There are more than 100 nonprofit organizations in Pratt County, revealed by a quick online search that turned up a list at FindTheBest.com. It would seem that many are competing for the same dollars and volunteers in a county with fewer than 10,000 residents.
Rather than being competitors, they can actually enhance each other, according to Brittany Novotny, associate director at the Vernon Filley Art Museum, who coordinated a presentation to explore how nonprofits can work together for mutual benefit.
About 40 people attended a meeting Monday evening to hear a presentation by Dr. Alvin Lyons, a professor at Indiana University, where Novotny studied for her master’s degree.
He teaches courses in nonprofit management and arts administration and has worked for more than 30 years in the nonprofit sector as a consultant, educator, board member, staff leader and researcher. His current work is related to the special challenges faced by growing mid-size organizations in smaller communities.
He pointed to the Hope Center of Pratt as an example of a strong and innovative organization whose leaders saw a need to bring other groups together to serve the community.
“We don’t see that in smaller communities,” Novotny said, reporting on Lyons’ presentation. “United Way does it, but it’s a huge organization.”
It’s common for organizations to share donors and volunteers, she said. Competition isn’t a real threat — the data just doesn’t back that up. People tend to support programs they believe in, at whatever level they’re comfortable. They don’t “dump” one for another, she said. The opposite is true — supporters of Organization A, who then get involved with Organization B will recruit support for A within B’s membership.
Since Monday night, Novotny is receiving emails from other nonprofit leaders who have been thinking about ways to work together, suggesting, “let’s get together.”
It could be as simple as knowing what each other is doing. Visitors at the art museum might be encouraged to also stop in at the historical museum, or the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism education center. Staff might suggest a good place in town to eat lunch.
Every dollar spent for arts and culture generates about $9 in revenue for the town, Novotny said.
The nonprofit sector is becoming increasingly important in providing services, attracting new citizens, employees, visitors and businesses, according to Lyons. It is also responsible for a surge in employment nationwide.
In a 2010 Bachelor of Arts thesis “The Economic Impact of Non-Profit Organizations,” Scott Sobolewski (Williams College, Williamstown, Mass.) noted a “dearth” of literature on the subject, but cited a 2007 study by Americans for the Arts, showing the nonprofit arts and culture industry generates $166.2 billion in economic activity every year — $63.1 billion in spending by organizations and $103.1 billion in event-related spending by visitors.
Arts and culture nonprofits support 5.7 million U.S. jobs and generate $29.6 billion in government revenue, the study also revealed.
The impact in Pratt is small in comparison, but not insignificant.
“Pratt is an impressive growing regional center and there is lots of opportunity to make some interesting coalitions among organizations here work together to advance each of our own missions to serve the needs of the community at large,” Novotny said. “Small communities are becoming the model for how things should work — they lend themselves to collaboration.”