Asphalt Matters

Wednesday, May 1, 2013 (All day)

Let me risk boring you with something excitingly dull.

I say you might feel bored because I’m revved up about a valuable venture that has all the allure of asphalt. It’s concerned with mundane things you don’t notice when they work smoothly. Things like good accounting systems, on-time payroll, honest fiscal oversight, ethical business practice, useful advice at just the right time.

Virtues similar to that of good asphalt are what compelled us to work with colleagues from across the country to conceive and start the National Network of Fiscal Sponsors (NNFS).

Recall just how little you think about a road without flaws. Now imagine a couple of potholes, or cracks and poor striping, and traveling that road quickly turns annoying, unreliable. You start noticing the hell out of it. Every mile you curse the sin of institutional neglect. You realize how quickly disrepair can turn downright dangerous. Do the forensics on any failed neighborhood; you’ll find that poor roads likely stalked the decline. When I was a kid, I drove school buses. I remember that the roads in the most neglected, isolated neighborhoods pocketed across the Antelope Valley were unpaved, without curbs, and turned to mud during storms. As systems that help us move from where we are to where we want to go, roads require smooth asphalt, good planning and constant attention.

So it is with groups like Community Partners, that smooth the path of social enterprise with fiscal sponsorship services. Our core systems – accounting, bookkeeping, payroll, benefits, contracting, troubleshooting and a whole range of training and counsel – need routine care and tending. If one or another system gets funky, it’s like placing a pothole in the path of a project leader who’s driving hard to make change in a community. Steering around obstacles slows the pace of reaching people. And caring, strong communities need all vehicles geared for change moving swiftly and smoothly toward their destinations.

On paper, fiscal sponsorship can perhaps look a bit dull, just like the asphalt surface of the road outside your workplace or home. Perhaps it’s stretching the metaphor a tad, but NNFS, the group we helped found, resembles a road maintenance crew for a great and prosperous city. Now six years old and with nine core members representing the nation’s largest groups practicing fiscal sponsorship, we’ve got folks from the field at the table with diverse talents akin to those of engineers, designers and surveyors as well as leaders, innovators and managers.

Early on, we all pitched in to craft a shared set of fiscal sponsorship practice guidelines that launched our work together. We’ve all agreed to adhere to those guidelines and we’ve offered them freely as a template for excellent practice to the broader field. We gather periodically and compare approaches to our work. We’ve started regularly convening more and more of our colleagues around the United States, and this month we initiated a pilot program inviting a handful of groups to affiliate with us. Our hope is we can improve the quality of roadways to strong, caring communities everywhere that the pathway to change needs clearing.

Long term, we expect that growing numbers of social entrepreneurs and groups pursuing civic innovations across the country will turn to the best fiscal sponsors working today as they reach, organize, serve and uplift people and the places where they live.

The launch of NNFS means that risk-taking change-makers pushing the frontiers of their work will find the roads they travel in the best shape possible, that they will shape the causes that animate their ideals with keen focus and unshakeable confidence.

Hmmm. Maybe good asphalt’s not so dull and boring after all.


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