With election season just around the corner we are likely to hear the same debate that usually intensifies during this part of the year, between those that promote the role of business (usually Republicans) and those that champion the functions of government (usually Democrats.) Most of us are already familiar with the argument and points of view from each political camp. The pro-business side will tell us, as they usually do, that only business’s are able to create value, wealth, and serve society in the most efficient manner. The pro-government side will dispense their own vision of the world in which it is government agencies that provide necessary services to those in need and the role of government (and taxes) needs to be increased so that everyone is cared for. What many people overlook in the business versus government debate is the role that not-for-profits play in our life.
Most of us don’t give much thought about non-for-profits or how they operate, they just seem to be there right when we need them to. In NYC for example, the zoo system that includes the famous Bronx Zoo, and the Brooklyn Aquarium are operated by the Wildlife Conservation Society, a not-for-profit organization. The Metropolitan Museum, where many of us take advantage of the “pay what you can” policy, is also an not-for-profit. Then there are the organizations that help those in need find shelter, food, jobs, or medical help. Going to a not-for-profit is often a more pragmatic way to get immediate help than through a government agency where the bureaucratic processes move at a snail’s pace.
Not-for-profits are created and run by people who actually care about the mission of the organization, whereas government organizations more-often-than-not simply run on prearranged processes without considering individual situations or a sense of urgency. Could you imagine if the Bronx Zoo was run with the same government-like “efficiency” and “care” as the DMV? If it were, many of us would probably think twice about approaching the lion’s cage for fear that it may break due to poor upkeep. This is the unique thing about non-profits, not only do the founders often provide generous grants to fund the organization but they also oversee the efficiency of how it works, often from experience they gained in the business world.
In the Jewish community we are no strangers to non-for-profits; just consider the mitzvah of tzedakah. The synagogues are non-profits, and so are Jewish schools and yeshivas. Many of our celebrations and milestones happen around and because of these vital institutions, yet their impact and value are often overlooked in political debates and almost always ignored by economists who are only able to evaluate monetary values. I hope that many of us will look at the institutions in our communities and see the tremendous social value that non-for-profit organization deliver and take this into account when we make political, social and personal decisions.
Gennady Favel, is an investor, and a board member at Mazel Day School in Brooklyn.