On January 14, 2013, the Human Service Council held its first ever nonprofit summit, Doubling Down: How Recommitting to the Nonprofit Sector can Achieve Real Change in Communities, hosted by the Baruch College School of Public Affairs. The summit brought together leaders from the nonprofit sector, government, philanthropy, media, academia, and other allies and stakeholders from around the country, with the goal of having honest and productive conversations about the future of the nonprofit sector. In all, the more than 170 attendees were able to take part in six separate panel discussions, as well as a keynote address by Robert Egger, founder and president of the DC Central Kitchen and CForward.
The day began with welcoming statements from Michael Stoller, Executive Director of HSC, Joel Copperman, Executive Director of CASES and HSC Board Chair, and David S. Birdsell, Dean of the Baruch College School of Public Affairs. This was followed by a plenary session, Public Perception: How Myths Undermine the Ability to Serve, which focused on the often inaccurate perception of nonprofits within the media, government, and even by nonprofits themselves.
The second half of the morning was divided between two panel discussions, Why We Don’t Win: Changing the Mindset of Nonprofit Advocacy and It’s Complicated: the Tenuous Relationship between Nonprofits and Government, both of which centered on the unique issues that nonprofits face when interacting with government and politics. Why We Don’t Win focused on the specific challenges that nonprofits face with advocacy, discussed innovative forms of advocacy in the current political landscape, and debated the attitudes of the nonprofit sector towards advocacy. It’s Complicated discussed the difficult relationships between government contracts, philanthropy, and human service providers. Panelists discussed possibilities for change in the funding system for nonprofits, the need for greater communication and innovation from both government and the human services sector, and ways to ensure quality services for clients.
To start the afternoon, the keynote address was given by Robert Egger, the founder and president of the DC Central Kitchen, the country’s first “community kitchen” and CForward, an advocacy organization that educates political candidates about the economic role of nonprofits and supports those who show a commitment to the nonprofit sector. Mr. Egger gave a rousing speech, highlighting the vital role of nonprofits in our local, state, and national economies and the importance of political advocacy from the nonprofit sector.
The afternoon continued with two more panel discussions, The Last Straw: How Current Funding Practices Are Breaking the Backs of Nonprofits and Total Impact: How and If Outcome Measurements Matter. In The Last Straw, panelists discussed the financial state of the sector post-economic crisis, the current funding practices of philanthropies, nonprofits, and government, and potential solutions for nonprofits to achieve financial stability and sustainability. Total Impact focused on the effect of outcome measurements on nonprofits. Topics covered in this section included how to fund performance measurements, best practices, what to measure, and whether different funding sources are interested in measuring the same things. The summit ended with a closing session, Critical Responders: Analyzing the Sector’s Role in Disaster Coordination, which discussed nonprofits’ role during disasters, such as Hurricane Sandy, and how to prepare and organize the sector for future occurrences.
Doubling Down was a huge success, with many thanks to our sponsors, Baruch College and the New York Nonprofit Press, HSC staff and members, and all the speakers, moderators, and panelists who sparked great conversations throughout the day. This Summit, however, was a starting point, a way to get the ball rolling to move us closer to making real change in the lives of nonprofit employees, organizations, and most importantly, those we serve. As we look towards the future, here are some of the key themes from throughout the Summit:
- The need for a more politically active nonprofit, human services sector
- The importance of taking risks in our approaches to social problems and encouraging innovation
- Re-envisioning our approach to government contracting and philanthropic grantmaking
- Developing a unified and consistent message for the sector aimed at improving public understanding and recognition of its role in the economy
With these ideas in mind, the nonprofit sector can move forward and start making real change in the communities we serve. For a complete description of the event visit our website and for photos check out our Facebook page. HSC would like to thank our sponsors, the Blue Ridge Foundation New York, The Clark Foundation, IBM, Mutual of America, the New York City Council, the New York Community Trust, UJA-Federation, United Way of New York City, and our members, without which this event would not have been possible.
Contributed by Cory Mills-Dick of the Human Services Council.