Few cities can so honestly boast as Fort Wayne can about its non-profit community and about the work these non-profit organizations accomplish. Non-profits historically accomplish more results with less money, doing things that neither the government nor the for-profit sector can (nor should!) do. Importantly, non-profits can be a metric of a city’s heart and, critically, a harbinger of a city’s potential. From the obvious class of non-profits like our churches, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, and the United Way, to the less obvious class of non-profits like Friends of the Rivers, NeighborLink, and The World Baseball Academy, non-profits are the invisible network that knits together in Fort Wayne the advantaged and the disadvantaged, the weak and the strong, people from every background and belief.
In May 2018, True North NPO, in concert with University of Saint Francis, produced a report that is very informative. Of Allen County’s almost 1,500 non-profit organizations, 373 are dedicated to “human services.” These human service non-profits employ more than 11,000 people and have a cumulative annual economic impact of over $700M. These human service non-profits are the second largest employment sector in Fort Wayne, second only to healthcare. Their combined budgets amount to more than the city of Fort Wayne, the County of Allen, and Fort Wayne Community Schools! Because the people, the philanthropic community, and the private businesses of Fort Wayne so vigorously support these organizations and the work they do, countless individuals, families, and neighborhoods get essential help during times of trouble. With little fanfare, these organizations keep us strong. These facts tell anyone looking what they need to know about the City of Fort Wayne: our heart is strong and our future is bright.
As Mayor of Fort Wayne, I will always find ways to accommodate non-profits and augment their work. More than that, I will seek their help. Our city is faced with problems that cannot be solved by government alone, not by the for-profit sector alone. Non-profits are the key to solving a host of problems that have endured despite government’s efforts. Our federal and state governments have proven for decades they cannot alone solve our biggest social challenges. From improving health care and lowering infant mortality to crushing the tragedy of opioid abuse in our city, Allen County’s network of non-profits represents a powerful non-governmental “branch” of our culture, a network that will be critical to Fort Wayne achieving its transformative future.
The bonds that unite us through non-profit work become a force for solving problems – not through government but through often small networks of citizens who simply care. We put our money not where our mouth is, but where our heart is. And no city has a heart so big as the Heart of Fort Wayne. When any community of people volunteer, contribute, and drive toward the accomplishment of any worthy goal, they also accomplish much more. Some call it synergy, others call it good will. But it is the immutable power that springs from where any two or more of us work to make Fort Wayne better.
Leadership, according to one of the United States founders, John Quincy Adams, should “inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more.” As part of a broader effort, the non-profits in Fort Wayne become a catalytic component to foment change. The Mayor of Fort Wayne can – must – lead this effort. The Mayor must cause it to focus on resolving long-standing problems. Our human service non-profits do amazing work without much coordination among them. If the battle against the Opioid Crisis is to be won, it will only be won with non-profits joining the battle and pushing forward together.
Toward this end, and in keeping with a comment I made in the recent debate hosted by YLNI, I will use the influence of the Mayor’s Office to convene our leading non-profits regularly. I will not only encourage a coordinated response to urgent issues where our network of non-profits can make a difference, but I will also push for a strategic partnership to strengthen their efforts by joining forces, by collaborating more easily, or by sharing overhead expenses within a common center, so that dollars go farther, better results are achieved, and our community is united in a powerful way. Fort Wayne must expect a mayor with the vision and the ability to inspire and foment this teamwork. This is just one example of how being “from the outside” of government helps me see things the way most people see them. It is common sense: working together with mutual goals is an undeniable path to greater results.
If Fort Wayne is to effectively address its problems, then our leaders must accept with humility the limits of what city government can and cannot do. Our robust network of non-profits is essential to resolving many of our most urgent problems. The mayor must have the ability to augment a battle plan with the effective network of our non-profits. The mayor must inspire our city to “do more, and become more.”
Together, we must all expect more!