Risk” by Ged Carroll

This feature contains material from “Welcome,” the introduction to the Summer 2017 edition of the Nonprofit Quarterly.

Today, we are announcing a series of articles from the Summer 2017 edition of the Nonprofit Quarterly. This edition centers on the need for nonprofits to evolve from risk management to risk leadership. Starting tomorrow, and over the next six weeks, these articles will be published online, but you can get the whole collection immediately by subscribing to NPQ’s stellar print journal here.

As we write this, of course, the country is in something of an uproar, with the fates of many social programs in question. Will the NEA survive, and if it doesn’t, what effect will that have on the arts in local communities? What is going on with the resettlement of refugees and with funding for refugee agencies? Will the legal stays on the travel ban hold? Will legal services organizations be defunded at the federal level, and what will that mean for people who have had their benefits cut under changes to Medicaid?

It’s all very complicated.

But we see that as all of these threats have materialized, so have active responses to these threats: demonstrations, boycotts, and legal actions have consistently emerged to resist measures that threaten the health, safety, and rights of community members. The responses have ranged from local to state, national, and international. Networks are forming and links are being made across previous boundaries of interest and identity. These responses are the silver lining and pure gold at the heart of the resistance—but to work with the times and make the most advancement in the face of truly massive risk and uncertainty, we must sometimes wander outside of our comfort zones to places where “monsters” lurk. Sometimes, we are needlessly frightened, since oftentimes the best thing to do is invite them in to get to know them. Some may even become our best friends.

For instance, we have to learn to share control in activist networks, discuss sometimes-uncomfortable issues of race and power, and use our personal and institutional voices in different ways. So we must voluntarily invite more than just the immediate risk that is visited on us—we must welcome other disruptive things into the spaces in which we work to break the hold of the preexisting trajectory. An approach to risk that comes primarily from a place of caution is not strategic—it is narrowly limited in its power.

Thus, this edition is built around the notion of risk leadership rather than risk management—because sometimes, if we want our perceptions to change, we must first change our linguistic frameworks. There are reasons why this sector has become in some minds the nonprofit industrial complex. How much of what we do as a sector is done to seek equilibrium for institutions built on shifting sands, and how much is designed to put the interests of constituents first and foremost—now and in the future? It is well past time for a full discussion of how to take on the responsibility of providing risk leadership when huge change is afoot.