Nonprofit Congress spoke with unified voice

By Shirley Robinson

“Many missions, one voice”, the theme of the National Nonprofit Congress held October 16 and 17 in Washington, D.C., was demonstrated in its formation, deliberations and results.

The nonprofit sector in the U.S. has experienced tremendous expansion in terms of numbers of organizations and the services they provide.

The first-ever Nonprofit Congress was the vision of the National Council of Nonprofit Associations and the D.C. Central Kitchen, and resulted from a growing awareness of the enormous potential of the sector for collective action.

As delegates, our task was to examine the issues identified at the more than 100 “Town Hall Meetings” previously held in communities all across the country, and to identify three top priorities for all nonprofits to embrace.

We gathered in working groups with total strangers but, united by our shared commitment to increasing the effectiveness of nonprofits in carrying out their mission, we were successful in reaching a decision.

We all got to cast our own votes.

The priorities, in order, that the delegates chose were organizational effectiveness, especially accountability and leadership; public awareness and support for nonprofit organizations; and advocacy and grass roots activities.

Delegates then re-grouped to discuss ways to implement the priorities on a national level.

And we finally met as state delegations to hammer out specific action plans.

In a powerful closing session, each state announced to the whole congress one of the action steps it will implement.

These announcements generated a tremendous feeling of energy and excitement: The congress took on some of the flavor of a political convention as the “roll call of states” progressed.

Tharesa Lee of New Bern, speaking for the 10-member North Carolina delegation, announced a bold initiative to involve our state’s nonprofits in a 2007 Nonprofit Awareness Day when nonprofits will come together to help raise awareness of our sector and advocate on behalf of all North Carolina’s nonprofit organizations.

Planning for the event will be lead by the N.C. Center for Nonprofits, the congress delegates and representatives of other North Carolina nonprofits.

No one seeing the Nonprofit Congress in action could doubt the determination of nonprofit organizations to strengthen our collective ability to carry out our many missions.

Nor could they doubt that we will speak with one voice, loudly, to get the resources we need to get the job done.

Shirley Robinson is director of development for the N.C. Rural Economic Development Center in Raleigh.

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