Nonprofit Congress promises revolutionary change

By Jen Algire

I have a confession. I’m skeptical of our do-gooder, “if-we-save-one-person-it’s-worth-it” approach to nonprofit management.

There, I said it. I’m out of the closet. Now all my human-services colleagues can point, stare and whisper.

I’m challenging a long-held belief of human-services workers everywhere.  But I believe it is critical that we consider whether the billions we are spending on services to “at-risk” people actually make a difference in our suffering world.

It’s a controversial question. We like to get puffed up with our own heroism. We are social workers. We are determined to care at any cost. But what if the cost is too much?

What if the local for-profit pharmacy down the street spent a million dollars to provide medicine to just one person? Would that make sense?

I am surrounded by human-services and foundation executives who insist that we must “build capacity,” “encourage collaboration,” and “demonstrate community impact” to arrive at the magical day when our success means that our organizations no longer need to exist.

I’m not buying it. We need more than rhetoric. We must bring real change to social policies that create our nation’s cycle of dependence on nonprofit organizations.

Creating revolutionary transformation is what the Nonprofit Congress is all about. The Congress is a first-of-its-kind effort to bring together nonprofit organizations from across the U.S.

Now, more than ever, nonprofits must unite around common values, shared visions and priorities to raise our collective voice for a better society.

The charitable nonprofit sector makes up 1 roughly 5 percent of the U.S. economy. We should wield our immense political power instead of being satisfied with the status quo.

As we push those we serve to embrace change, newly discovered strength and self-determination, so should we.

Robert Egger, founder of DC Central Kitchen and co-founder of the Nonprofit Congress, frames our challenge: “We have to question why we keep doing things we do even when they don’t work. We have to see whether it’s possible to do things better, smarter, faster and cheaper.

“We have to begin not just looking for change, but demanding it. And we have to evaluate honestly and be prepared to let go of people, programs and policies that no longer work, no matter how historic, politically correct or politically connected they may be.”

This Congress will be the first of many such endeavors that challenge us all to think, grow and change the future of our industry.

Gandhi said, “We must be the change we wish to see in the world.”

It is my hope that all of us who attend the Congress and those we represent nationwide will join forces to do just that.

Jen Algire is executive director of Community Health Services in Charlotte, N.C., and a delegate to the Nonprofit Congress that will convene in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 16 and 17.

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