How Government, Business, & the Non-profit Sector Could Work Together

Recently, the Vermont Community Foundation published a status report on Vermont’s non-profit sector. In a straightforward, data-driven report, it dispelled certain myths and quantified how significant the sector is in making Vermont work.

As of last year, Vermont had just over 4000 non-profits with annual revenues of $4B, almost 20% of our gross state product. Vermonters volunteer 20M hours annually to non-profits – in itself worth almost half a billion dollars – and this does not include civic service like select boards, state and local commissions, and school boards.

Vermonters believe in community. It would be fair to say that if Vermont had to pay for all the volunteer work done at the community and state levels, it would cease functioning.

There are challenges, however, and the obvious ones are detailed in the report – funding, governance, and leadership – essentially the same problems evident in the other two sectors, government and business.

The actual differences between the triad sectors are in fact, largely definitional and the lack of strategic planning and dialogue between them constitutes a strategic deficit in and of itself.

From its citizens, government gets highly contentious, mixed messages and mandates to collect taxes and use them to achieve often competing and ill-defined social, economic, and environmental ends. The task of the business sector is to strike a profitable and beneficial balance between the enrichment of owners and workers. The non-profit or “for-mission” sector often becomes the catchall alleviation of problems ill-addressed by the other two sectors.

Just as foundations with similar missions have recently joined forces to study and fund durable solutions, it will be important in a state of only 600,000+ people for the three sectors to better integrate their efforts strategically.

Cross-sector partnerships exist between business and government and between government and non-profits, but much more cross-sector dialogue and strategizing must occur at the triad level to conserve scarce resources and to fund, measure and produce better results.

With our documented commitment to community volunteerism and the scarce financial resources in our pockets, we can do more while spending less, but we need to talk together.

All three sectors optimized and communicating with one another are vital to Vermont’s future wellbeing. Who better to convene this dialogue than Governor Shumlin, The Vermont Community Foundation, and The Vermont Business Roundtable?

As Con Hogan, a veteran of all three sectors, states in the report’s forward, “The first challenge is to understand that things are not the same and they won’t be the same. Having that fundamental insight is an important force that causes people to think more quickly and more strategically about the future.”

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