By Marie LeBlanc, Community Partnerships Coordinator
Yesterday morning, the Nonprofit Roundtable of Greater Washington celebrated its tenth anniversary with a touching look back and a pressing call to action for the future. As a young nonprofit professional, the messages I heard were both disheartening and inspiring. According to Mario Morino, Co-Founder and Chairman of Venture Philanthropy Partners, the nonprofit sector faces quite a few challenges in the years ahead. Even with potential economic upturns (which are by no means guaranteed yet), the changing economic and employment landscape in the US will have a profound effect on the demand for social sector services. Effectively funding those services will require a dramatic re-think of current funding mechanisms, and above all the willpower from funders, investors, government, and social service providers/nonprofits alike to meet the needs that our country, regions, and cities will face.
Benjamin Jealous, President and CEO of the NAACP, passionately spoke of the civil rights crisis facing America today — what he called the “most massive and simultaneous attack on rights happening in recent history.” Women, immigrants, and the LGBT and black communities are on the front lines of this battle — one primarily fought within state boundaries, not on the federal level. Such a multifaceted problem requires intense collaboration and coordination to solve it — and an acknowledgement of the political and systemic barriers that contribute to (and often cause) the larger problems nonprofits work to address.
And yet we remain positive. Julie Rogers, CEO and President of the Meyer Foundation, reminded us in her opening remarks that the nonprofit community in greater Washington has come together in remarkable ways since the founding of the Nonprofit Roundtable in 2002. The Roundtable has done much to achieve its original goals of supporting and strengthening a fragmented nonprofit community throughout the region.
Google.org’s Paul Lee revealed some exciting technology trends that will break in the next year, continuing to make our world faster, smaller, and younger. He discussed the misleading picture that younger generations don’t care about causes — showing how the “internet has moved” for kids today, from websites to social media where campaigns like Invisible Children’s Kony 2012 explode through channels like YouTube and Facebook. I’m certainly not the first to point out that social media presents exciting opportunities, but also challenges, for nonprofits (especially smaller ones) in navigating the constantly changing waters.
So what do we take away from this? The strength of the nonprofit community lies primarily within the strength of our leaders. Support for innovative nonprofit leadership is crucial. Collaboration within the nonprofit and public sector is paramount to address the vast needs and social issues that we face today. The power of youth must be harnessed to contribute to that change — for today’s youth are already becoming tomorrow’s nonprofit leaders and adding their voices to the conversation (albeit in nontraditional ways).
Perhaps most importantly, I heard an underlying conversation about politics, policy, and the big picture of the nonprofit and public sectors. How do we engage with the political system that so often determines resources available to underserved communities? How do we address the big questions that perpetuate poverty instead of continuing to just provide meals and beds (which are still sorely needed)? The answers to these questions only come through collaboration across corporate, nonprofit, and government lines. The Nonprofit Roundtable has poised itself to help lead the nonprofit community into another decade of addressing these questions, and we are eager to be a partner in that quest.