Having called Alaska home for more than 30 years now, I'm always a little bit surprised when I learn something I should have known.

For example, we all know oil and gas drives Alaska, but do you know what our second biggest economic driver is? Turns out it's Alaska's nonprofits.

That's according to a new study released by the Foraker Group, itself a ground-breaking nonprofit group formed to provide support and guidance to Alaska's nonprofit community. (In the interest of disclosure, early this year, I signed on as a Foraker consultant but had no involvement in the study.)

Every three years, the organization does an assessment of Alaska's nonprofits, and this year's study is an eye-opener.

There are more than 5,700 nonprofits in Alaska. Most of them are charitable organizations you're familiar with, including Alaska chapters of groups like the American Red Cross or United Way -- but the community includes organizations you probably don't even think of as nonprofit.

Nonprofits deliver healthcare across Alaska. They manage our resources through community development quota programs and aquaculture associations. They may manage your money through credit unions. They power our homes and businesses.

And -- "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me" -- they provide our favorite radio programs.

We depend on nonprofits on a daily basis, often without realizing it.

According to the Foraker report, nonprofits provide more than 44,000 direct jobs, which in turn creates thousands more. If nonprofits were considered a single industry, they would be second only to the oil and gas industry when it comes to economic impact.

The difference is that most nonprofits depend on memberships and donors for survival, especially charitable organizations.

Nationally, there are concerns that the recent overhaul of federal tax law will discourage individual charitable giving. Compound that with Alaska's recession, and you can understand why Alaska's nonprofits face strong headwinds.

But here's the thing: Alaskans are generous. We volunteer at a higher rate than average, and nearly 80 percent of Alaskans don't itemize their income tax deductions. Even when dividends were cut in half over the past two years, Alaskans continued to share with their favorite nonprofits through the Pick.Click.Give. program.

Maybe nonprofits play such a large role in Alaska because we're so young and so far away -- and if we don't support each other, who will?

After 33 years in Alaska, you'd think I'd know all this. I'm glad I do now.

John's opinions are his own and are not necessarily that of Denali Media or its employees.

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