It’s been a beautiful spring weekend on the Rock. Sun was out, flowers were in bloom, farmers’ markets were bustling, sailboats and kayaks were out, lawns were mowed. And, of course, there were at least five non-profit fundraising events to attend up and down the island. Make that at least six. There was one wine-and-cheese affair I didn’t receive an invitation to. How did that happen?
Faster than jackrabbits in spring, not-for-profit organizations have been multiplying across Whidbey Island. The numbers are staggering. According to statistics compiled by TaxExemptWorld.com, which keeps track of such things, there are now about 800 non-profit organizations on the Rock with legal, 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status from the Internal Revenue Service. That means they are all able to solicit tax-deductible donations.
Some, such as the 4-H clubs, the American Legion and dozens of churches, have been tax-exempt for decades. But just since the economy collapsed in 2008, about 175 new Whidbey non-profits have received IRS tax-exempt status. Is it any wonder we all get hit up a lot more often for donations to good, local causes these days? We’re not alone. TaxExemptWorld.com says there were more than 110,000 new tax-exempt statuses granted nationwide by the IRS just in 2014.
This phenomenon is affecting and changing our local economy. The Great Recession wiped out or downsized a great many local businesses — including some that had been big supporters of local charities in the past. A fair number of new entrepreneurs have appeared since then, but they are small and don’t have pockets nearly as deep.
Also, since 2008 a number of corporately downsized Baby Boomers have landed on the Rock, seeking their bliss and a fresh new start. With few traditional jobs to be had here, some have turned to artistic and philanthropic ventures — non-profit, of course.
Add to that the rising millennial generation’s love of shared experience and distain for “profit” and things corporate, and the recipe for the Rock’s booming non-profit economy is plain as day.
The breadth of interests represented by our new Whidbey tax-exempt organizations is impressive . To name a few: the Whidbey Island Breastfeeding Coalition, the Whidbey Island Farm Animal Assistance Program, the Coupeville Maritime Heritage Foundation, the South Whidbey Homeless Coalition, Safe Ride Home Whidbey Island, the Whidbey Western Games Assn., the South Whidbey Yacht Club Youth Sailing Assn.
I love living in a beautiful, generous place that supports so many worthy causes. I think of our growing non-profit economy as a kind of self-imposed income tax we Rock dwellers willingly pay to maintain a very special quality of life here. Or, if “tax” is a dirty word for you, think of charitable donations here as an E-ticket to the greatest natural amusement park on earth.
I do worry that our island population may simply not be big enough with pockets deep enough to underwrite all the worthy causes getting tax-exempt status these days. There are only so many wine-and-catered-hors-d’oeuvres-with-great-local-musicians-and-a-silent-auction events that even the best-off among us can afford to attend. We may be close to saturation in that respect.
Maybe the millennials, with all their energy and idealism, will dream up some exciting and better ways to approach how we give and work together. I hope so. I need a weekend off.