Nonprofit outlook : Where’s the light at the end of the tunnel ?
Is there a new normal for nonprofits ? What is the role of government in regulating and working with non-profits ? What does a movement such as Anti-wall Street represent to us as a society ? These and other questions formed part of the thinking at the “Nonprofit outlook : Where’s the light at the end of the tunnel”, panel discussion at the Urban Institute, Washington DC today. The panel brought together eminent practitioners as well as thinkers in the field of non-profit management.
“This is no doubt a hard time for nonprofit managers and even for the boards. The need to be accountable and focused, has never been so important. The civil society’s role is also changing, with changing nature of our society. Do we have the fiscal-financial infrastructure to support this change ?” asked Marta Urquilla, Senior Policy Advisor to the White House Domestic Policy Council’s Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation.
She added that in many ways, we can’t keep pouring money into ways of doing things, when they aren’t producing results. It has value only in a broader context. Only to the extent that this adds value to other related things. Is there success or results ? Do we help organizations to build themselves over time ? Are they on firm footing. Can we invest in the young leaders ?
While others such as Howard Husock, VP for Policy Research at the Manhattan Institute pointed out that the non-profits are actually competing with the government in provision of some of the same services that the government does. “The government should looking at what is working and what is not, and what is really out-moded. Will such thinking happen is the question”, he said.
Stephen Bennett, President and CEO of United Cerebral Palsy pointed out the difficulties in funding disability related work and the need for leadership, and for imagining futures where creative ideas contributing to the solutions we look for.
The issue of mergers of non-profits and also partnerships between for-profit and non-profits came up, with several participants asking questions related to the need for exploring such synergies.
Analyzing the harsh economic climate in which non-profits are forced to operate in now, Urquilla added :” If you didn’t start off strong to begin with, there is no way you can make through. The amount of strategic management and guidance that non-profits need is immense. It is an opportune time. Under constraints, we have found that is when innovation is formed. To imagine alternatives, to put everything into what is working. I am hopeful and certainly mindful that it is a very difficult time, to engage with what is important. It is work that all of us in this country rely on : whether it is providing some services to the poor, or contributing to the cultural experience “.
The discussion following the panel revolved around both management issues as well as the need for strategic thinking, building capacity of the nonprofits and learning to be frugal.