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Happy to Be Here: Nonprofits help drive the economy


When I talked to Joan Garry last week, I told her Bucks County is a hotbed of nonprofits. Maybe that’s a reason the area has so many thriving communities.

Garry gave the example of Montclair, N.J., population 40,000, as a thriving community. “It has 90 different nonprofits, diverse, robust,” arts, entertainment, any number of projects.

Because of the nonprofits, she said, “it is less of a town, more of a community, filled with people who want to be here.”

And, she said, “Nonprofits are a foundational component of our economy. They’re vital to the development of a truly civil society.”

After years of offering advice online and in talks to organizations, she has written a book, “Joan Garry’s Guide to Nonprofit Leadership.” In 268 pages and 11 chapters, including one called “When It Hits the Fan,” she describes what it takes to be a leader in a “really, really hard job.”

Garry made her way into the nonprofit sphere after working on the MTV startup in 1981, fresh out of Fordham University in New York. She wrote the business plan, “helped figure out how to make money.”

“I was not unhappy in the corporate world,” Garry wrote in her book’s introduction. She moved from MTV to Showtime where she found herself advocating for corporate sponsorship dollars for gay organizations.

“It was pretty exciting,” she said, but she wanted more.

She left Showtime to become executive director of GLADD, one of the largest LGBT organizations in the country. Both of those jobs prepared her for starting her “small but very mighty consulting firm.” The business grew from her realization she explained in a TED Talk, “I could have killed my development director.” She was too passionate, striving too hard and pushing her staff too hard.

Garry is firm in her belief in the importance of nonprofits to the economy. “I’m tired of people framing the image of really nice people who help other people,” she said. In her book, she wrote, “Nonprofits represent the third largest work force behind retail and just above manufacturing.”

Understanding the limitations and power of organizations focused on a cause, Garry founded the Nonprofit Leadership Lab, an online subscription service offering leaders of small nonprofits the tools to help them succeed. She has become known as the ‘Dear Abby’ of the nonprofit sector, an experienced advisor to leaders around the country and abroad.

Joan Garry will be in Bucks County March 15, in a conversation with the local nonprofit community as part of #FCPresents, a new series launched by Foundations Community Partnership last year to strengthen the sector by inviting thought leaders to share their expertise.

“The series is something new,” said Foundations Executive Director Tobi Bruhn. “It complements what nonprofits are passionate about and supports professional development. It’s an opportunity to hear a speaker in person, coming back after the pandemic to energize their work.”

Foundations, founded in 1964 as Delaware Valley Mental Health, became Foundations Behavioral Health, which was eventually sold to become part of Doylestown Hospital services. Ron Bernstein, the executive director, founded Foundations Community Partnership after the sale, using proceeds from the sale as its endowment. In its latest evolution, Foundations is primarily a grant-making organization, supporting a host of local nonprofits and providing scholarships to graduating students from local schools.

Foundations not only grants awards but it also promotes the recipients of the awards in the press.

Garry’s presentation, “The Key Attributes of Thriving Nonprofits,” will take place 9 to 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, March 15, in the Zlock Theater at Bucks County Community College, Newtown Campus. Comcast is sponsoring the event.

“The lessons of the pandemic have not been lost on nonprofits,” Joan Garry advises. “After an unexpected event, they have become more innovative, more nimble and more creative.” Those are three of the attributes she’ll address.