Whatcom Council of Nonprofits

Building relationships, sharing resources, and communicating the vital roles of nonprofit organizations in Whatcom County

Role of the Nonprofit Sector

The nonprofit sector is an essential component of the county’s economy. Charitable organizations that have obtained 501(c)(3) status under federal IRS laws make up the majority of the nonprofit sector.

Who is part of the nonprofit sector?

  • Social, health and human service agencies
  • Environmental groups
  • Educational and research institutions
  • Arts and cultural organizations
  • Religious organizations
  • Foundations

How are nonprofits different from for-profit organizations?

Nonprofits can be distinguished from for-profit enterprises because their access to volunteer labor, grants, and donations give some nonprofits more freedom to experiment with new and adaptive public benefit programs. Nonprofits do have an impact in the community identical to other businesses. They employ people, purchase goods and services, invest in buildings and equipment, and supply goods and services. Much like their for-profit counterparts, nonprofits need access to capital, technical and professional expertise, and a stable, regulatory environment.

What is the role of the nonprofit sector?

One primary role of the nonprofit sector is connecting people with resources, also known as asset building. 

Harvard University researcher Robert Putnam calls this process increasing social capital. Putnam uses information from 500,000 interviews to “show that we sign fewer petitions, belong to fewer organizations that meet, know our neighbors less, meet with friends less frequently, and even socialize with our families less often.” Changes in work, family structure, age, suburban life, television and media, computers, women’s roles and many other factors have contributed to this decline

How does the nonprofit sector benefit society?

  • The nonprofit sector includes more than a million organizations that spend $500 billion annually, according to The Independent Sector, a national nonprofit resource center. 
  • This sector offers meaningful and rewarding work and a culture that embraces community as its ultimate objective. 
  • By principal and design, nonprofits are dedicated to the common good, measuring success according to the quality of life, not quantity of profit.
    Increasing Numbers and Key Role in Delivering Federal Services
    A recent GAO report, Increasing Numbers and Key Role in Delivering Federal Services, found that U.S. nonprofit organizations have a significant role both in the economy as awhole and as providers of services. While the majority of nonprofit organizations have relatively small operating budgets, together their impact is large. 

What is known about the economics of nonprofits?

With hundreds of nonprofit organizations, Whatcom County’s nonprofits are a larger employer than many for-profit organizations including agriculture, forestry, transportation, public utilities, finance, insurance, and real estate. 

For more detailed information on the nonprofit sector in our area, review the following reports:

For a profile of nonprofit organizations in Whatcom County, see the report "Whatcom County’s Nonprofit Sector: A Profile of Activities and Finances".

Another report outlines the "Economic Impact of Arts and Cultural Organizations in Bellingham".

Another report outlines "Public Charity Finances and Individual Giving in Whatcom County".