05/03/2011 |

Road to Relief or a “New Normal” for Human Service Nonprofits?

05/03/2011 |

For today’s post I wanted to pass along links to a few resources I’ve come across in the past week that explore in helpful ways the issues we have been wrestling with. John Gardner has a wide-ranging piece entitled “ Nonprofits seek Relief and Support from States,” in the latest issue of Governing magazine that gives a useful overview of the problem and some steps currently being taken to cope with it in a few states. Along similar lines, the Hudson Institute’s Bradley Center for Philanthropy and Civic Renewal and The Nonprofit Quarterly recently hosted an illuminating panel session entitled “Crunch Time for Nonprofits?” William Schambra of the Bradley Center moderated the lively conversation among panelists Tim Delaney of the National Council of Nonprofits, Ivye Allen of the Foundation for the Mid South, Eugene Steuerle of the Urban Institute, and Steve Malanga of the Manhattan Institute. (You can find the transcript here).

The upshot of both the article and the panel is that there is no need for the question mark—it is indeed crunch time for human service nonprofits. The focus in these discussions, though, too often remains how to solve for the near-term financial crunch instead of the need for a fundamental rethinking and longer-term restructuring of the relationship between government and the nonprofit sectors (with Gene Steuerle and Steve Malanga weighing in helpfully on the need for the latter).

In this regard, the Memphis Commercial Appeal reported last week that Rip Rapson, President and CEO of the Kresge Foundation, spoke with candor at the annual conference of the Alliance for Nonprofit Excellence in Memphis. Rapson cautioned his audience that: "My sense is that we're entering a new normal, not simply passing through a phase…We are indisputably in the midst of a profound structural shift that will impose deep and enduring effects." (Source: Twitter, Pat Lawler, @YV_CEO_Pat). It is really important to be hearing this perspective from foundation leaders.

Finally, would you like an accounting of where all the money went, i.e., how we got from the Congressional Budget Office’s 2001 projection of the federal government becoming debt-free by 2006 to the current reality of a $10.4 trillion debt in 2011—the largest debt relative to the size of the economy since 1950? The Pew Trusts can help you out with their depressing but nonetheless insightful report on The Great Debt Shift.

The one silver lining is that it is clear in retrospect that we got into this mess largely via a series of ill-advised legislative measures over the past decade; we can presumably get out of it via a series of painful but nonetheless wiser ones.

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