Tuesday, August 4, 2009

White House Director of Domestic Policy Council Gives Her Views on Effective Nonprofits

About a month ago, we reported that the White House would begin a search for the "most promising" [i.e., effective] nonprofits in America and dole out portions of a $50 million fund to those nonprofits meeting the standards.  In a recent blog post, White House Dirctor of Domestic Policy Council, Melody Barnes, shared some of her ideas what those fortunate recipients might look like:

EverybodyWins! is exactly the type of community solution that President Obama asked me to identify when he called on his Domestic Policy Council to scour the country for the very best, most innovative, most successful programs in our communities. I also discussed great programs in places from San Francisco to Milwaukee, along with our intention to visit every region of the country to see what is working for them. President Obama has asked Congress for $50 million for a new community innovation fund - to be housed at the Corporation for National and Community Service - to identify these promising programs through a competitive grant process and to provide them with the support they need to grow and expand. And he has challenged foundations, philanthropists, and the private sector to partner in these efforts by providing resources, advice, and matching funds so that community solutions can be replicated all across our nation. I recently visited the EverybodyWins! Iowa chapter at the Carver Community School in Des Moines. I spent time reading out loud with Sandy and Diane. And I sat down with staff and volunteers to discuss how the Des Moines chapter has gained strength since its inception in 2003. EverybodyWins! found an Iowa champion in home state Senator Tom Harkin, an  EverybodyWins! volunteer in Washington, DC who understood the value of the program from his personal experience..  Senator Harkin helped bring together local schools, non-profits, and businesses to successfully fund and launch the program in 2003, creating a strong foundation on which the program has thrived. Tyler Weig, the Executive Director of EverybodyWins! Iowa, cites support from two AmeriCorps volunteers as pivotal to expanding the creativity and reach of the program, doubling the number of students served since 2006. Adam Fanning, one of their AmeriCorps members, has engaged local businesses in innovative ways, including a partnership with a Des Moines taxi company that provides free rides for volunteers. The Carver Community School’s unique relationship with the Boys and Girls Club chapter that is housed within the same facility adds further capacity for serving students during the school year and throughout the summertime and holidays. 
I hate to be contrarian, but I as I mentioned in my previous post on this topic, I am just not comfortable when government gives out rewards based on its notion of "merit" in the nonprofit world.  Older folks might remember when Pat Buchanan and his Nixon administration henchmen went after exempt organizations it deemed to be against Nixon's political views.  Well, doling out millions to exempts that toe the administration line seems the opposite cousin.  Better to rely on grass roots stakeholders to determine which nonprofits are deemed meritworthy enough to receive financial support.


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I think the issues are more than partisan questions. The Fund is really based on using large regranting intermediaries that have the ability to match the government funding on a 1:1 basis at a minimum. The language on the CNCS website and from much of the information issued by the White House recently suggests that the SIF will rely significantly on foundations as regrantmaking intermediaries, and the size of the grants they will make to groups that can also match on at least a 1:1 basis suggests that a lot of smaller grassroots groups (93% of nonprofits bring in less than $1m in revenues annually) will be out of the running. But in addition to the concern about grassroots being hard to find in the Fund, notwithstanding the Barnes blog, there is also the issue of foundations striving so hard to be partners with the administration that they have to be careful not to sacrifice their ability to be independent voices critiquing (or funding the critics of) the Administration when needed. Many foundations are very actively making themselves accessible to the Administration for SIF partnership roles and others. To my mind, the independence of the sector to be able to maintain its non-governmental voice is important to protect. I just wrote some of this in a column for the Blue Avocado (http://www.blueavocado.org/content/social-innovation-fund-where-money-going) regarding the still-emerging structure and emphases of the Social Innovation Fund.

Posted by: Rick Cohen | Aug 5, 2009 5:35:37 PM

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