News & Views

A blog for those interested in what affects, motivates and drives the New York City Nonprofit Sector — written by CRE’s crackerjack consulting team. We hope you use this space to share your thoughts, ask questions and engage in conversations about our city, social justice and the nonprofit sector.

What Do Invisible Nonprofits Mean For Community Leadership?

By Valyrie Laedlein, CRE Co-Director - Those of you accustomed to visiting this website know that CRE exists to support nonprofit organizations in becoming stronger and more effective in their work to fight poverty and advance social justice. So it came as a bit of a shocker to hear the director of a foundation who is a significant supporter of social services and nonprofit capacity building say in a meeting last week that nonprofit organizations are becoming increasingly “invisible.”

He explained that the New York City Mayor’s office and City agencies – and for that matter many private foundations – focus on contracting for programs. That is to say, programs delivered to best effect at the best price. What makes for an effective program, managed at peak efficiency, is not the concern of public or most private funders. Hence, specific interest in, or concern for, the organizations that deliver those programs is obviated.

My colleagues and I at CRE haven’t quite embraced this point of view yet. We’d certainly affirm that unless an organization is capable of delivering a program that gets results and can do so efficiently, it shouldn’t be funded. But we also recognize that organizations operating with extremely slim margins, high levels of accountability, delays in government reimbursements, and declining levels of public and private support, are often compromised in their ability to do so – and placed at serious risk of shutting their doors. I’ve been engaged in the process of supporting one agency’s board of directors as it decided to end operations, and yesterday I met with another board who is debating the same question of whether it can continue to operate as an independent entity or not. A major funder of theirs has essentially yanked support because it feels the organization is too focused and there’s not potential to “go to scale.”

Now what happens?

Should we be content that those programs fold, or at best that a large city-wide agency comes to absorb programming? Does community leadership of programs and organizations matter, or can any well-run, scaled organization take over a program and deliver what the community needs, regardless of where the agency is based or who leads it?

I worry – no, actually, I’m devastated - about what I see happening among CRE’s clients. The mindset of scarcity has consumed civil society and constraints in available resources to build that society have contributed to a set of assumptions now held by government and a distinct number of private funders that scale must trump all. It seems no longer to matter that an organization is by the community and for the community – or that the rise of community-driven leaders and institutions represents a significant stage in the process of community development.

In a city of communities – as defined by geography, affiliation, ethnicity and other - community institutions DO matter. If, and when, those institutions become invisible, we will have taken a giant step backwards and begun to undermine our progress in building community self-determination, which has been a bedrock of movement-building since the 1960s.

This moment seems to require new ways of thinking about our institutions and a new willingness to reconfigure them to retain community ownership. Like never before, boards and nonprofit leaders need to think about forging new relationships with similarly-situated partners – combining forces to build and maintain viable community-led organizations that will retain the qualities of and a commitment to community voice, direction, and self-determination. This is hard work that will challenge nonprofit leaders and their fundamental assumptions about defending their organizations. It will require that we shift our paradigm to focus on a goal that’s greater than preserving any single organization, in the interest of assuring the success and sustainability of key organizations that will be institutions capable of making change happen through services and advocacy for the community and by the community.

For more information on how CRE can help your nonprofit to remain sustainable in these tough economic times, please check out our services.

Find us on:  CRE on Twitter CRE on Facebook  

News and Views


Interns Pamela Dicent capacity building Rona Taylor HIV/AIDS services providers Harvard Kennedy School Needs Assessment grantmakers CRE Executive Search internal controls Volunteers Holly Delany Cole executive generative Bill Ryan Data Starved Government Updates Peter Block civic engagement New York Community Trust nonprofit mergers What is Core? leadership government Advocacy tips guest blogger Beth Kobliner Rashid Littlejohn Mark Light Louisa Hackett Ximena Rua-Merkin Coaching handling the unexpected hard times board leadership Albany New York CRE Tips House Party collaborations Maria Mottola mergers announcment Pavitra Menon nonprofit management Nonprofit Tools proposal writing Fran's Corner RFP Barbara Turk Government News Daring to Lead Mohan Sikka publications National and Community Service fundraising NYCCCOC Alliance for Nonprofit Management Valyrie Laedlein Ero Gray Michael Hickey Hurricane Sandy Nonprofit media National Committee of Responsive Philanthropy CRE News case statement Barbara Blumenthal Development Survey accountability Sector Research grantmakers for effective organizations Data Nonprofit Quarterly lower Manhattan jobs Board of Directors Nonprofit News nonprofit start-ups Huffington Post nonprofit leaders I.T. without I.T. record keeping executive transition New York Foundation rockaways foundations nonprofit ownership queens Funding Updates Governance as Leadership HR Without HR nonprofit accountability IT United Way of NYC strategic alliances Philanthropic Collaborative staff Nonprofit Sustainability community board and staff relations Stanford Social Innovation Review postponed event New York Times arts Karen Erdos bookkeeping computers Neighborhood Based Capacity Building Initiative Jeff Ballow Fran Barrett MAC AIDS Fund Useful Links New York City Government cre evaluation Featured Items website, resources, announcements President Obama 30th Anniversary Randall Quan CRE POV NYS Budget Client News Jean Lobell harvard business school