This special edition of the Nonprofit Quarterly goes to press at a historic turning point. The United States has just elected its first African-American president, and the nation’s economy is in a tailspin that no one can yet see the bottom of. As Margaret Wheatley notes later in the issue, we are dancing with uncertainty, but at least the nonprofit sector is on its feet (see page 44). And in that dance, we look forward to the potential of profound changes to our social and economic compacts.
At such a moment of crisis and opportunity, our networks are most critical. Teaching the skills of advocacy and management, establishing a powerful collective voice, relaying timely and important information, tracking important trends in policy and funding—these are the tasks of an effective infrastructure for individual nonprofits—along with recruiting and deploying volunteers, developing and brokering loan funds for cash flow, and providing back-office services for organizations that want to focus more on program than on administration.
These functions, of course, must be dynamic and responsive to the real world that nonprofits inhabit every day, which at this moment is on the brink. For most nonprofits in the near future, there will certainly be less money and more need. Communities will need to remain active, and nonprofits will be the venue for much of that activity. How will we manage this? Can we find ways to amplify the values and voices of constituents so that the future we work toward is healthy and hopeful for our children and grandchildren, even seven generations out?
This is a time that calls for us to be open to new methods and forms of work that take us beyond the confines of our own institutional interests. We need to build new agreements between people and business and government, to explore the possibilities of this moment of radical change. To do so, we need to learn from and join with one another; this is what the U.S. nonprofit infrastructure exists to aid. Whether you are a philanthropist or a nonprofit, know where your infrastructure is and get involved with it, because that is the only way it can be as wise as it needs to be to face the future.
Four foundations supported this special edition and the study it was based on: the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, the Kresge Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Annie E. Casey Foundation. We thank them for their support.