May 11, 2010

Schambra on "Wilderness Time for Nonprofits"

My friend Ruth McCambridge recently sent a note to subscribers of The Nonprofit Quarterly, recommending a speech - Wilderness Times for Nonprofits - that William Schambra recently delivered at a conference hosted by Memphis' Alliance for Nonprofit Excellence.

I'm mentioning this here for two reasons.

First, I know that I regularly harp on the implications of restricting funding to only non-profits - the message that it sends to ordinary people, and the over-reliance it creates on service delivery as the solution to our community's problems. This article was a good reminder to me that almost all non-profits began with the same citizen impulse that grassroots grantmaking embraces. In speaking about the origins of a charter school, Bill says this:
It was the act of everyday citizens coming together around a shared vision and forging their own community to embody that vision.

From nothing except a shared purpose—and in the face of all sorts of obstacles, ranging from the bureaucratic charter application process to the hostility of the teachers unions to the scorn of the education professionals telling them that parents know nothing about teaching children—they nonetheless created a nonprofit organization to solve their own problems their own way.
This is a what we're after after all, isn't it, when we talk about thinking big about small grants?

Second, it's because Bill speaks very eloquently about what happens along the way - especially when you're being successful and times are good. You grow, evolve, change, add new dimensions and new programs. And sometimes you lose your way, holding on more to what you have created that the original vision that was there when it all began.

There's something in all of us for this. For emerging groups with a big vision and enough passion and determination to strike out into the wilderness. For mature groups that a struggling to hold on to what they have created now that times are harder. And certainly for funders, who say one thing - we don't need more nonprofits - but encourage another by the way that they do their work.

Check it out. And thanks to Ruth and the excellent team at The Nonprofit Quarterly for sharing this.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for talking about this basic schitzophrenia in funders.

    We don't need new nonprofits-but we need new programs, new projects, new models to get things done.

    I say, There are two kinds of people in the world, those who say an idea is good because it's new, and those who say an idea is good because it's old.

    Funders need to stop getting in the first label, and eschew the second one as well. They need to ask themselves what WORKS, research it, and go for funding that.