Welcome to the Winter 2007 issue of the Nonprofit Quarterly, “Transcending the Organization.” In this edition you will find articles proposing that sustainable nonprofit organizations as we now understand them are not the goal of our work, nor are they always even the most effective vehicles for achieving our missions. Sometimes, in fact, organizations—and our assumptions about their centrality and structural requirements—distract us from the work we must do to keep our democracy and our communities healthy and vibrant.
This may be particularly true in the last ten to fifteen years when so much of the conversation we have with our funders focuses on organizational rather than transformational capacities. Of course these two characteristics should be linked—but sometimes they do not seem to be. Sometimes, not following a strategic plan frees us to recognize what’s in front of us. Sometimes not focusing on the health of our boards, as we now see them, allows us to engage with our constituents and other stakeholders in a more powerful way.
In short, some of the assumptions that we have and that are reinforced by everyone—from institutional funders to consultants to our colleagues in the trenches—are just plain wrong for our work and our times. This issue of the Nonprofit Quarterly presents a set of articles that promise to help transcend our obsession with the nonprofit organization and to refocus on the situations in which substantive change with real consequence can occur.
To start, we are proud to offer what we expect to be a new classic on governance. In “Reframing Governance,” David Renz proposes that the core components of the governance of most nonprofits—decisions from which other smaller decisions emanate—have long ago moved out of the purview of the boards of directors of individual organizations, and now function more at meta levels around us. When this meta level of governance is recognized and acted upon, it renders organizations more powerful in determining their own destinies as well as those of colleague organizations.
Also in this issue you will find an article based on the experience of a small but powerful immigrant rights organization that recognized that it was powerless in the face of macro changes unless it pursued policy work based directly on the engagement of its constituency, while changing its governance to address the larger context it which operated. This new board form is supported by articles by William Schambra and Cynthia Gibson, both of whom discuss constituent-centered practices as core to the power and relevance of nonprofits of all stripes.
You’ll find other articles in this issue on accountability and governance and something that even we would finally consider to be a new brand of philanthropy. We offer them to you, our treasured readers as a holiday gift and, as always, we invite your comments and protestations.