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Nonprofits need a seat at the governing table

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Covid nonprofits 09222020

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As leaders of two nonprofits — one national, the other local — we work in a range of communities and provide a variety of essential services. When Americans need support or seek to create community, nonprofits are trusted and dependable sources of help and partnership. This never has been more apparent than during the COVID-19 pandemic, when the nonprofit sector rose to meet this unprecedented international emergency. Families experiencing hunger, individuals facing eviction, and communities in crisis found some of the help they needed from nonprofits in their communities.

Nonprofits are the third-largest sector of the U.S. workforce and a vital portion of the economy motivated by service to people and impact, rather than financial profit. Examples of this support are endless. March of Dimes supported over 50,000 NICU families and has offered implicit bias training to more than 35,000 health care providers in more than 30 states and Washington, D.C. since 2020. Children’s Aid served nearly 50,000 children and families with education, social-emotional, and health supports, and distributed more than 230,000 food packages to families in New York City since the onset of the pandemic.

Now, with COVID infections continuing to sweep through the U.S. and no additional funding in sight to meet people’s needs, organizations such as ours are responding to help people once again. Local, state and federal governments often lean on us during times of crisis. Despite the sector’s size and demonstrated ability to improve lives and create healthier communities, nonprofits are sometimes an afterthought in the policymaking process, and this lag hurts the ability of organizations to deliver help to people.

This is why we heartily applaud Reps. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.) and Fred Upton (R-Mich.) for proposing the Nonprofit Sector Strength and Partnership Act of 2022 (H.R. 7587). This legislation would establish long-lasting structures and policies to tap the knowledge, trust and reach of nonprofits so we can make meaningful progress and ultimately increase our impact in the communities we serve because our voices will be heard more quickly.

This legislation will enable nonprofits to help shape policy that reflects a deeper understanding of community needs, which the public overwhelmingly supports. According to polling conducted by TargetPoint, 72 percent of Americans — with support spanning all income groups, political parties, and ages — agreed the government could better solve challenges facing local communities if charities and nonprofits were officially represented in the federal government.

Included in the bill is a proposed White House Office on Nonprofit Sector Partnership and an Interagency Council for the sector. These entities would open the door to better coordination with the federal government to help people and our nation’s diverse communities succeed. Much like the Small Business Administration, which was established in 1953 as a mechanism to improve the health of small businesses and grow the U.S. economy, this office could help nonprofits to fulfill their missions and help build healthier communities.

The legislation encourages accountability and transparency by setting up clear contact between legislators and nonprofit leaders — and the tens of millions of people they represent — to develop policy that is proactive and reactive but needed to strengthen communities. This is relevant as we continue to face challenges from the pandemic, natural disasters, economic disruption, racial inequity and diminishing trust in institutions.

The legislation also would improve the collection and reporting of nonprofit workforce data. As it stands, our nation’s workforce data systems are failing policymakers, nonprofits and the people who rely on them. Real-time, accurate information about the state of the sector’s workforce would allow policymakers to more effectively designate resources where they are most needed and to minimize barriers that result in reduced services.

Throughout the pandemic, nonprofits demonstrated how they are natural allies to the government by meeting urgent needs. First Tech Fund distributed laptops and WiFi hotspots to address the tech gap for students in need. In Denver, Kavod Senior Life housed hundreds of seniors, delivered more than 130,000 contactless meals, and hosted vaccination clinics. In D.C., foundations and individual donors distributed over $1 million in grants to support predominantly people of color-led arts organizations to sustain their work through COVID. 

Unfortunately, this partnership with the federal government is often sporadic and inefficient. The Nonprofit Sector Strength and Partnership Act of 2022 would help amplify the essential support of organizations such as March of Dimes, Children’s Aid, and thousands of other nonprofits to create targeted, sustainable change.

It’s time we had a seat at the table with the government — alongside the private sector — to share our valuable insights and help improve the lives of families and the health of communities, especially in times of need.

Stacey D. Stewart is president and CEO of March of Dimes. Phoebe Boyer is president and CEO of New York City-based Children’s Aid. Both serve on Independent Sector’s board of directors.

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