Misconceptions About Non-Profits

Written by: Molly Jones, Director

Photos by: Hayley Harrell 

Throughout my nearly 3 years working for a non-profit, I have noticed that there can be some confusion about how we function. Often times, when I explain to a new friend that I work for a non-profit it is followed by a mini question and answer session so we can be on the same page. Below are four misconceptions regarding non-profits that I have come across and would like to set straight.

1. Non-profits cannot make money.

Non-profits can make money and should aim to make profit for reserves to build sustainability. 501(c)(3) charities use their funds to benefit the public, not private interests.

The EDA uses 35% of our budget for downtown promotion and events, 34% for design and appearance, 14% for fundraising and public relations, and 8% for business support/education. With just 9% of our budget going toward administrative costs, the large majority goes toward benefiting the public and furthering our mission to enrich your downtown experience.

To go along with that point, people often think that non-profits do not pay their staff. While some non-profits are volunteer run, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2012 non-profits accounted for 10.3% of private employment in the United States. The EDA has three paid staff members and countless amazing volunteers.

(EDA Staff, Left to Right: Molly, Director / Natalie, Admin Assistant / Taylor, PR Coordinator)

2. Non-profits, unlike “real” businesses, do not have structure.

First, non-profits are real businesses. Second, we LOVE structure! Non-profit employees and volunteers wear many hats and manage many projects at once. Structure, efficiency, and organization are key to our success. Certain non-profits, like the EDA, also have to abide by nationwide and statewide rules.

The National Main Street Center created the Main Street Approach that all Main Street organizations across the United States adapt to fit their unique community. Washington Main Street manages the 33 Main Street communities in Washington State. Directors of these communities are required to attend quarterly manager’s meetings and complete quarterly and annual reports. There are also state and national conferences held each year that staff, members of the Board, and other volunteers are encouraged to attend.

Non-profit Directors are held to a high-level of accountability. I have 12 bosses that function as the Board of Directors. They make sure I am staying on track, keeping the organization in good standing with Washington Main Street and the Ellensburg community, and help me navigate the wild terrain that comes with directing a non-profit. I then manage the PR Coordinator and Administrative Assistant. They both help me to manage additional volunteers.

See? Structure!

(EDA Board members Jennifer Diaz and Megan West)

3. Non-profits are not a good career path.

Non-profits are a great place to start your career! Like mentioned above, you will wear many hats and manage many projects that only expand your resume. You also work with a lot more people than just in your office, which widens your network. There can be opportunity for growth and promotion. In my case, I started part time with the EDA in 2015 and am now the Director. There can also be longevity. The Main Street Director in Port Townsend just celebrated 20 years in her role! Whether non-profit work is just a pit stop on the road map of your career or something you can see yourself sticking with, the opportunities are there.

4. Non-profits get their money from grants.

Applying for grants can be extremely time consuming and for every handful of grants you apply for, you may only be lucky enough to get one. There is stiff competition and strict qualifications. They can be a fantastic resource, and the EDA takes advantage of them when we can, but we certainly do not put grants ahead of other types of funding. In fact, less than 16% of our budget comes from grants. On the other hand, 56% of our budget comes from fundraising and direct contributions from people like you! According to the National Center for Charitable Statistics, only 32.5% of non-profit funding comes from grants. This just shows that non-profits really do rely a great deal on donations and local support.

(EDA Appreciation Celebration and Fundraiser)

So, there you have it! Now we are all a little more educated on non-profits. If you ever have questions regarding the EDA, give us a call at (509) 962-6246.