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Monday, 1 April 2013

Public Awareness of Nonprofit Sector - Overcoming the "Blue-Light Syndrome"?

The information is out there, it has been public since January 2010 when the Productivity Commission released its report entitled "Contribution of the Not-for-Profit Sector - Productivity Commission Research Report", and the statistics were quire surprising, especially to those outside the nonprofit sector, perhaps not so surprising for those within it or those that interact with it.

At that time there were 600,000 organisations in the sector. 59,000 of these were economically significant. The sector contributed $43 billion annually to Australia's GDP and represented 8% of total employment in 2006-2007. In addition the sector was growing at the rate of 7.7% from 1999-2000 to 2006-2007.

But there were other interesting bits of information that came out of that report which are not as widely repeated in the mainstream press. Amongst these was the fact that the level of understanding of the sector amongst the wider community was considered poor.

So the article appearing in this morning's Sydney Morning Herald (Tuesday 2nd April) by Kathryn Wicks did little to surprise me regarding the lighting of the Sydney Opera House to mark United Nations World Autism Awareness Day. Or should I say, the lack of support shown by politicians to fund the event (I'm sure there will be no lack of photo opportunities or commentary however on the evening - politicians appear to respond well to this as photo opportunities reinforce the message of what CAN BE DONE without supporting what IS done!) This is not the point of my comment here.

The point is that public awareness of the importance of the nonprofit sector, what it does, who it helps, how it goes about its activities, and the economic, political, and social environment and constraints within which it does so, should become more mainstream, especially if more and more public services are effectively 'outsourced' to the nonprofit sector. We should, as a society, better understand the attributes of one of the largest sectors of our economy. I think that the mining sector would attract far more attention and yet touches far fewer lives that the nonprofit sector. The former will eventually dwindle as the resources are extracted and dealt with. The latter will only grow, especially driven by demand. Putting this in perspective, in 2010 the mining sector contributed 8.4% to GDP and the nonprofit sector contributed 3.8% to GDP. Whilst slightly less than half, it is a contribution that ranks up there with the ones that everyone knows about. At another level the mining sector employs less than 3% of the Australian workforce compared to 8% in the nonprofit sector. These comparisons only reinforce that more Australians should understand the nonprofit sector better than they currently do - many rely on it on both sides of the supply/demand equation.

Where to from here?

One suggestion would be for the mainstream press to expand its focus on this sector in a slightly more coordinated and strategic fashion  An example here would be the way the Sydney Morning Herald deals with Local Government. Every Tuesday, the SMH produces a dedicated section entitled "Local government"  that captures key stories of that sector  jobs and tenders. I note that this morning's paper contained stories about bottle plans for the environment, amalgamation issues facing the sector and smaller articles regarding roads, online approvals and something on community groups signing a petition.

Consider what a section on nonprofits could look like - examples of well run outfits across the country, stories of success at the organisational and individual level, challenges of staffing, career opportunities  strategic partnerships and potential regular features of some of the less well-known nonprofit organisations that go about their business, Langley oblivious to outsiders other than those directly impacted by that organisation.

So there we go mainstream press. Who is up for the challenge?

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