There is a national movement in the social services sector to ask the question of why we are defined not according to our mission and our work, but by what we are not. The term “nonprofit” defines our tax status, but not what we’re all about.

There are many kinds of nonprofits — the Internal Revenue Code defines more than 25 categories of organizations that are exempt from federal income taxes. But for most people, a nonprofit refers to what the tax code classifies as a “charitable” or 501(c)(3) organization.

The Independent Sector, a leadership network for America’s nonprofits, foundations and corporations committed to advancing the public good, notes that our country’s 1.6 million nonprofit organizations share one central commitment: improving lives.

CFS is among many nonprofits
CFS is among many nonprofits that seek to help those experiencing abuse, trauma, neglect and more. By interrupting negative effects of those dynamics, the organization not only helps today’s families, but the next generation of parents and families, as well. Wikimedia Commons

The term nonprofit is generally viewed favorably, as charitable organizations worthy of donations and support from our communities. Organizations like Child & Family Service, along with so many other worthwhile nonprofits in our state, might also be better defined by two overarching goals of our work: social impact and community benefit.

CFS is one of Hawaii’s largest nonprofit organizations. Last year we served more than 11,000 individuals statewide and touched the lives of more than 40,000 in our community. Our teams of professionals statewide provide those experiencing trauma, neglect, abuse and more, with the tools and support they need to make lasting and meaningful change.

These changes not only impact individual lives but can change the trajectory of an entire family. By interrupting the negative effects of trauma and abuse, we work to help achieve social impact on the next generation of parents and their children, as well.

When families find the courage to change and to overcome the challenges facing them, many also begin to help their communities, too.

At CFS we have been measuring the impact of those changes by employing a national model called Results Based Accountability that asks not only how much and how well we are doing our jobs, but also answers the key questions of whether anyone is better off and how we can get better.

Community benefit goes hand in hand with social impact. The more individual families we can help and strengthen, the greater the percentage of healthy families contributing to creating a thriving community.

Advocating for public policy that helps to better support families and community further defines the social service sector. Through collaboration with other nonprofits under the banner of PHOCUSED (Protecting Hawaii’s Ohana, Children, Under-Served, Elderly and Disabled), CFS works to address larger policy issues that increase the chances of success for families over the long term.

When families find the courage to change and to overcome the challenges facing them, many of them also begin to help their communities, as well.

At our recent annual meeting, our board members and donors heard from three of our program participants about the impact of CFS in their lives. Keitha spoke of the love of her child that led her to find the strength to leave an abusive relationship and to gain the financial independence, confidence and job skills to support herself and her daughter.

Maile said that CFS literally saved her life from domestic violence and that her children no longer live in fear but are learning to love and to feel safe for the first time in their lives. Fran said that once her CFS foster mother told her she would never give up on her, she found the courage to achieve and is today enjoying a thriving career.

These young ladies are the definition of social service. They share a commitment to helping others achieve what they have accomplished. Nonprofits are defined by the people we help and the sustainable changes that we support.

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About the Author

  • Howard Garval

    Garval is the president and CEO of Child & Family Service. Garval is the immediate past chairman of the board of PHOCUSED (Protecting Hawaii’s Ohana, Children, Under-Served, Elderly and Disabled) and chairs the advisory board of the Hawaii Family Support Institute. He also serves on two national boards: the 501c Agencies Trust and the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities Executive Leadership Institute Alumni Connections.