Thursday, April 16, 2009

Toward Critical Mass

We're seeing some early signs of critical mass. A couple of data points:

1. The folks who run are talking about banding together with other nonprofit startups to combine some of their business operations. This from a story that ran in the New York Times last November:
The fledgling movement has reached a sufficient critical mass, its founders think, so they plan to form an association, angling for national advertising and foundation grants that they could not compete for singly.

2. And how about this for a big idea: Matt James, senior vice president for media and public education at the Kaiser Family Foundation, told me recently that he'd like to band together several major foundations to create a $3 billion news endowment.

This kind of thinking is crucial to the long-term health of nonprofits, according to Robert Egger, a leading, if controversial, voice on issues of nonprofit governance. In an essay published at the outset of last year's presidential campaign, Egger called on nonprofits to work collectively rather than merely tolerating each other's existence. He writes:
(N)onprofit groups must free themselves from the morass of meaningless metrics and strive for intellectual independence. For too long we have measured our value by how many children we have fed, how many houses we have built, or how many whales we have saved, instead of calculating and then championing the economic impact of productive citizens, strong communities, and a healthy environment that result directly from the work of nonprofit organizations. Nonprofit groups must embrace their role in the American economy, and actively challenge this nation to fully explore the power and potential in this vastly underutilized resource. And to make that point, nonprofit groups need to rededicate their missions to economic independence, both for the people they serve and for their own operations.

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