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New nonprofit leader should ramp up quickly

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Rick Cohen

Rick Cohen

Rick Cohen

In hiring Tim Delaney as its new president and CEO, the National Council of Nonprofit Associations got a quality guy to run the organization at a pivotal moment in its history — and in the trajectory of the U.S. nonprofit sector.

But he’s going to have to ramp up quickly to generate an agenda that taps NCNA’s huge potential influence on a range of issues, including:

* State policy

No offense to the Nonprofit Congress’s much-publicized tailing presidential candidates to get them to say nice things about nonprofits, but much of the game in nonprofit
policy right now is being fought on the state level.

Just ask the Minnesota nonprofits watching that state’s property tax exemption case, or try New York State’s nonprofits monitoring the state attorney general’s item-by-item review of municipal and state earmarks for nonprofits.

That means that Delaney’s NCNA is going to have to bolster its state associations to play bigger roles than ever at the state level –and use that information to inform
national nonprofit policy issues.

* Federal policy

Although NCNA’s Nonprofit Congress established as its top policy priority a pitch for $25 million in national nonprofit capacity-building funds, at the Senate Finance Committee and House Ways and Means Committee, legislators are dubious about the “nonprofitness” of some huge 501(c)3 hospitals and universities.

Most of the members of NCNA’s state associations bear little resemblance to Harvard or Duke.

How much does NCNA achieve going to bat for the big guys?  How much does NCNA — or the nonprofit sector — lose by not going to bat for them?  Or should NCNA become an advocacy voice challenging the not-so-nonprofits to remember the meaning of their 501(c)3 tax exemptions?

* Small(er) nonprofits

The overwhelming feel of the Nonprofit Congress was that it speaks for — or at least is primarily concerned about — the needs of smaller nonprofits that may not be particularly well-represented or influential in other national nonprofit and foundation trade associations.

But what is it that small(er) nonprofits need that NCNA should be promoting?

Maybe NCNA should aggressively push funders for general operating support. Maybe NCNA should aggressively monitor and stand up for smaller nonprofits to get a fair
— or at least fairer — shake in government contracting.

Often, the bigger nonprofits invoke the mantle of care and concern for smaller, community-based groups, but it doesn’t translate enough into dollars into small nonprofit budgets. NCNA could be their champion.

* Racial/ethnic equity.

State and federal legislators have begun to question why so much of the more than $300 billion in charitable giving doesn’t seem to be reaching lower-income people or
sometimes communities of color.

This has sparked questions in the California Assembly and the U.S. Congress.

As a national body with deeper connections to community-based nonprofits than most other national trade associations, NCNA could lead the charge to direct more tax-exempt moneys to reach disadvantaged and disenfranchised populations.

* Advocacy

Coming from Arizona, Delaney knows the federal question is more than getting pols to mouth, “I (heart) nonprofits”.

It is advocacy for socially progressive policies that benefit people in need, particularly in an unannounced but obvious burgeoning national recession.

That means getting nonprofits to engage in public-policy advocacy, lots of it, but advocacy informed by and responsive to the constituencies they represent, stimulating the civic engagement of citizens themselves.

Check out Tim Delaney’s credentials. He seems well suited for the challenge.


Rick Cohen is national correspondent for The Nonprofit Quarterly.

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