Earlier this month, arts groups from around the country gathered in San Antonio to discuss budget cuts they all face in cash strapped states and communities.
Arts groups are hardly alone in this respect. No community is immune from the recession that has rocked America. That means no nonprofit group or association -- particularly those that receive government grants -- are exempt from cuts deemed necessary by legislatures and elected officials charged with balancing their budgets.
Yet, arts groups, coordinated in large part by Americans for the Arts, are unique in their effort to stave off draconian cuts. They are doing this by aggregating the number of people they employ directly, or that are employed through the economic impact their programs generate, and making the case that their work is a major force in the economy.
This report shatters myths driving many legislative debates about funding cuts and PILOT (payments in lieu of tax) plans; that groups exempt from certain taxes, improperly labeled "non"- profit, do not generate wealth or contribute to the economy.
The report detailed that, "nationally, the arts industry generated $135.2 billion of economic activity -- $61.1 billion by the nation's nonprofit arts and culture organizations in addition to $74.1 billion in event-related expenditures by their audiences. This economic activity supports 4.13 million full-time jobs and generates $86.68 billion in resident household income..."
Broken down, these amazing statistics translate to, "$22.3 billion in revenue to local, state, and federal governments every year, a yield well beyond their collective $4 billion in arts allocations."
More impressive than the data and media savvy of these arts groups? They embraced a tool often ignored by nonprofits; legally approved political advocacy.
By pooling the economic impact of their shared work and advocating for their combined cause, groups as diverse (and at times competitive) as symphony orchestras, opera houses, art galleries, dance companies, museums, arts councils, music venues, prison arts programs, community theaters and art schools made a strong case to skeptical legislatures. And they've been getting tremendous results.
This year, funding for the arts has increased in New York State as well as in San Francisco, Washington, DC and Akron, Ohio. In Kansas, even though Governor Sam Brownback vetoed funding for the Kansas Arts Commission in 2011 (leaving Kansas the only state without an art commission), arts groups, making a strong case that arts generate economic growth, successfully convinced legislators to restore $700,000 in funding in the new budget.
Imagine the entire nonprofit sector -- all 1.2 million nonprofit organizations operating in the United States today -- adopting similar tactics. Further still, imagine if nonprofits looked beyond their immediate mission or cause and united at strategic moments to advocate for a better utilization of their collective work and economic impact.
Over 350 cities will be electing mayors this fall and practically all of them are debating how to grow the economy. Together, nonprofits have the power to compel candidates to acknowledge the impact of nonprofit groups in achieving city, state and national economic visions.
To build this movement, nonprofits should openly share economic impact and advocacy ideas. Using Twitter and the aggregating power of the "hashtag," these ideas can spread rapidly, to a virtual army of like-minded colleagues.
So, let's start. Today. Right now. Get a personal Twitter account. Post every story you see that highlights nonprofit advocacy, or that builds on the economic impact of the sector, or that covers a candidate proposing policies that indicate an elevated understanding of the role that nonprofits play in generating prosperity. Follow every post with #NP12 so that everyone who understands the essential need to stand together can build a solid case to legislators and candidates for office about our sector's ability to serve communities, attract investment and create jobs.
Let's unite the 10 million people who work in nonprofits and countless millions who volunteer to push for an recovery agenda that utilizes the full array of our country's economic resources.
Let's look beyond our specific program, issue or cause. Together, we can help each other. Together, we can get the attention of candidates and generate a new economic vision. Together, we can help every city and state thrive. And by standing together, we can strengthen the country we all believe in.