The holiday season usually provides the time and inspiration for us to reflect on and appreciate the good fortune in our lives. We may donate money, food or toys to a local charity; we may post daily expressions of gratitude on our social media accounts; we may take a moment to say a silent “thank you” for all that we have, particularly when confronted by news stories of suffering and despair.
As the executive director of the Idaho Nonprofit Center, I am lucky enough to see the broad spectrum of services Idaho’s nonprofits offer Idahoans, including those in need — both during the holidays and throughout the year. November is Nonprofit Awareness Month, a time when we recognize volunteers, celebrate philanthropy and highlight the unique ways in which organizations are working to better our communities.
Idaho’s nonprofit organizations touch nearly every need and location in our great state. Their staff and volunteers expand educational opportunities, protect the rights of the disenfranchised, enrich our lives with the arts, protect our cherished natural spaces, and provide shelter from whatever personal storm one is facing. They speak for the voiceless and advocate for those who are forgotten. They work tirelessly, day in and day out, and often go unrecognized for their valiant and noble efforts.
Idaho has more than 50,000 nonprofit employees and 425,000 volunteers. As noted in our most recent Idaho Nonprofit Economic Impact Report, Idahoans contribute an astonishing 60 million hours of volunteer labor annually. Using the average Idaho nonprofit wage of $18/hour, these volunteer hours equate to $1.1 billion in productive time. Additionally, the total economic activity of Idaho’s charitable nonprofit organizations is $5.9 billion — almost 6 percent of our Gross State Product.
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These numbers are illustrative; personal stories really drive home the point. Many nonprofits are powered by people who have faced adversity themselves and have benefited from the services provided. I know of one individual, herself a former meth addict, who now works to keep others from the destructive path she was once on. Another individual found herself lost and directionless; after living in a home designed to help women turn their lives around, she now helps supervise and mentor residents there. She does this in addition to working full-time in a management job elsewhere.
The transition from beneficiary to volunteer — and, even more notably, to staff member — is a difficult one, yet it is surprisingly common. Individuals like these are now productive, fully contributing members of society. Their gratitude takes the form of helping others whose shoes they were once in.
As we enter the holidays, I encourage everyone to not only continue with their personal traditions of giving back (or paying it forward) but also to take a moment to thank the people behind Idaho’s nonprofits. When you drop off donations, thank the person who’s there to accept them. Send an email to the staff of your favorite local nonprofit, acknowledging the work they do and what it means for you personally. Make a financial contribution to a nonprofit as a gesture of support for the difference the staff and volunteers make in your community.
Together we — and they — make a stronger Idaho, a place that we can all be thankful for.
Janice Fulkerson is executive director of the Idaho Nonprofit Center, which presents the annual Idaho Gives Day in May.