The provocative question posed--albeit from the "free-market" perspective--by a piece in the Seattle-based "Stranger."
Nonprofit America is serious business: There are currently over 1.3 million nonprofit corporations in America, employing 11 million people with 5.7 million more working as volunteers. One in 10 working Americans works for a nonprofit. Nonprofits account for roughly 10 percent of the GNP, with over 100 universities and colleges offering nonprofit-management degrees and certificates—University of Washington, Seattle University, and Seattle Central Community College to name a few locally.
However, the size of the nonprofit sector is no indication of its health. In fact, nonprofits are in trouble. The federal government is talking about how the system is broken; international funding agencies are talking about how it's broken. Nonprofit journals and the nonprofits themselves are talking about how it's broken. And because it's broken, but it's continuing to run like it isn't, the teeth are grinding off the gears and flying everywhere.
This is important because the nonprofit structure is the structure we've got for doing the type of work they do—nonprofits clothe the naked and feed the hungry, they heal the sick and protect the planet, they drive contemporary culture and preserve the past. Trouble for nonprofits directly equals trouble for the constituencies they serve. And if you believe that there should be organizations in the world doing this work and driven to do it by mission, not margin, then yes, this is important.
In the arts at least, it's clearer than ever that the "culture of philanthropy" in the US is essentially a band-aid. Give us a dose of art untainted (supposedly) by commercialism without the serious commitment and responsibility entailed by a true "Ministry of Culture." In the theatre we have ended up with something not quite showbiz and certainly not charity. Instead we're left with the worst of both worlds.
Talk among yourselves.