The Nonprofit Role

September 20, 2016
Posted By: Paige Mador

Earlier this week, the Worcester Telegram & Gazette published an article about the city’s relationship with nonprofits. Below is the response from our President and CEO, Mike Hyland.

The September 18th Politics and the City article missed the point entirely because it’s simply misplaced: the work done by non-profit agencies in Worcester and other cities has nothing to do with politics at all.  Rather it is a matter of responsibility.  Human services agencies have a responsibility to support people who have been too often disenfranchised and left behind.  Meeting this responsibility comes with a myriad of challenges, not the least of which is financial.

Non-profit agencies are just not like other businesses.  They can’t unilaterally raise prices as other industries do in response to market conditions or even demand.  If the cost of oil goes up, a gas station raises prices.  If the cost of labor goes up, a restaurant can charge more.  When the Yankees are in town and demand increases, the Red Sox raise ticket prices.  Non-profits that rely on federal and state payments cannot do this.  When the cost of insurance goes up or when the price of fuel goes up or when the cost of advertising goes up, our prices stay the same.  When we have to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in overtime because there are more jobs than people to fill them, nobody gives us more money and we can’t send a bill to anyone.  Want proof?  In the past few years because of a law passed way back in 2008, human services providers were given mandated rate increases for the first time in 28 years.  I can’t think of another industry that has experienced this or could survive it.  The government allows agencies to fundraise because of these dynamics.  Frankly, donors will be far more reluctant to contribute if their donations are going toward taxes and not services. This isn’t a complaint but merely a fact in our business.

These agencies provide a service that the local governments cannot.  Helping the homeless, the developmentally disabled, the sexually abused teenagers, and other disadvantaged populations doesn’t happen without non-profit agencies and our ability to provide this support in a cost-effective manner which is enhanced by the ability to open homes in the most efficient way possible.  Changing the landscape now by requiring some sort of approval, or worse, trying to compel us to violate the rights of people we support by asking for permission to let them live in a safe neighborhood is an abdication of the greater responsibility we all have to improve our society.

Do we all have a responsibility to be good neighbors in return for the exemption that allows us to open homes in neighborhoods?  Of course we do.  Agencies should be sensitive to the larger community and its culture and fabric.  This should apply to all new neighbors however, not just group homes.  Our goal is to be part of a neighborhood and not a pariah. Councilor Tony Economou struck an interesting cord when he noted “There’s nothing more frustrating than getting a call at 5:30 or 6 on a Friday evening from an organization letting you know that it has purchased a property and they intend to put some kind of program there”.  Really, nothing more frustrating?  I’d counter that telling a family that their son or daughter or brother will not be getting the help they need in a timely manner because he or she isn’t welcome, more frustrating.  That’s a call that families and guardians would certainly find more than just frustrating.

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