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'Envisioning Our Future': A Bold Initiative Comes to Nonprofit Street

July 28, 2009

(Michael Seltzer is a regular contributor to PhilanTopic. In his last post, he wrote about the case for sustainable funding.)

Crowd_in_motion Reinventing organizations under the best of circumstances is not easy, so imagine how difficult it is to promote organizational change and innovation in tough economic times. Yet, at the invitation of Independent Sector, that's exactly what seventy-five nonprofit leaders hope to do this week. With the support of the El Pomar Foundation, they will be gathering for the next three days in Colorado Springs to launch IS’ Envisioning Our Future initiative.

The goals of the gathering could not be more timely: to elicit new thinking and strategies that nonprofit managers can use to stave off the financial wolves at their doors while also examining how government, business, foundations, and nonprofits can work in concert to strengthen the social and civic fabric at the local, national, and global levels.

In announcing the effort last week, IS president Diana Aviv was quick to point out that the gathering is meant to kick off a rich conversation that will culminate with a series of "labs" at Independent Sector’s annual meeting in Detroit this fall. Stephen Heinz, president of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, and Marguerite W. Kondracke, president and CEO of America's Promise Alliance, are co-chairing the campaign.

Of course, I couldn't help but notice that the name IS chose for the initiative -- Envisioning Our Future -- is reminiscent of the title of my own book, Securing Your Organization’s Future, the idea for which was "birthed" almost thirty years ago as the Reagan Revolution was gathering steam and responsibility for the public's welfare was being "devolved" from the public to the private sector.

Ironically, the events that plunged the global economy into crisis and indirectly created an even greater financing challenge for the nonprofit sector originated in that very same private sector and were a direct result of the laissez-faire policies and worldview that Reagan and his acolytes brought to Washington. And now it is the federal government that must clean up the mess, resuscitating incompetently run and risk-blind businesses and backstopping the nonprofit sector as it struggles to maintain a safety net for both the "old" and "new" poor.

Unfortunately, as I have written in other posts (here, here, and here), Nonprofit Street is severely distressed, and it shouldn't come as a surprise that many nonprofits are finding it difficult to muster the appetite to reinvent their organizations when so many daily pressures and problems scream for their attention. Yet, we somehow have to find the gumption and wherewithal to focus on both immediate and longer-term needs and challenges. Business-as-usual is not the answer to the problems we face, and we are all going to have to engage in some deep thinking as to how we can reinvent ourselves to survive and thrive in the years ahead.

The Colorado Springs gathering this week and the series of conversations to follow provide some hope that new ideas will surface that illuminate a way forward for both the sector as a whole and individual nonprofit organizations. To borrow a phrase from Bob Dylan, "The times, they are a-changin’." We best change as well.

-- Michael Seltzer

Comments

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Posted by Bruce Trachtenberg  |   July 28, 2009 at 06:21 PM

Lots of luck, Michael. Eager to hear what comes of the gathering. Two things to remember: bold is good, and there is nothing like a crisis to focus the mind.

Posted by Jane Whitfield  |   July 30, 2009 at 09:07 PM

I am glad to hear that these forward thinking foundations and organizations are supporting such important work. It is my hope that nonprofits that participate in the introspection and planning required for true organizational change are fully funded and supported with experienced counsel and technical support. It is a difficult time, and an outside perspective may be key to achieving desired results. Keep up posted, Michael.

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