One of my most powerful role models for the past few decades is a beloved friend who, from her perch as executive director of a small community agency in Boston, has had a profound influence both on funding and on housing, homelessness and income policies over many years. Even better, her advocacy positions are consistently developed and pursued in concert with many low-income women who have lived the results of badly conceived public policies.
So, does her agency suffer as a result of her outspoken activism? On the contrary, it's widely recognized as one of the better-conceived and run organizations in the city. But what makes it unique is its ability to, in coalition with others, have influence on the financial and political environment in which it operates.
Influencing — sometimes drafting — and pursuing policy has to be part of what we do as leaders in the nonprofit sector; we ignore this role at considerable risk to our organizations and, more importantly, to the detriment of our communities and to the people we represent and serve. Anyone who has ever led an organization knows that our capacity and effectiveness do not depend solely upon internal factors but are always determined in part by external political and financial forces.
The business community certainly knows and acts on this. Do we want to have any less of an influence?
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So, talk about timing! I'm sure you've been following the current debate on Capitol Hill over various tax and economic stimulus proposals. The enclosed article by Gar Alperovitz speaks to the centrality of tax policy to the domestic agenda. Among other things, he points to the decades-long trend toward decreasing the tax rate for the very wealthy. Notably, the income disparity between the top five percent and the rest of us has grown dramatically during the same period.
At NPQ, we are not concerned with which party might ultimately champion much-needed policies for sharing this nation's wealth more equitably; rather, our interest is in seeing that proposals for a just national economic policy are indeed developed and that they are pursued from the grassroots up with courage, conviction and a thorough understanding of what is really needed to sustain healthy families and communities. By our estimation, this means nonprofits will have to get involved and take the lead.
We hope that Alperovitz's article provides you with hope, energy and the irresistible urge to join or form broad coalitions at both the local and national levels. At the same time, you and your board can lobby elected officials; you can take out position ads in the paper; and you can engage in efforts to educate the public. Whatever you do, though, don't sit this one out!