Volunteers at a charity event. Photo via Pixabay

As Congress scrambles to construct a colossal economic stimulus response to the coronavirus pandemic, an arena many Americans depend on to weather its devastating impacts appears to be overlooked: the nonprofit sector.

Nonprofits are America’s third largest employer, extending meaningful employment to 11.9 million workers. The nonprofit healthcare industry — including hospitals, clinics, and home health services — employs 54% of all nonprofit workers nationally, while the remaining 47% are busy advancing a spectrum of important causes, including education, social assistance, arts and recreation, and professional services.

The nonprofit sector’s contribution to the American economy is substantial, bolstering the country’s gross domestic product by close to $100 billion annually.

From its critical position on the frontlines of the COVID-19 outbreak, the nonprofit healthcare sector is a focal point of the initial federal stimulus packages negotiated by congressional leaders and the White House — and deservedly so. But once the third of these vital spending bills is approved, Congress must turn its attention to meeting the immediate and long-term needs of the greater nonprofit community.

Nonprofit leaders set down the cornerstone of this undertaking last week, submitting a $60 billion emergency stimulus funding proposal to members of Congress and citing the package as a vital component of the federal response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Their funding request should spark a national grassroots advocacy movement powered by every American whose life has been touched by the nonprofit community. Here’s why:

A thriving nonprofit arena is essential to a vibrant and resilient American democracy. Leading with their hearts, nonprofit employees, volunteers and donors are passionate stewards of community. Their good works affirm the aspirations of the Founding Fathers’ quest “to form a more perfect union.”

Nonprofits offer Americans meaningful opportunities to support causes near and dear to their hearts. The arena represents a rare collective space in our society where people can express their highest selves in an environment free of politics or party ideology.

Molly Bowman-Styles

As a woman who has worked in the nonprofit sector for 23 years, I appreciate the philanthropic arena as a space of professional advancement and fulfillment. The friendships I’ve made, and the life lessons learned through my employment as a nonprofit professional, have expanded my capacity for empathy, compassion and collaboration.

The health of American democracy can be judged by the strength of its nonprofit arena. As the coronavirus pandemic pulls us together to navigate a frightening and uncertain time, we have the opportunity to stand up and speak out for Americans who are the living embodiment of the spirit of volunteerism, heralded by French philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville, when he exclaimed: “Americans of all ages, all stations in life, and all types of disposition are forever forming associations … and I have admired the extreme skill they show in proposing a common object for the exertions of very many and in inducing them voluntarily to pursue it.”

Sheltering at home is the perfect time to put your advocacy in motion. Contact your elected representatives. Tell them how the nonprofit community has made a difference in your lives. Listen to your heart for that quiet call to volunteer. Donate when and where you can.

The story of the nonprofit community is the narrative of the American experience. Let’s come together to begin writing the next chapter.

A second-generation San Diegan, Molly Bowman-Styles is the President of Windansea Communications, a public relations firm working with nonprofit organizations and small businesses.

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