Welcome to the Nonprofit Quarterly’s first “Best of the Quarterly” issue. This marks NPQ’s sixth anniversary and such a retrospective is well past due. Thanks to our contributors, the NPQ has published some classics that stand the test of time in terms of their usefulness, and which provide a unique new perspective on issues that are critical to you, our readers.
We received many more multiple nominations for this issue than we had space to publish. We took some editorial license to provide a range of topics from among those pieces nominated.
Our readers told us, in an online survey, which articles they considered “classics.” We predicted some choices—Clara Miller’s articles about the unique issues of nonprofit financial structures are a perfect combination of grounded and insightful writing supported with scads of nonprofit experience—but some of your choices were surprises.
My personal favorite among these was John Dovidio and Samuel Gaertner’s article on modern racism among people who consider themselves to be of good will. “Color Blind or Just Plain Blind” originally appeared in the Summer 2002 issue on race and power. It is a fascinating research-based look at how people with liberal politics tend to do racism and, in my opinion, a must-read. That issue contained other important articles that went beyond personal behavior to organizational and system-wide concerns and their potential responses. When a particular issue comes together really well we talk about it as “having legs” because we will hear, as we did the other day from a major national funder about the race and power issue, that it is still in use three and a half years later to inform the ongoing practice of the the original subscriber and her colleagues.
Other “leggy” articles include Deb Linnell’s “Founders and Other Gods,” Jon Pratt’s “Analyzing the Dynamics of Funding: Reliability and Autonomy,” and Erline Belton’s “The Organizational Importance of Honesty.” Linnell’s was one of our most gratefully received articles. Founders and those who love/hate them all wrote to express thanks for its mix of compassion and practical advice.
“Analyzing the Dynamics of Funding” has grown into a training tool that enables nonprofits to examine their tolerance for dependency versus their appetite for agility in relationship to funding.
Erline Belton’s article on the importance of personal and organizational honesty has been used in many settings to spark and inform conversations. At the time of publication, a national survey indicated that 93 percent of respondents reported lying at work. No surprise, perhaps, but the wages of embedded habits of dishonesty can be great for the organization, its members and its constituents.
There are some topics on which NPQ has tried to maintain a special focus. One of these is governance and another is accountability. You nominated many of our favorites among these. Gus Newport combines these two topics in his well-circulated article about the power of a directly accountable governance system in a community building setting. “Why are we Replacing the Furniture When Half the Neighborhood is Missing?” ran in the Fall 2003 issue on governance.
Judy Millesen’s “Who ‘Owns’ Your Nonprofit” also addresses governance and accountability together, asserting that there is a traceable ownership structure in nonprofits but that our awareness of it is often submerged, unseen on a conscious level and therefore not easily changed for the better.
“Problem Boards or Board Problems” by Bill Ryan, Richard Chait, and Barbara Taylor looks at why board challenges are so omnipresent. Is the problem that boards malfunction or is it simply that they exist at all in their current form? Are we asking the right questions to get to better governance?
Are nonprofits answerable and to whom? This is the question that is taken on in “Is Accountability the Same as Regulation?” In it NPQ editor in chief Ruth McCambridge asserts that we may be missing the most important components of accountability at the same time that we are regulated at multiple levels. This conundrum is not specific to nonprofits but the article suggests how to make your organization significantly more powerful through focusing on the best interests of those the organization was designed to benefit.
Paul Light’s article “The Content of their Character” (Fall 2002) garnered the most votes—and we decided not to print it because the statistics it cites were gathered in 2002, rendering it dated. Instead we substituted a more recent article by Light (also nominated) on nonprofit lifecycles.
The other substitution we made was an article by Pablo Eisenberg; in this case we just liked his as yet unpublished “Nonprofit Conspiracy of Silence” so much, and thought it so timely, that took the place of “Citizen Engagement: the Nonprofit Challenge” (Winter 2004). In ”Conspiracy,” he challenges the sector to speak up when another nonprofit acts unethically. The deafening silence the sector observes when public trust is abrogated by one of our peers does not inspire confidence in our ability to self regulate. Sometimes this goes to ridiculous extremes as with the relative lack of comment on congressional lobbyist Jack Abramoff’s foray into “charity.” Rick Cohen, of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, comments on Abramoff’s strategic grantmaking to such things as a sniper school in Israel on our Web site at www.nonprofitquarterly.org/section
/786.html. Cohen is a peerless author who always has immediate currency, so we are pleased to present you with his latest.
Finally, many of you know that NPQ has a systems approach to nonprofit life. It is clear that our capacity and effectiveness as individual organizations are deeply affected, for good or bad, by the focus, knowledge, skill and influence of the larger fields of endeavor of which we are a part. So don’t let the title fool or dissuade you, “Building Sustainable Communities through Social Network Development” (Spring 2004) is a jewel on how to build effective networks of organizations working on a common cause, how networks work and how they develop over time.
Again, we thank those who participated in selecting the content for this special issue. Many wonderful articles have been included, but there are more than twice that number we consider worthy. This is testament to the high-quality authorship the Nonprofit Quarterly enjoys.