Dana Trent might be competing with hundreds of other Orange County nonprofits, but she feels like she’s still making a real difference.
Trent is the project manager at the PTA Thrift Shop, which raises money for the Parent Teacher Associations at public schools in Chapel Hill and Carrboro.
Although there are similar nonprofits in the area, she said she does not think the individual purposes of the organizations are lost in the huge supply.
“We feel like we are unique and that we can affect so many different types of programs,” Trent said. “We can make such an impact in such diverse ways.”
Orange County had 291 nonprofits in 2010, according to data from the North Carolina Center for Nonprofits. Alamance County, which has a similar population to Orange County, had 143.
The data only includes those organizations with annual gross revenues of $25,000 or greater.
Nonprofits spend about $500 million and employ 29,127 people in the county.
Some nonprofits have narrowed their purpose to make sure they wouldn’t step on another’s toes.
Sacrificial Poets encourages Chapel Hill youth to write and perform poetry and express themselves artistically.
With a mission so specific, the organization’s executive director, Will McInerney, said he does not feel like he needs to compete with other nonprofits.
“What Sacrificial Poets provides — spoken-word poetry and hip-hop art education — there is no one else doing it,” he said.
McInerney said he thinks nonprofits need to collaborate more to develop relationships, even if their missions are not identical.
“Nonprofits could definitely benefit from developing strong relationships with each other,” he said. “Ultimately, nonprofits are about working together.”
Trent said the PTA Thrift Shop often collaborates with other nonprofits when its goals overlap and sees the duty of nonprofits as engaging in a cooperative process.
“We see our work as to be the tide that lifts all the boats no matter what we are doing,” she said. “We hope that other nonprofits see that as well and work together. Everyone has very unique missions, and it is wonderful when you can cooperate and combine your missions.”
Tabitha Blackwell said there is a degree of redundancy with some popular types of nonprofits.
“I think there is a certain amount of duplication out in the community — however, I think there is also a lot of collaboration in the community,” Blackwell said.
Blackwell is the director of Chapel Hill-Carrboro Youth Forward, an organization that works to coordinate nonprofits with youth in need between the ages of 5 and 20.
She said although the goals of nonprofits her organization works with might seem identical, they are often aimed at different groups of kids.
She said more nonprofits should take advantage of opportunities to collaborate, which is what Youth Forward tries to assist with.
“We are hoping by networking and by getting the organizations together they may be able to see threads in their work and see we can start being more collaborative and not just continuously putting in the same work and not really helping the kids.”
Trisha Lester, the vice president of North Carolina Center for Nonprofits, said an overlap in goals of nonprofits was natural like an overlap in businesses was natural. But she said collaboration is necessary and encourages it when appropriate.
“In today’s environment you cannot do your work and not be collaborating with others in the community,” she said.
Blackwell said the abundance of nonprofits in the county could be traced back to the University and its students.
“Anytime you see a pretty strong university, most of the time you will see a large number of youth and a large number of nonprofits because they are able to really tap into that resource to get individuals who are excited, energetic and willing really help with a specific cause,” she said.
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