December 8, 2016; NonProfit Times

Yesterday, Dan Cardinali, the CEO of Independent Sector, one of the oldest organizations in the nonprofit infrastructure, sent a letter to its stakeholders announcing a 25 percent downsizing of its workforce, reportedly involving 11 out of 45 staff members. This comes less than a month after its “New Frontiers” annual conference in Washington, D.C.

Cardinali’s letter described a change in Independent Sector’s position that recognizes some of the other significant organizational actors around it.

Today, Independent Sector announced a reduction in force that was personally and professionally painful but absolutely necessary for moving our organization forward.

Our board has recognized that we are living through a moment of adaptive change, and that often means that difficult decisions need to be made. Independent Sector needs to build a community, not an institution.

We need to enable the experts, not always be the experts. We need to be more strategic and less structural. We need to connect and catalyze, listen, and learn. And, like all organizations, we need to be good stewards of our resources.

Our strategy has a clear destination, but getting there will require an organization that is more responsive and adaptive. By making difficult choices now, we gain the flexibility to pursue new opportunities that will be, we believe, important to the sector we serve.

IS predicts that for 2016 it will have a deficit of $1.8 million on revenues of about $7.7 million. The new strategic plan is designed to position the organization to meet three identified key domestic and international nonprofit challenges: globalization, technology, and damage to the environment.

Cardinali, who became Independent Sector’s CEO less than a year ago after longtime CEO Diana Aviv left to head Feeding America, indicates that IS needs to reposition itself so that it isn’t duplicating the services and initiatives of other organizations, including the Philanthropy Roundtable, the National Council of Nonprofits, and the Council on Foundations (whose own budget has shrunk by one-third since 2007, according to Form 990 filings).

The surprise announcement leaves many questions unanswered, but appears to follow a pattern set by a similar reduction the Council on Foundations enacted in 2012. When they shed 19 staff, we wrote:

It is by no means unusual for a new executive to come into an organization and do a sweep of staff and it appears that the new head of the Council on Foundations (COF) has done just that, eliminating 19 positions just within the past few months. But Vickie Spruill, the Council’s new president, says that this is not a cost-cutting measure but part of a larger redesign that is more member- and network-focused. The Council on Foundations is the “trade association” for foundations primarily in the U.S. For some time, the relatively well-funded COF has been losing members and staff and, without a radical shift, it may be heading toward unviable oblivion.

Spruill tells the Chronicle of Philanthropy that the new organization will be less hierarchical and it will work very differently: “It’s a different business model, and we need different skills and competencies to support a new business model.”

We wish Independent Sector the best in its new direction.—Michael Wyland