charitable organizations.
Each upcoming article in this series will feature a different Nashua nonprofit. The next installment will look at Stepping Stones, which provides supportive services to young people 25 and under who are facing homelessness in the Greater Nashua area.
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This article was produced in partnership with the Granite State News Collaborative and Nashua Digital and is being shared with the partners in the Collaborative. For more information, visit collaborativenh.org.