Back in the early days of the third coming of the women’s movement in the United States, by which I mean the 1960s movement, there was a push, which for many continues today, for women to seek out and use other women providers. You needed a plumber? Find a female plumber or “Plumber and Daughter.” You wanted to consult an attorney? Go to the female associate or the woman in solo practice. And so on. The thinking was that we would support our community—our sisters–and by doing so, we would all grow stronger together.
Some years later, environmentalists adopted the mentality, and proudly put it on bumper stickers for all to see, “Think globally, act locally.”
These two ideas had a head-on collision in my brain as I learned of a nonprofit facing the possibility of dissolution because the local branch of the bank that held its line of credit was now having its strings pulled by the new owners of the parent company. Historically, the local branch understood the cash flow vagaries of the nonprofit. It knew what was happening in the state legislature with funding for this part of the sector, and how the county government was behaving. It knew, first hand, the track record the nonprofit had of almost maximizing the credit limit and then paying it back down to zero. It knew that this nonprofit was not only good for the repayment but good for the community. After all, both the bank and the nonprofit are/were of the community. Both had a vested interest in ensuring the success—and future—of the other.
The sad part is that we see this every day. Nonprofits take their business out of their communities, stop acting locally, oftentimes forsaking the independent provider for the larger, “we can do more” provider. Are pennies saved? Probably. Is the “more” being used? Probably not. Are sustaining relationships established? the kind that will work with you through the hard times because of that history between you, because of the shared investment in the community? Most likely not.
This is not a “You’ve Got Mail” story, where all independents are good and large conglomerates bad. Size has nothing to do with this story. Rather, this is a who is your community and what do you owe that community story? It is a who is invested in your community to the same degree that you are story? Nonprofits are constantly looking for others to invest in them. In fact, we’ve raised that to an art. In the process, however, we seem to have forgotten that relationships are reciprocal, and that we, too, must give back. If we want to serve our community we must invest in that community to ensure its richness and sustainability.