The nonprofit difference for the seniors we serve
What does it mean to be a nonprofit versus a for-profit senior care organization? From a basic legal definition, a nonprofit organization, such as Hebrew SeniorLife, keeps its earnings within the organization to support programs and services for its beneficiaries; whereas a for-profit organization distributes its earnings to its owners or stockholders first, before reinvesting in any organizational priorities.
A nonprofit organization is driven by its mission to deliver services, rather than by the profitability generated by those services. Unlike our for-profit senior care industry colleagues, who are largely motivated by the best return-on-investment, our motive is to address a societal need that we have identified as being inadequately fulfilled.
Let me illustrate this point by telling you a story about Gladys. This story shows how Hebrew SeniorLife, a mission-driven nonprofit, makes a difference in the lives of those we serve each day.
Gladys is nearly 103 years old. She has a great routine, and has “life goals.” Everyday at precisely 11 a.m., she exercises, no matter where she is, so she can achieve her goals. Her fitness coach has trained her to stop whatever she’s doing at that hour, and challenge herself to move her hips and arms and legs. Her coach trained her to stay active, and has trained her well. Gladys lives at one of HSL’s three supportive housing communities in Greater Boston—the key word here is supportive, which means that Gladys and her many fellow seniors are supported with programs and services well beyond basic “room and board.”
Seniors who live in our supportive housing communities are surrounded with 360 degrees of goal-setting options for fitness training, nutritional assistance, life enhancement programs, and health care services. We know from our Institute for Aging Research that these types of high-quality supportive services lead seniors to live their lives to their fullest—in line with our mission to make a difference in the lives of those we serve. And we believe that providing this level of programming and services is also the right thing to do.
So at this point in Gladys’s story, you may be asking how HSL, as a nonprofit organization, is able to sustain this 360-degree approach in a financially viable way for Gladys and her fellow HSL residents. Gladys, who lives on a lower income, could never pay for these extras that focus on quality and the best health outcome. Most for-profit senior care organizations do not make the effort to identify any “extras” because they will not result in achieving and sustaining the best return-on-investment. This is where a nonprofit like HSL looks to its financial structure as the means to support a need.
That structure is shaped through budget priorities—and philanthropy. Philanthropy is the heart of the nonprofit difference. The generosity of our donors makes it possible for us to go above and beyond for seniors, from our supportive housing communities to health care, research, and teaching. We also partner with government entities to further extend services for our supportive housing residents. Such is the case with the $420,000 grant we received from the Massachusetts Health Policy Commission for HSL’s “Right Care, Right Place, Right Time: Effectively Integrating Senior Care and Housing Project.” This grant, along with others for this initiative, makes it possible to have dedicated teams working with residents to ensure their success.
For Gladys and the other 3,000 seniors we care for each day at our health care facilities, senior living communities, including two continuing care retirement communities, or in their own homes within the surrounding community—and for their families as well, HSL puts seniors’ quality of life first, before profits. And has done so since 1903. That is what truly makes the difference, and gives us the power to redefine aging.
Do you have a “Gladys” story to share? I’d love to hear your mission-based experience.
About Hebrew SeniorLife
Founded in Boston in 1903, Harvard Medical School-affiliated Hebrew SeniorLife is a nonprofit, non-sectarian organization that today provides communities and health care for seniors, research into aging, and education for geriatric care providers. With nearly 2,600 employees aligned around a common mission, goals and cultural beliefs, we are one of the largest employers in Massachusetts. We care for 3,000 seniors a day at our nine Boston-area campuses and communities. We reach countless more seniors, families, caregivers and senior care professionals around the U.S. and the world through our research and teaching mission.
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