Last year, I spent time thinking about the “economic halo” of St. Luke’s Cathedral in Portland, where I serve.

An economic halo is the impact an organization has on the local economy. Most people don’t realize that beyond functioning on spiritual, educational, cultural and service levels, congregations also serve as economic generators, small-business incubators and leadership training centers that can add up to 20 times their operating budgets to their local communities.

A good example of this is weddings. In 2014, St. Luke’s had 14 weddings.

Those weddings average about 200 people, all of whom attended a reception, most of whom spent two nights in local hotels and bought food at local restaurants and stores. If you add all these up, weddings brought more than $500,000 to the city of Portland that would otherwise not be there.

Add to this our operating budget (less money that is given away beyond Portland), and my one congregation generates over $1 million a year for the city.

If you add the same calculations for concerts, baptisms, funerals and other events and then include the less tangible impacts – for example, of a person who keeps his job because of attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings or stays married because of counseling or support or develops self-confidence because of participation in youth or mission programs – the economic halo is huge.


To the city, the economic impact of a congregation can be compared with that of a cruise ship, the Nova Star, or a festival – with much less work or expense.

The same is true for nonprofits such as Preble Street, where I serve as a board member.

The more than 1,000 meals a day, the large numbers of people being helped in so many ways and the incredible staff and volunteers who make this all possible are just part of the story.

The lower number of emergency room visits and police calls and the ability to get and keep a job that comes once a person is no longer homeless are just a few of the parts of an economic halo that is enormous.

Preble Street and nonprofit organizations like it do not create hunger and homelessness but work to end them.

If these agencies didn’t exist, the hungry and homeless would still be here – and the cost of their care would be the responsibility of the state budget that our governor is trying to cut.


The same can be said for private schools. Every student in private school saves the state more than $10,000 per year. Waynflete and Cheverus alone save Portland Public Schools more than $1 million a year.

If you add in the impact of their staff and local expenditures, that number is even higher. If you add the impact of training young Mainers to be the leaders of tomorrow, their economic halo is out of this world.

The same argument can be made for our art museums, our symphony, and the work of many other nonprofits around town.

Consider for a moment how many restaurant meals are served and how much parking revenue is received from people attending “Magic of Christmas,” a play at Portland Stage or an exhibit at the Portland Museum of Art. The economic halos of these nonprofits are a great gift to us all.

The cultural value these organizations add, and the attractiveness they provide for those who to visit or choose to live here, are worth far more than any income the proposed taxes might provide.

Taxing nonprofits threatens their viability, and their loss would be expensive in more ways than we can imagine.


We should not be taxing them. We should be thanking them instead – and doing what we can to help them thrive.

So if your income tax is reduced, I have a suggestion: Donate the money you saved to a nonprofit.

After all, they will be picking up the pieces dropped if proposed budget cuts go through. At the same time, they will be helping the economy grow.

Consider their economic halo and polish your own.

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