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  • Pat Libby

Let’s say “Thank you for your service” to nonprofit workers

Updated: Mar 26, 2021

Nineteen years ago I moved from my beloved Boston to San Diego.

Culturally, the difference between these two towns was stunning.

For one, we Bostonians worship just about anything and everything having to with sports.

You can’t walk down a street in Boston without seeing someone wearing some type of Red Sox, Celtics, Bruins, or Patriots gear. It’s been said that in Boston sports is religion (and politics is a contact sport).

San Diego is a military town. The admiration that people feel for those who have or are serving in the military runs deep.

Parking spaces at the shopping mall are reserved for military families. Memorial Day and Veterans Day are more just than an excuse for a backyard barbeque.

On some occasions, even the (last place) Padres baseball team proudly wears uniforms honoring the military.

(Sorry; being from Boston, I couldn’t resist adding “last place”).

You can’t walk down the street in any neighborhood in San Diego without bumping into someone who is serving or has served our country.

One thing I’ve noticed – maybe it’s happening all over the country and not just here – is the near universal response that people in San Diego offer when they find out that someone is or was in the military: “Thank you for your service.”

This isn’t stated in the flat, “Welcome to Rite Aid” voice that I hear when I enter those stores, but rather with sincere intent.

Now I’m old enough to remember how horribly veterans were treated when they returned from Vietnam. It was really shameful.

And I suspect that’s why this greeting developed and spread.

I also wonder though, why we shouldn’t offer a similarly respectful acknowledgement for those who are serving our country through nonprofit organizations.

In this day and age when so many people in our society rely on nonprofits for support that government can’t or is unwilling to provide, it seems we should honor those among us who are making those things happen.

Now some might say that nonprofit staff and volunteers aren’t prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice for our country, and that would be correct in most circumstances (people who work for organizations like Doctors Without Borders or for nonprofit media outlets that cover war torn countries would be an exception).

However, many nonprofit professionals do sacrifice higher paying jobs in the private sector simply because they are motivated to make their communities better.

AmeriCorps workers, Teach for America teachers, and social workers are just a few prime examples.

In our society, nonprofit staff provide Americans in some of the poorest and most neglected parts of our country with health care.

Others protect and preserve our environment – ensuring that we have clean drinking water, breathable air and open spaces.

Some educate and nurture our children through pre-school programs, afterschool programs, summer camps, or provide other types of education that foster the next generation of American leaders.

Nonprofit professionals enrich our lives with visual and performing art, enable scientific breakthroughs, soothe our souls through religion, and do all kinds of other things that make our society richer.

Many – actually too many – nonprofit workers provide the last rung on the social safety net for Americans who are elderly, disabled, sick or just poor.

And yes, it’s both sad and ironic that countless active duty military families need assistance from food pantries and other types of donations provided by nonprofit organizations in order to make ends meet.

So the next time you come across someone who works for a nonprofit, why not say “Thank you for your service”?


Pat Libby is a management consultant to nonprofits and philanthropies. She has served as an academic, senior executive, board member, and consultant to innumerable nonprofit organizations and foundations for over three decades.

Get in touch if you have any questions about spreading kindness (or managing nonprofits)!


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