Wednesday, January 14, 2009

An Argument for Funding Advocacy...and Infrastructure

In the shameless self-promotion department, I have an article in the latest issue of the Nonprofit Quarterly that attempts to lay out a case for why funders should invest in advocacy. I know, I know, how many times do we have to make this argument? Happily, it appears that some funders are (finally) getting it that advocacy isn't only an investment that promises to reap longer-term benefits but that it's part and parcel of high-performing and effective organizations.

But you should pick up the latest issue of the Quarterly for another -- more important -- reason. It contains a series of thoughtful pieces about where the nonprofit sector infrastructure is right now, what it looks like, why it's important, and where it's headed. It also includes a comprehensive (and nifty!) map of the nonprofit sector infrastructure and an analysis of infrastructure funding over the years.

The issue is an update of one that was originally published in 2004 to call attention to and make a case for the nonprofit infrastructure organizations that serve as the backbone of the entire sector nationwide. It was also the product of an unprecedented collaboration among leading infrastructure organizations and the foundations that supported them. The issue was distributed to more than 25,000 funders and endorsed by 12 leading foundations.

The lead essay was written by Ruth McCambridge, editor, and myself, "Why Every Foundation Should Fund Infrastructure" (PDF version here). Interestingly, much of what was in that piece is still relevant today, which doesn't bode well for those committed to ramping up more investments in this area. That raises the question of how many panel discussions and seminars are we going to have to continue to do until funders finally understand the importance of capacity building and infrastructure development? What will it take? I sure don't know but hope that, eventually, we'll get there.

In any case, for those of you who are interested in the intersection between nonprofits and democracy and/or in the nonprofit sector infrastructure, you should pick up the issue.

1 comment:

  1. It's a great piece. I think one of your most important points is that we can't have sustainable reform without public engagement and support. I think about this a lot in connection with the DC Public Schools, where my wife taught and my kid was enrolled until we moved recently. There are serious managerial problems in that system. It makes a certain amount of sense to bring in management consultants and a technocratic reformer like Michelle Rhee. I wish her well for the sake of the kids in the system. But the DC schools have been badly mismanaged for more than 40 years--going back well before the civil rights era and home rule. Low expectations, waste, and poor performance are deeply ingrained. I think that Rhee's strategy can, at best, deliver a helpful jolt to the system. Only public engagement can actually solve the problem in a sustainable way. Yet the mainstream discourse in foundations is all about Rhee-style management reforms; public engagement is largely overlooked.