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Nonprofits, 2012 Political Game Changers?

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In business, there's a word for a CEO of a struggling company who shows up for a critical board meeting and proposes a plan to regain market share, but fails to include their third biggest division.

That word is "fired."

Similarly, there's a word for a general who presents a battle plan utilizing the Navy and Air Force, but, for some unfathomable reason, does not include the Army.

That word is "demoted."

It seems obvious, doesn't it? Nobody keeps their job, or is hired to turn a company around, or lead an army into battle if they don't have a plan that includes and maximizes all the assets at their disposal.

Yet, in America today, there are a group of men traveling throughout our economically depressed country, touting visions and presenting plans, each with an equally atrocious and glaring gap. There's a word for them too.

That word is "candidate" for president of the United States.

As the 2012 election year opened, The Center for Civil Society Studies at Johns Hopkins University released another of its groundbreaking studies on the economic role of America's nonprofit sector.

Led by Lester Salamon, the Center has a long history of digging deep into data to reveal the hidden vitality of America's charitable businesses, including, "private, nonprofit hospitals, higher education institutions, day care centers, nursing homes, social service agencies, museums, orchestras and other cultural institutions, environmental organizations, advocacy groups, clinics, and other similar organizations."

Among recent findings, nonprofits are now the third biggest private employer in America. Collectively, they employ 18 times more employees than those employed by utilities industries, 15 times more than mining industries, 10 times more than agriculture industries and twice as many as construction, wholesale trade and finance industries. In fact, in 25 states, "nonprofit employment exceeds that in manufacturing."

Most startling is the fact that from 2000-2010, during two recessions, "nonprofit employment grew every year" at an average rate of 2.1 percent. Compare that to for-profit businesses, which lost jobs at an annual rate of 0.6 percent. This study suggests that most communities remained economically solvent and socially stable because of the hard work and determined growth on organizations poorly labeled as "non" profit.

Yet nowhere in this year's State of the Union did President Obama, the first president who began his career at a nonprofit, utter the word "nonprofit" or mention the sector, its contribution to society or its role in the nation's economic recovery.

The president is hardly alone in his dismissal of nonprofits.

Not one Republican candidate includes the nonprofit sector in their economic plans. On the contrary, former Governor Mitt Romney, former Speaker Newt Gingrich, Representative Ron Paul and former Senator Rick Santorum each seem hell-bent in proposing plans to cut, defund or outright close offices that support nonprofits. Ironic since nonprofits complement and support our traditional economic engines... and the nonprofit sector includes 14 million workers waiting to see who earns their vote.

Between now and March 6th, Republican candidates will aggressively campaign in states like Michigan, Massachusetts, North Dakota, Minnesota, Maine and Missouri. States where nonprofits employ more than one million voters -- over 10 percent of each of these state's workforce. And on Super Tuesday, candidates will be working hard to win votes in Virginia,
Tennessee, Ohio, Oklahoma and Vermont too. If you look at those 11 states collectively, more than 2.5 million people work at a nonprofit.

Whatever the outcome, as the Republican race narrows and the general election heats up, candidates need to realize the power behind nonprofits. Candidates need plans that include all of America's economic assets.

There's a word for the candidate who looks beyond the traditional industries that drive our economy and recognizes the nonprofit sector's proven ability to create jobs, maintain stable and civil societies, and contribute to the tax base.

That word is "President."