06/11/2013 04:57 pm ET Updated Aug 11, 2013

Getting Better With Age

Imagine a world without neighborhood centers, the Red Cross, the YM's and YWs, and hundreds of other human service agencies. What would happen in a disaster? Where would neighbors gather? Who would run the cost-efficient camps and child care centers? Nonprofits are there for us in good times and bad, enriching our communities and offering a hand up -- not a hand out.

The U.S. has a remarkable history of forming voluntary associations to strengthen families and neighborhoods all the while tackling human service needs. Indeed, through their cost-effective ways of delivering services, they are able to serve far more individuals and families than either the public or private sector. And as new issues arise, innovative nonprofits find efficient and highly effective ways to address them. America's nonprofits are a critical part of the fabric of healthy communities and a wise investment.

At the heart of the nonprofit community is the National Human Services Assembly. Founded 90 years ago, the Assembly is an association of leading nonprofits and plays a key role in supporting our nation's human service agencies. It serves as the connector for the more than 85 organizations that are a part of it bringing them together to avoid duplication of efforts, enhance collaboration, set guidelines and promote innovation and cost efficiency. All told, those on the Assembly's roster make up a $61 billion industry that employs more than 1 million workers, operating from more than 150,00 locations.

As a national organization, the Assembly can spot trends that individual nonprofit organizations could miss. Over the years, it has taken action to address social issues on a large scale. In 1950, it formed the National Council on Aging to coordinate benefits for older adults; in 1964, it jointly prepared with the National Health Council the "Standards of Accounting and Financial Reporting for Voluntary Health and Welfare Organizations" that helped renew and strengthen public confidence in volunteer organizations. By 1973, it had created the National Collaboration for Youth. This coalition of national youth organizations advocates with and on behalf of youth.

Most recently, the Assembly created the National Assembly Business Services (NABS) and the Purchasing Point program. With these services, Assembly members have access to discount pricing from vendors and are able to pare down their overhead expenses. The Purchasing Point program now exceeds $50 million in collective purchasing.

As the economic fallout from the Great Recession became clear in 2009, the Assembly worked with the Annie E. Casey Foundation to launch the "Bridging the Gap" initiative. That initiative focused on improving access for the more than 3 million front-line human-services workers across America to "earned benefits" -- public and private assistance programs like tax credits, nutritious food, programs, child care subsidies, and free or low-cost medical care.

This evening, the National Human Services Assembly will celebrate its 90th year of service to America and its nonprofit community. Today it is more relevant than ever, proving what most older adults could confirm: you get better with age!

NOTE: I serve on the National Human Services Assembly Board of Directors.