New Frontiers: 2016 Independent Sector Annual Conference

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Washington DC is the site for New Frontiers, the 2016 Independent Sector Annual Conference and Public Policy Action Institute, taking place  November 15-18. The Conference comes at a pivotal time for the nonprofit sector and our nation, rigidly divided on so many issues and characterized in many ways by a disengaged and disenchanted citizenry. The opening reception will be held at the Smithsonian’s brand new National Museum of African American History and Culture.

The Independent Sector Conference is the meeting ground for leaders and changemakers looking to drive momentum for the charitable community, set the sector’s agenda for the coming year, and collaborate on strategies for success.

 

We’ll take our messages to Capitol Hill, learn from insiders about how we can connect with the new administration, and collaborate to revitalize the ideals of democratic engagement in service of the common good.

Public Policy Action Institute (pre-conference)

Whether you’re a policy novice or an expert, the Public Policy Action Institute gives charitable sector leaders, policy advocates, and communications specialists effective strategies for getting your mission and message front and center with policymakers. And new this year, we’ll take our messages directly to the Capitol for Independent Sector Hill Day. You’ll meet face-to-face with policymakers about the issues most important to your work.

Making our Voices Heard in an Election Year and Beyond

  • “America is great because America is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.” – Alexis de Tocqueville
  • “The independent sector is our best line of defense for vulnerable populations. … Advocacy is not a luxury; it’s essential.” – Tom Sheridan
  • America doesn’t believe government is working for them but overwhelmingly believe in the nonprofit sector. See The Power of Nonprofit Advocacy: Best Lobbying Resource
  • 85% of young voters believe fed gov’t should be doing more to engage charitable sector to help address economic & social challenges. United For Charity (p. 8)
  • Report Shows Foundation Funding of #Advocacy Produces a Return on Investment of $115 to $1. NCRP
  • We don’t change without some level of disruption and revolution. Allow and don’t suppress millennial activism. Focus on engagement and empowerment of millennials.
  • To leverage engagement with elected officials, some charities (like Save the Children) have formed an affiliated 501(c)(4) organization that can lobby without limitation and endorse and/or oppose political candidates. The 501(c)(4) allows you to “thank and spank;” it’s the hammer to hold elected officials accountable.
  • Use the arts to further your message and engagement with elected officials.
  • Data is important (particularly for federal grants – see the Commission on Evidenced-Based Policy Making) but it’s expensive, can be skewed, and campaigns have been shown to win without good data. Sheridan advised organizations to “spend just enough on data to get you where you need to go.” He added that organizations should do (1) message-focused research to ensure they are avoiding the common trap of simply preaching to the choir and (2) impact-focused research to ensure they are satisfying donors and funders. Of course, impact-related data is important to inform nonprofits and their boards about their activities and decision-making.

Positioning our Tax Policy Soapbox for 2017

Continuing the Public Policy Legacy of John Gardner

  • “We can’t write off the danger of complacency, growing rigidity, imprisonment by our own comfortable habits and opinions.” – John Gardner, Personal Renewal
  • “You have within you more resources of energy than have ever been tapped, more talent than has ever been exploited, more strength than has ever been tested, more to give than you have ever given.” – Gardner – appropriate on an organizational and national level too

Sway the Other Branches of Government

Effectively Communicating with Congress: How to Develop and Implement an Effective Communications and Advocacy Strategy

  • Consider allies and opponents resulting from your advocacy and how that may play out in the future
  • Review levels of engagement mapped against audiences – see Evaluating Public Policy Advocacy (Framework for Policy & Advocacy Outcomes)
  • Communications: modern storytelling with peer voices (e.g., Humans of New York); humor; real-time; value-based; best practices (curating content, inviting others to conversation)
  • Jab-jab-jab-right hook – only every fourth piece should be an “ask”
  • “If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.” Keep messaging (use social media but don’t let it be stagnant).
  • “We in America do not have government by the majority. We have government by the majority who participate.” – Thomas Jefferson
  • Congressional offices are using social media to help gauge public opinion but district services still #1
  • How many similar comments on a social media post would be enough for your office to pay attention to? 80% of Congressional staff say less than 30. But you have to respond to them in 24-48 hours tops.

2020 Census

  • Census is connected to when redistricting [gerrymandering] gets done.
  • Policy decisions will matter. Immigration status could be added, which would result in significant reporting issues with many in fear of sharing information with the government.
  • Get-out-the-count will matter. Note that in the 2010 Census over 10% of Blacks and Latinos were missed in certain urban areas because of undercounting, particularly of children under 5.
  • Check out Annie B. Casey Foundation’s Kids Count Data Center

New Frontiers – Independent Sector Annual Conference

The Great Shared Task (Opening Plenary)

Christylez Bacon, Grammy-nominated hip hop music artist, opened the plenary with It’s the Beatbox. Immediately after, a panel reacted to the recent Presidential election.

  • Media may be the most effective check against the President; the First Amendment is first for a reason.
  • How do we discuss race and sexism in ways that aren’t so divisive? How can we listen to racists without getting angry at them? We should be angry.
  • Americans have deliberately chosen to blow up the system and elect a leadership in which anything is possible. But power is not permanent. – Michael Steel
  • Charitable organizations provide a voice for marginalized groups. The sector has a collective responsibility to influence policymakers.
  • Must work like hell to make sure we make good decisions on the state level. – Ellen Alberding
  • Private foundations should be much more aggressive on the advocacy front on the issues they care about. Many private foundations do not take the opportunity to fund advocacy.
  • What people care about are big issues, not your institution. Charities of all sizes and types must have a policy strategy, lock arms, and go after the big issues (including tax policy). – Brian Gallagher
  • Anti-establishment sentiment has already colored how people think about foundations and charities. – Gallagher

Live From IS: Where Nonprofits Fit After ‘Primal Scream’ – The NonProfit Times

Frame-Breaking Ideas for 21st Century Fundraising

  • Jeanne Bell (CompassPoint) shared with the audience the following publications:
    • Underdeveloped – nonprofits struggling with high turnover & long vacancies in development director post – results in vicious cycle –
    • Fundraising Bright Spots – 1. Fundraising is core to the organization’s identity; 2. Fundraising is distributed broadly across staff, board, and volunteers; 3. Fundraising succeeds because of authentic relationships with donors built on strong, trusting relationships among staff, board, and volunteers; 4. Fundraising is characterized by a systematic approach to donor engagement and continuous improvement
  • Discussion Issue: What is most challenging about engaging the broader staff in fundraising at your organization? Groups quickly moved to looking at solutions, including focusing on understanding charitable motivations of staff and framing it also as leadership training.
  • Anne Wallested (BoardSource) noted our unhealthy obsession with cost of fundraising and introduced a new way of measuring fundraising effectiveness with a preliminary draft paper:

1. Are we raising enough money to fund our mission now and in the future? (Total Fundraising Net)

2. To what extent are we dependent on a small number of large-scale donations? (Dependency Quotient = sum of contributions from top five donors or funders/total expenditures)

3. How efficiently are we raising funds? (Cost of Fundraising = total fundraising expenses/total fundraising net)

Equation: Enough money to fund programs + A responsible balance of risk and reward = Healthy fundraising programs

Communications: Talk impact, not percentages; focus on overall results, not individual tactics; be transparent, but holistic

  • Ann Hale (AFP) discussed competencies of fundraisers – relationship building, leadership, professional judgment, and organizational management.

Opening Reception (National Museum of African American History and Culture – Smithsonian)

The reception allowed us to visit the National Museum of African American History and Culture and it was a powerful, moving experience.

Community Town Hall (Plenary)

The Duke Ellington School of the Arts Show Choir opened the plenary with Hit Me With a Hot Note.

  • We were introduced to Independent Sector President and CEO Dan Cardinali (bio).
  • Dan learned from Native Americans in Philanthropy CEO Sarah Eagle Heart that “New Frontiers” meant something other than intended to some people, which left him feeling embarrassed but also hopeful that we could openly have this discussion at a meeting with newcomers to the Conference.
  • “We as a community care about the means as much as the ends.” – Cardinali
  • Through relationships, toxic stress diminishes in the body and the community. Nonprofit sector has the treasure of public trust and the public confidence in having expertise. Nonprofit sector is trusted to heal the country. – Cardinali

Community Dialogues

  • What are the three unique assets the sector has that are critical to healing the nation?
  • What are the commitments of the nonprofit sector?
  • What are the commitments we should expect of government?

Philanthropy Making a Difference with Government

  • Bad systems trump good programs – this is why philanthropy must partner with government
  • Philanthropy allows government to be more nimble, take risks, and create change
  • Lessons learned from collaborations: (1) role confusion and conflation; (2) defined responsibilities; (3) resources – whose; (4) results – shared definition; (5) risk – allocation (and who is going to move first). Add readiness (agencies may have many barriers to saying “yes” to anything but some barriers may be historical and not true legal barriers).
  • Foundations should invest heavily in having the community’s voices heard. One type of investment is higher risk tolerance.
  • Lean in, don’t step back in collaborating with government now. Mechanisms may be different, your missions are the same.

Dog Whistle Politics: How Racism Wrecks the Middle Class

  • “Strategic racism helps win elections…and not just this one.” Ian Haney Lopez
  • Call to Action: “This is the best opportunity in a generation to convince people that racism is a divide and conquer weapon that hurts all of us.”
  • “To restore our country–we need an inclusion revolution.” – Lopez. We must organize around identity, not class.

Keeping Up With Forces Shaping Our Future

  • Futurists look for trends and signs of change across the “STEEP” categories: social, technological, environmental, ecological, and political.
  • A futurist can help shape plans – see Perez Art Museum’s plans for surviving a hurricane.
  • Changing future of work – jobs are rapidly changing, millennials change jobs every 2 years or less (is this a symptom of a big problem?), rise of the “gig” economy, fight for $15 hour minimum wage, technology (e.g., artificial intelligence, diverless cars) automating work.
  • Pace of change is so rapid, it may require multiple pivots in organizational direction and structure.
  • Scenario planning is a structured way for organisations to think about the future.. The Economist

America Divided: How Can Our Sector Work Together Better? (Screening)

This series cuts to the heart of the inequality crisis, exploring life-and-death struggles around the economic, social and political divide. Our aim is to expose the damage extreme inequality inflicts on all Americans, reveal its systemic causes, and celebrate real-world heroes fighting for solutions.

The creator and executive producer of America DividedSolly Granatstein, provided us with a glimpse at some of our problems with inequality, including through subtle (to the prospective tenant) but pervasive housing discrimination.

On Shifting Ground – A Production of the Hilton Prize Coalition (Screening)

Steve Connors, Master Storyteller and Director, Hilton Prize Coalition Storytelling Program, noted the challenges of collaboration among local NGOs after the devastating 2015 earthquake in Nepal. They simply didn’t know each other.

With the production of “On Shifting Ground” as the Storytelling Program pilot, The Hilton Prize Coalition has created a new model for collaboration to achieve collective impact. With tools and support from the Coalition, the organizations featured are now formalizing a collaborative framework around program delivery that arose organically from their participation in the film.

Leadership Awards Luncheon

The Luncheon celebrated the transformative leadership of Bryan Stevenson, recipient of the 2016 John W. Gardner Leadership Award, and Diana Nambatya Nsubuga, recipient of the 2016 American Express NGen Leadership Award. Stevenson’s powerful messages inspired and resonated with the attendees:

  • “I don’t believe slavery ended in 1865, it just evolved.”
  • Whenever you allow yourself to be governed by fear and anger, you will tolerate inequality and oppression.
  • “If we do the uncomfortable things, we’ll find something on the other side of that.” We don’t create change when we only do what’s convenient and comfortable. Progress is never comfortable.
  • We need to change the narrative and be willing to talk about things we’ve been afraid to talk about.
  • You are beating the drum for justice. “We’ve got to be brave, brave, brave.”
  • Hopelessness is the enemy of justice. Hope will get you to speak, stand when others try to hold you down.
  • There is power in proximity. Too often we are trying to help suffering people from afar.
  • Beware of any romanticization of civil rights activism; it’s nothing like a “3-day carnival”.

Some final words from the Conference:

  • “America faces breathtaking opportunities disguised as unsolvable problems.” – Gardner
  • Make a career of humanity. Commit yourself to the noble struggle for equal rights.