A look back over the last two years holds painful truths for the nonprofit sector. The COVID pandemic spared no community in the nation and no sector in our economy. But for nonprofits, the challenges were extraordinary. Unlike in the commercial sector, demand for our services increased exponentially while our resources often cratered. Our workforce was decimated and continues to lag in its recovery relative to other sectors. The stories are many, and many of those stories are bleak.
But there are also powerful and promising lessons from the last few years about how we found a voice.
Historically, nonprofits have struggled to advocate as a unified sector in support of federal policies that support it. That changed in the face of the pandemic. In 2020, nonprofits aligned and advocated effectively and consistently for critical policy wins, like the Paycheck Protection Program, in COVID relief legislation.
Looking back and looking forward, I hope we see that this unified voice – on issues that span our diverse sector — is vital to the health of this sector and its ability to ensure a vibrant society in which all people can thrive. Exercising and strengthening that voice will take practice and patience, not unlike building any other muscle or skill.
I have seen some other tell-tale signs that we may be up to the task.
In 2020, Independent Sector and KABOOM! formed the Nonprofit Infrastructure Investment Advocacy Group (NIIAG). Talk about a diverse group – from state associations of nonprofits and philanthropy to the largest of national nonprofits, to small community-based organizations and funders – each of which is focused on a different mission. For the first time, we saw in the NIIAG a “wildly diverse” group of sector leaders coming together around the importance of safe and secure elections. And we succeeded in securing critical funds in COVID-relief legislation to make the 2020 elections process “COVID-safe” for voters and poll workers. We didn’t do that alone, of course. But it was instructive that we could put our immediate missions to the side, for a moment, to support a fundamental underpinning of a healthy civil society – the elections process. I hope it is a sign of what we might yet be able to do.
Finally, a strengthening voice from our sector is transformational only to the extent policy makers hear it at all levels. In short, if our sector is not consistently “at the table” where the policymaking happens – much as the private sector is – using that voice to make real, equitable change becomes much harder. I am deeply optimistic and excited about a growing enthiasm in our sector to secure that permanent “seat at the table” in the White House. Looking forward, I sure do hope you will take a moment to learn more about this essential work and that you will join us and nonprofits across the nation in this campaign.
So much stronger with you than without! Happy New Year!
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