Community is what defines us, in so many ways. We are shaped, inspired, challenged, and even celebrated through out connection to community. But too often this shaping requires a little adjustment, some “re-shaping.” Like Herman Melville explained, “We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men.” I believe it is time of a little fiber-tuning.
What makes our community thrive? There are as many answers to this, but for me they come down to a few buckets: Education, the Arts, Spiritualism, Environment, and Innovation. And for my duckets, the nonprofit sector is where these buckets are filled with ideas, impact, and inspiration.
Yet at the same time, most nonprofits are regulated to the sidelines when it comes to shaping policies of a community – the actual laws and governance that makes up the system of a community’s thriving or growth. This, therefore to me, means that what defines US??? Well it isn’t made up completely of the right fibers. Namely those fibers that bring a community’s IMPACT to light. Nonprofits.
I feel it is time for nonprofits to stand together and build their collective voice as this Keeper of the Community.
This isn’t a progressive thing or a conservative thing. This is “hippie talk” or social engineering. This is what we all know, truthfully, in our hearts. Forget “It Takes a Village” and think more about you. Your own life. Family, friends, institutions… all brought you influence, assets, challenges, and support. Now take them away. You – as well as I – would be very different people. It isn’t a political thing. It’s a HUMAN thing. We are shaped by our community, and we need to get these fibers a-tunin’ again.
And what is especially nutty about this is that we KNOW this to be true. There really isn’t dispute over it. Political conversations have turned into Monday Night Football as Democrats taking on the Republicans, when what we should be seeing isn’t the “battle” on the field… but the make up and conversations in the STANDS. That’s where the oohy-gooey good stuff happens. THAT is where you find community.
So if we recognize that a community is based upon the work of those who protect and foster our buckets of definitions of strong community; while at the same time we see that the current political landscape keeps us collectively misdirected in the “game” versus what is need to bring policies to bear on a community’s growth. Then why don’t we reset this!?
Simply put: fear and leadership.
The nonprofit sector, of which I proudly count myself, is at a moment needing clarity and bold action. Too long is was felt like the adults needed to handle policy, and the nonprofits should be satisfied being sat at the kid’s table. We are good to be “charity” but not welcome to be considered “policy assets” or “influential idea-makers” – that was the realm of the elected politician.
But who is THAT?
Our elections – and especially our crazy Electoral College system – stymies true democracy or event representational democracy (to which we actually are)… the game is rigged on so many levels based upon wealth and political “influence”… but if you really think about it….
Who has more influence than those who shape the community’s fibers? Who cherishes innovation, inspired creativity, support direct services, enriches community? Nonprofits do. And not at the expense of big business or other industry… but as a COLLABORATOR with those other sectors. We’re the guy at the table who’s holding a two Tens, but is thinking of splitting them instead of holding with Twenty. it’s not an automatic win, but it’s a great hand.. we just don’t know it, or have been told it is a great hand.
It’s time to double down on our sector. Here’s how:
1. Get involved in local politics. Who’s running for office? What is their feelings on nonprofits and connecting policy to nonprofit work in a community? Can’t find an answer? ASK. Don’t get an answer? ASK AGAIN. Statistics tell us that nonprofits make up 10% of the American Economy and over 10% of the private employment in the country. A smart politicians or strategist will see the value in getting support from his./her local nonprofit community, and believe me, the rhetoric will changed amazingly once that math is revealed.
2. Forget Marching ON City Hall, March INTO City Hall. My rule is: If you are marching to city hall to fight for cuts to a budget or law/ordinance passed, then you have missed the meal already and as battling for those little cocktail wieners and a half-empty punch bowl with the fruit ring still in it. The nonprofit strength should not be in getting back to zero (if you started with X in the budget; it is cut to Y; you rally to City Hall and then do to “public influence” it is brought back to X… well you see what you “achieved” right? Not much.) We need to be at the party while it’s happening. Avail yourself and your leadership as just that… leaders. Leaders to the issues you are passionate about, what you are mission-driven by. Politicals look to value-added guests as much as deep pocket ones… get in with your brain, not your ability to raise pitchforks and matching “save our budget” t-shirts.
3. Make Policy Check in as Normal as “Staff Meeting.” It doesn’t mean you turn into a policy advocacy organization, but information is key. Too late and it is too late to do anything. You need to stay on what is happening as if it was a program of your organization. Schoolhouse Rock was right, “Knowledge is Power.”
I look at this like a musician would a piece of music being written. I like the melody, but I think it’s just in the wrong key. Let’s move it up or down the scale into we find a please sound. Sooner, more than later, our nonprofit sector will find that right key, tune up those fibers… and get a rockin’ on rebuilding our community with impact and A Whole Lotta Love.