The Wildflower Economy

Have you ever thought about why non-profits exist? In our economic landscape, there are niches that are not filled by the usual players: government agencies or for-profit businesses. Usually, the founders of non-profits see an unmet need; for a variety of reasons, those needs are not met, or cannot be met through a market system or through government intervention.

In economic terms, the goods or services provided by many non-profits are called “merit goods” – i.e., services that society values and believes people should have access to regardless of their ability to pay.

So it was with the founding of Boxerwood Education Association (BEA) 20 years ago. Founders Hunter Mohring, Karen (KB) Bailey, and Mollie Messimer had a vision – to share the magical and inspiring woodland grounds of the late Dr. Munger with the public, and to educate people of all ages to be stewards of our shared home, the Earth. Education, environmental stewardship, and access to green, park-like spaces are all examples of merit goods.

These individual and social benefits not only cannot be quantified, but also often far outweigh the abilities of recipients to pay. Yet visionary founders, generous donors, and compassionate volunteers are the primary ingredients of a successful non-profit organization. BEA has been blessed with all three.

Though I often compare Boxerwood to a multi-branched tree, my thoughts about economics for this article make me think that a more apt image of Boxerwood is a wildflower. Small, fragile, and beautiful, a wildflower nourishes pollinators, who in turn provide sustenance throughout an ecosystem’s food web. Small non-profits like Boxerwood, in small communities like Rockbridge County, are the wildflowers that year after year meet the often-overlooked or under-provided needs of a society.

Wildflowers may in a sense be fragile, but they also are resilient. With rains that come each year, they thrive, flourish, and support a whole web of life. Our donors are like the rain, vital each year to sustain the valuable services that wildflowers offer. Without rain, the hopeful seeds lie dormant, waiting for the opportunity to burst forth in glorious beauty and service. We are ever so grateful for the sustaining “rain” that Boxerwood has received over the years. May that rain continue each season as the seeds of Boxerwood’s programs go out into the world.

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