Pulling the Threads Through

Our organizational structures often create barriers to more effective collaboration in the sector. How do we fix that? Society is becoming more diverse but the sector is not. How do we begin to better reflect and serve the communities in which we work? The resource “landscape” is evolving. What are the best new models for operating in this period of change?

These, among the many other issues raised during Independent Sector’s 2015 Threads Community Conversations, continue to echo throughout the sector. There is a growing chorus of questions about how to address these challenges. At the same time, promising developments are emerging. Organizations are testing new ideas, while researchers are cataloging proven strategies.

As one response to Threads, Independent Sector is preparing to launch a series of online, resource hubs that lift up these challenges and the best thinking we can identify on how to solve them. These hubs will highlight tools, stories, and ideas about how to overcome some of the obstacles that stand between our organizations and our ambitions. Our aim is simple — connect those with questions to those who are have novel insight and promising ideas.

Where to Begin?

Our Threads report identifies nine big, sector-level challenges that came up in conversation after conversation. In this effort, we are focusing on three of these and, in the near term, will be building partnerships with subject matter experts to help us identify and prioritize information that will be of greatest use to leaders in the field. Here is where we begin:

1. Relationships within the Sector and Across Sectors

Many of us say we want to be better collaborators. But how much do we actually know about what makes meaningful engagement work between nonprofits, foundations, and the communities they serve? How do organizations navigate the “continuum of collaboration” which can range from communication to partnership to empowerment to merger? We’ll share “bright spots” and stories from the field about where collaboration is taking deep root. We will highlight lessons that can be drawn from successes and failures. And, because mission success is often tied to how effectively we work across sectors (with government and business), we will also examine cross-sector relationships that are increasing impact.

2. Diversity and Inclusion within the Sector

What concrete steps can, or are, nonprofit and foundation leaders in the sector taking to achieve greater diversity within their workforce and governance structures? How are these measures impacting their ability to serve diverse communities more effectively? Working from a broad definition of diversity to include gender, race and ethnicity, age, economic diversity, sexual orientation and gender identity, and physical ability we will share data about the state of diversity in the sector, examine the business case for change, and, as we identify them, lift up toolkits, resources, and successful strategies and practices.

3. The Changing Face of Resources

Revenue sources for the sector are shifting, as are organizational strategies for securing them. The implications of this changing resource landscape are many – from business models to policy responses. Visitors to this hub will learn more about emerging structures and vehicles for funding ‘social good’, ways in which “traditional” philanthropy is shifting, and new ideas for how best to support nonprofits’ access to capital. We will also examine federal-level policy ramifications to these new funding structures as they might arise.

For those who joined a Threads session, you might recall the energy that lit the room when conversation turned to the critical role of the sector in addressing the big, social issues of our time. Our fourth hub will showcase thought leaders on a range of global and national issues and hot topics of the moment. What is the “right” relationship between philanthropy and politics? How does the latest Supreme Court ruling impact the work of the sector? How do we distinguish the role of the charitable sector from that of government in responding to national crisis? Whatever the topic, this will be a vehicle for elevating the voices that are speaking out about how and why the sector should be addressing the issues on today’s front page.

Moving Forward

The Independent Sector team is now deep in the design of this “curation” activity, aiming to “test launch” in the early summer of 2016. But – and very importantly — the successes of this work is much less about Independent Sector than it is about you. Remember, the goal is to magnify the good work, the critical thinking, and the innovative responses to change that each of you is practicing every day. We want and need you to share what you have been thinking about – and what you have been learning. We will soon provide more details about how you can best add your voice and your expertise to this conversation.

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