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One of the most rewarding aspects of working in the nonprofit sector is the daily experience of gratitude. Nonprofits are found in every corner of Montana: groups of citizens with a can-do spirit solving local problems. And, we have a host of partners who help us bring ideas from imagination to reality. Today, I hope you will join me in saying thank you.

Missoula County has 635 nonprofits, 249 of which are employers. The rest are operated solely by volunteers. In total, Montana is home to more than 7,000 charitable nonprofits, with about two-thirds having no employees. Staffed or unstaffed, every nonprofit in the state needs at least three board members. That means at a minimum, 21,000 volunteer board positions are occupied at any given time in charitable endeavors.

Missoula’s board members serve every kind of mission, from bicycling to recycling, children’s theatre, United Way, affordable housing, the UM Foundation, economic development, elk, trout, preschoolers and everything between. Thank you to the thousands of Missoula board members who shepherd the nonprofit mission month after month and year after year. You are the backbone.

And thank you to Missoula’s remarkable business sector.

In addition to contributing to Missoula’s economy, you support the overall well-being of Missoula through your financial gifts, in-kind donations, mentoring, volunteerism and other contributions to nonprofits. You receive more requests for assistance than you could possibly handle, and yet you respond thoughtfully and consistently as you prioritize your philanthropy. May your work and life be enriched by the sense of satisfaction and meaning that comes from investing so deeply in the community.

Nonprofit work is also supported by private philanthropy. You may be known for big donations or give anonymously. Whether you take advantage of Montana’s Charitable Endowment Tax Credit, purchase gala tickets or tack a dollar for a cause onto your grocery purchase, it matters. And to the family foundations investing in Montana through nonprofits, thank you. Philanthropy enables nonprofits to be there for our community. We need and are grateful for your support.

One more shout out: to our partners in local, state and federal government. From city and county commissioners to legislators and members of Congress, we are working together toward Montana’s best interest, and we need each other to serve the whole of Montana. Thank you for your partnership and service.

Many people are surprised at the number of nonprofits in Montana. Sometimes I’m asked whether there are too many. I don’t have one right answer, but I offer this. Like businesses, not every nonprofit will make it. That’s a painful reality. It’s important for nonprofits to avoid replication and promote collaboration. At the same time, Montana needs “Main Street nonprofits” just like we need and want a mix of grocery stores, real estate agencies, gas stations and breweries. The nonprofit presence in any community ultimately represents the diverse, resourceful and compassionate people who live there. Over time, some efforts will dwindle while others will flourish. In this way nonprofits continue to reflect the collective aspirations of our communities.

As we enter a new year, I invite you to briefly imagine Missoula without nonprofits: no churches, limited health care, open space and after-school programs; no college scholarships, senior housing or museums; no food pantry, domestic violence shelter or affordable housing. The picture is stark. Fortunately, we have a much different reality. An immense circle exists in Missoula and beyond, bringing solutions that promote and uplift this community’s best self through nonprofit endeavors. Thank you for your distinctive contributions to that circle, and very best to you in the new year.

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Liz Moore is executive director of the Montana Nonprofit Association.

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