They boast billions in revenues and assets and employ tens of thousands in the Tampa Bay area. Yet they rarely are considered real players in the regional economy.
"They" are thousands of nonprofit organizations, some of them giants, including major area health care systems, universities and human services groups. And they would like a little more economic respect.
"If I say I work for a nonprofit, faces glaze over and people say, 'Oh, that's nice,' " says Grace Armstrong, who heads the Nonprofit Leadership Center of Tampa Bay. "If I say I am the CEO of a nonprofit, they say, 'Oh, that must be nice.' "
Trying to counter the notion of nonprofits as lightweights, Armstrong's group released a detailed, 24-page economic impact study of the 100 largest of the 3,694 nonprofit organizations in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties. The results were posted Thursday on the Leadership Center's website (nonprofitleadershipcenter.com).
The findings are muscular, and reinforce the contention of nonprofits that they are a powerful but often overlooked piece of the Tampa Bay economy.
For example: The top 100 nonprofit organizations alone have 86,057 employees in the work force in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties. This represents 9.3 percent of the total work force in these counties.
And that does not include the other 3,594 (though smaller) nonprofits not counted in the study.
"It's time," Armstrong argues, "to take nonprofits more seriously."
Not that nonprofits have proved invulnerable to the severe downturn in recent years. Armstrong is the first to admit her nonprofit and many others — just like their for-profit brethren — took serious hits in 2009 and 2010. More than a third cut staff in 2009.
The Nonprofit Leadership Center, whose mission includes training nonprofit directors to be more adept board members, suffered a 25 percent loss to its already modest funding in 2009. It has taken time for that to be rebuilt.
Many nonprofits in the arts world now say they are recovering from the downturn with funding starting to return to pre-recession levels. But human services nonprofits — those dealing with domestic violence, the homeless and food banks — are struggling to keep up with the high demand perpetuated by high unemployment and foreclosures.
According to this economic impact study, based on revenues and assets, the largest Hillsborough-Pinellas nonprofits are dominated by area hospital systems. The biggest of all is the nonprofit known as Florida Health Sciences Center Inc. We know it as Tampa General Hospital, with just under $1 billion in revenues and just over $1 billion in assets.
Not far behind in revenues is St. Joseph's Hospital, based in Tampa but part of the regional Baycare Health System in Clearwater. And No. 2 in assets, behind Tampa General, is the Shriner's Hospital for Children in Tampa.
Outside of health care, the big area nonprofits range from the University of Tampa ($164 million by revenue, $313 million in assets) and the University of South Florida Foundation Inc. Sam & Martha Gibbons Alumni Center (whose assets are $462 million) to the Raymond James Charitable Endowment Fund ($109 million in assets) and the organ donation organization LifeLink Foundation ($108 million).
Some of the best-known area nonprofits by name place lower in the rankings. Tampa's Metropolitan Ministries ranks 49th in assets with just $12 million, and $13 million in revenues, among Hillsborough nonprofits. The nonprofit has increased its appeals to individuals as other sources of funding have become tighter.
St. Petersburg's Museum of Fine Arts is tops among art nonprofits among Pinellas nonprofits, ranking 21st in assets with $47 million and 88th in revenues with about $3 million.
Of course, if nonprofits want to share more of the economic spotlight with for-profit businesses, they will find they also share the financial severity of these times. And they are about to bump into another big distraction to donors: the 2012 political elections. This may affect how people use their discretionary income.
Of the two counties, Armstrong says Hillsborough nonprofits are more stressed, mostly because they have encountered more kids and younger families in economic need.
According to "Giving USA," the annual estimate of American philanthropy, the slow national economic recovery likely will spell trouble for charity fundraising until at least 2016. The report was issued earlier in the summer.
Contributions rose just 2.1 percent in 2010 after consecutive declines of 6.2 percent in 2009 and 7 percent in 2008. Those are the deepest drops in the history of the 56-year-old study by Indiana University's Center on Philanthropy.
So, nonprofits, welcome to a bit more of the economic spotlight. And, by the way, brace yourselves.
Robert Trigaux can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.