Wednesday, May 20, 2009

New Game In Town

"Even those items dedicated to the nonprofit sector-for “social innovation” or to replace the Bush-era Compassion Capital Fund-frequently give scant attention to the needs and roles of smaller and medium-sized nonprofits, the organizations that comprise the overwhelming bulk of nonprofits on the front lines of addressing social needs in America’s urban and rural communities."

Rick Cohen, "Finding Nonprofits in President Obama's FY2010 Budget,"The Cohen Report, Nonprofit Quarterly, May 15, 2009.

This review is an excellent interpretive guide and commentary about some of the ins and outs of the proposed 2010 federal budget relevant for nonprofits -- in case you haven't read the 1,380 pages.

I have to admit that I have conflicting feelings about all this. I remember 30 years ago the announcement of the Neighborhood Self-help Development Program under President Jimmy Carter. A colleague member of the Chicago Rehab Network was effusive about what he called the "revolutionary" nature of new direct federal funding for nonprofits that bypassed city and state government. A return to the 1960s.

A theme of Cohen's review is that small- medium-sized nonprofits are (or seem to be) left out of 2010 proposed budget. It's the big,flashy national nonprofits with "brand" social entrepreneurs that are going to corner most of the money, just as they do in the philanthropic realm in some sense.

"Lessons anyone? Despite the longstanding knowledge that innovation is found in organizations of many sizes, small and large, the Social Innovation Fund is structured to invest in sizable organizations able to absorb seven-figure federal grants and scale up. Many entrepreneurial leaders of the nonprofit sector toil for small organizations in out-of-the-mainstream locales."

So, Cohen argues it's a matter of fairness and recognizing the multiple sources of innovation and effective service delivery. I agree. I guess my discomfort is about notions of being "left out" or "at the table" when what we should really be concerned about is the results we want for low-income families and communities. The federal swirl is inevitable given the times and the resources, but sometimes it seems to be as much about positioning and politics. There's a new game in town. I wonder what gets lost in the process? Or is this just an opportunity that can't be missed?

1 comment:

Rick Cohen said...

Thanks for the nice review, Bob. You're right, by the way. I have the same back and forth that you do, that we shouldn't be focused on how nonprofits get to "the table", but what kinds of resources and outcomes are there for the communities nonprofits serve. That was why my review of the post-election nonprofit sector proposals to the incoming Obama administration were so distressing to me (I did a pretty lengthy review of them in the Cohen Report). So how do we strike the right balance between making sure the nonprofit voice is heard in budget discussions and making sure that voice is focused on the needs of the low-income families and communities that should be addressed in the budget. Thanks for the good reminder.