Reports keep coming out about the state of the nonprofit sector in the face of epic economic recession. The latest arrives from the UCLA Center for Civil Society. The stark facts point out a 25-40 percent contraction in the sector, depending on what you count, and the likelihood of the recession's effects in the sector continuing for as many as 48-60 months. All of this suggests a need for greater demonstrated urgency on the part of nonprofit leaders, governmental officials, and the business community to right the civic ship. In particular, collective attention needs to prioritize the traditional health and welfare "safety net" for America's most vulnerable populations. Sustained service contractions from government and nonprofits have already frayed the net and, in some places, it's perilously close to disappearing.
Board members of nonprofits must act now on behalf of the constituencies their organizations serve by demanding that the executives and experienced staff they hire sharpen their planning efforts, re-think service mix, and open new avenues for revenue generation. Nonprofit executives need to help their board chairs recruit new governance team members who can bring extraordinary civic reach to organizations, wire them to the inside of the civic power grid, and use political influence to advocate furiously, yet intelligently, for people in need.
Government officials need to shift their habitual focus from preserving unionized public sector managerial and administrative jobs to fundamentally rethinking the operational and managerial functions of health, social welfare, and education agencies. Part of this process must involve re-imagining the relationship between governments and nonprofits that has formed the predominant model of health and social service provision to poor people in America for the last two generations. Business leaders need to understand and act aggressively to support networks of stabilizing civil society organizations in every community where they want to keep their customer base and where their workers live and raise families.
Civil society - and the nonprofit sector as its most visible organized presence in communities - remains the weakest economic sector in America, yet a place where our civic morality either shines brightly or shames us into the shadows. The benefits of a robust civil society cannot exist - and certainly will not flourish - without deep commitments from government with its taxing, mandating, and scaling power and from business with its power to fill market gaps, generate wealth, and invest in a capable workforce and the communities where workers live.