Welcome | Fall 2002

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“Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”        —Matthew 6:21

Usually we feature one topic–this time we have two: in-depth investigations of the nonprofit workforce and philanthropy, in all its variety. Both are central supports to our collective work–two sources of riches–but riches that need to be valued accurately and treated wisely to reap their true potential. Both were generated from our usual editorial development process.

The focus on the nonprofit workplace arose from our commitment to sharing research findings that have immediate relevance and important implications for nonprofit leaders and managers in their daily operations. In this case, we are pleased to present the findings of Paul Light’s recent study of the special characteristics of the nonprofit workforce. Light’s survey of 1,140 randomly selected nonprofit employees, conducted through the Brookings Institution’s Center for Public Service, confirms what we already know in our hearts: that people who work for nonprofits are motivated by the meaning of their work and their passion for purpose and mission, and by a driving commitment to “make a difference” in the world. Powerful stuff. We have celebrated these attributes in our pages before but to have these findings confirmed is gratifying. (See: NPQ “Sector at Work: Identity Under Construction,” July 2001; and “Job or Vocation?” February 2001).

Drawing out the implications of failing to value and develop our extraordinary workforce as an asset is one of our favorite authors on the subject of human resources, Peter Block. He asserts that the values defining our workforce—“ a compelling purpose, high social value and strong personal meaning”—are at odds with those of the culture at-large in American. He counsels the sector to reject the myth-conceptions propagated by the media, pundits and politicians. Suggesting, instead, that we focus on our gifts; that we “pause and reflect on the fact that public service and social service are endeavors existing to affirm the community’s faith in its own goodness and possibilities.”

The qualities of a highly-motivated workforce are made vivid in the experiences of two community-based organizations, Project Hope in Boston and Birmingham Group Health Services in Ansonia, CT. Both organizations provide crucial services to families in crisis–an arena known for a high rate of burnout. However, by consciously creating environments of mutual-support and nurturing, they have not only been able to recruit and retain skilled staff, but reaped added benefits for their missions and programs as well. 

With respect to understanding the motion and dynamics of various funding streams in the current climate, we heard you crying out, “Help us get a grip on what we might be facing as we start our heavy fundraising season!” Recognizing the unique qualities of each resource, we share the results of our annual scan of American philanthropy–venturing some near-term forecasts for this critical arena. Contributions from Kim Klein, Rick Cohen and Kelvin Taketa provide insights into individual givers, corporate philanthropy, and community foundations. In addition, we convened a high-powered panel of experts to comment on trends and challenges likely to influence foundation-based philanthropy.

Cynthia W. Massarsky and Samantha L. Beinhacker revisit the growing trend toward nonprofit entrepreneurship, examining the conditions, considerations and cautions related to launching and managing a business. The authors suggest that, in addition to be aware of market-demand, nonprofit enterprises will flourish or fail on the basis of a combination of “mission-fit,” organizational capacity and individual drive.

Rounding out our feature section, we offer a new management tool developed by Jon Pratt, executive director of the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits–and a contributing editor to NPQ. Pratt’s instrument, “The Reliability-Autonomy Matrix,” is intended to facilitate rigorous assessment of organizational sources of support based on their reliability and the decision-making flexibility available to the organization. We urge readers to share with their boards.

Even with such a rich buffet of entreés, it would be a mistake to overlook our regular departments. As usual, the selections for this section are chosen for their ability to inform, provoke and entertain–no empty calories here.

For example, Ohio University researcher, Judy Miller introduces an important—and little considered issue in nonprofit governance: the proper relationship between the ethical and legal obligations of being a nonprofit—and how this influences a board’s understanding of who “owns” the organization. Her study of 12 nonprofit boards in New York and Connecticut was conducted over a period of months and involved attending board meetings and interviewing board members. According to Miller, most nonprofits in her sample were unable to describe how they walked their talk of accountability. As Miller suggests, “mission-clarity” is essential for sorting between the varied, often conflicting interests and demands of moral ownership and other stakeholders.

David Arons and Gary Bass describe the “Strengthening Nonprofit Advocacy Project” (SNAP), a collaborative initiative designed “to learn the extent of the sector’s participation in the public policy process, and to understand the forces influencing their participation in making public policy.” While noting “86 percent of nonprofits participate in one or more public policy related activities at some point during the year,” they also found that most did so infrequently. The authors remind us that, “public policy touches the lives of every person and every organization, at least indirectly.”

Finally, as we approach the flu season, our technology offering takes up the epidemic of computer viruses that so regularly sweep the Internet. As with most of our investigations into nonprofits and high-tech, the lesson we found was: managing the risks of exposure to all manner of malicious code, time-wasting hoaxes and useless advice, your organization’s most valuable technology asset is still its human-ware.

So, noting that Matthew also wrote, “Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you,” we invite you to partake of our fall issue.