Nonprofit businesses and organizations significantly contribute to the economic health and development of Lake, Porter and LaPorte counties, according to a study released by The Center on Philanthrophy at Indiana University.
Data was also provided by the Indiana Department of Workforce Development through surveys of Indiana workplaces. The three Northwest Indiana counties formed the Northwest Economic Growth Region in the study.
Nonprofit organizations are “a major force in the state’s economy and in the economic health of all the state’s regions,” according to the study authors Kirsten A. Gronbjerg and Patricia Borntrager Tennen.
Gronbjerg is project director with the IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs, while Borntrager Tennen is professor/governance and management faculty chair of the Center on Philantrophy at IU.
These organizations also “continue to make significant contributions to the quality of life for Indiana citizens by offering healthcare, education, job training, access to arts and culture, and opportunities for democratic participation,” the study says.
The multi-year study of 2,206 nonprofit organizations throughout Indiana was conducted as a joint project of the Center, the School of Public & Environmental Affairs at Indiana University and The Johns Hopkins Nonprofit Employment Data Project.
Key findings in the study include increased employment by nonprofits and a decrease in the gap between wages paid to workers employed by nonprofits and individuals employed by for-profit businesses and by government.
In the three NWI counties, the study found approximately one in three nonprofits participate in advocacy efforts.
Those findings don’t surprise the leaders of two community foundations in Lake and Porter counties.
“Community foundations are independent, public entities that steward philanthropic resources from institutional and individual donors to local nonprofits that are the heart of strong, vibrant communities,” said Barbara A. Young, president of the Porter County Community Foundation.
In addition, community foundations represent one of the fastest-growing forms of philanthropy, she said.
“Every state in the United States is home to at least one community foundation – large and small, urban and rural – that is advancing solutions to a wide range of social issues,” according to Young.
Nonprofits, including healthcare providers and education institutions, “represent 5 percent of the gross national product (and) are a major part of any community’s economy,” Young said.
The Porter County Community Foundation started in 1996 as part of a Lily Foundation grant matching challenge issued throughout the state of Indiana. Young began as a volunteer with the organization and became president in 1998.
The growth of the Porter County Community Foundation can be seen in both its outreach and the assets the organization manages, she said.
More than $30 million in assets are currently managed by the organization to provide assistance in such focus areas as homelessness, substance abuse and literacy, she said.
“We have formed effective partnerships with other organizations,” Young said. As a member of the Coalition of Affordable Housing, for example, the foundation helped create the 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness this year, she said.
Harry J. Vande Velde III, president and CEO of Legacy Foundation, said one in eight businesses in Lake County are nonprofits, making this sector “important to Lake County’s economy.”
Headquartered in Merrillville, Legacy Foundation celebrated its 20th year in December and is a community foundation and the leading philanthropic partner serving Lake County, he said.
During Vande Velde’s 2 1/2-year tenure, Legacy Foundation’s managed assets have grown from $32 million to $44 million representing more than 260 individual donors’ funds.
The term “nonprofit” represents a broad range of businesses including major healthcare providers and religious organizations, Vande Velde said. And like their for-profit cousins, they must “continue to advance operations with best practices,” he said.
In fact, while some for-profit businesses in Lake County have struggled, nonprofits such as hospitals have seen growth, he said.
Often the public equates nonprofits with salaries not competitive with for-profit businesses, according to Vande Velde.
“That’s not the case. In order to attract high quality individuals, not-for-profits have to have competitive salaries,” he said.