Notes from the field from Dart Westphal, Senior Associate at the Support Center
The Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce hosted its first-ever Nonprofit Summit just a few weeks ago in June. As an attendee and speaker, and as a supporter (that is, the Support Center as a supporter!), I was energized by the dynamic nonprofit professionals I met, the conversations in the halls, and sessions I participated in. Through those interactions, a few clear trending themes emerged:
• The first is how eager nonprofit leaders are to learn with their peers. The organizers were originally hoping for 100 attendees for this inaugural effort, but three times that many people were there. The sessions on leadership, one that I was honored to be a part of, and the sessions on fund raising and partnership with boards were uniformly excellent (present company excluded of course). But beyond that, the attendees were clearly energized to be among friends and colleagues, away from the daily grind, but still serving their organizations.
• Secondly, change is constant, but sometimes it’s a bit more urgent. Now is one of those times. Greater scrutiny from everywhere, more work for boards of directors and more demands from strapped funders have all hit us at once. Nonprofit leaders want to do the right thing, but what the right thing is differs among funders and other decision makers. Such a situation makes peer interaction more important than ever.
• Thirdly, we need to do a better job as a sector making sure the general population knows how important the nonprofit world is. And I am not just talking about the world of the 501(c)(3) “charitable” sector. I mean the whole part of the economy that is mission rather than profit driven. That includes coops, and fraternal organizations, and credit unions and membership associations. Some people still don’t really understand who we are and what we do. The people who do this work need to be understood and appreciated in a new way. We are not just providing a nice ‘extra’ or a good deed outside the mainstream of doing ‘business’. Nonprofits are as much a part of the way the country works as General Motors. It’s just that they exist for the sake of a mission, not for profit!
The hunger for networking and learning was clear. Hopefully these nonprofits and others like them, and their funders, will continue to provide opportunities that foster learning and “growing” among nonprofit professionals on the front lines!