Thursday, June 18, 2009

Rural Philanthropy Days: Helping Improve the Visibility of the Nonprofit Sector

Western Slope Rural Philanthropy Days is underway and going very well! We have more than 400 attendees registered, which makes this our largest Rural Philanthropy Days event since we started hosting them in 1991. Also, for this event, about 60 funders representing about 35 grantmaking organizations are in attendance. This steering committee has certainly raised the bar.

Today’s agenda is focused on community problem-solving and promoting collaboration among nonprofit organizations. I sat in on the session on strengthening the nonprofit sector and promoting cross-sector collaborations. One of the participants shared that he believes that the local government in his community views nonprofits as pests because they are always asking for money.

This belief demonstrates a significant disconnect between nonprofit organizations and governmental entities. Nonprofit organizations provide essential services in nearly all communities across Colorado. Through our organizations, our work helps strengthen a community’s social fabric, provide critical human services, and meet other important and pressing community needs.

The idea that governments view nonprofits as pests communicates two things to me. First, nonprofit organizations need to strengthen their ability to demonstrate the impact that they have in a community to help communicate the essential nature and value of their service to governments. We need to rely on a fundraising case that communicates our effectiveness, impact, and efficiency in providing essential services and programs within our communities. Second, communities of nonprofit organizations could be far more effective in communicating the overall value of the nonprofit sector to local governments, especially since many governments are getting a heck of a bargain when they invest funding with nonprofits that fill the gaps that governments cannot.

This particular group is wrestling with finding some short-term solutions that could help raise the visibility and level of understanding with businesses and governments – I am interested to hear what they think up. Rural Philanthropy Days itself is a start in this process and we will keep you posted as our follow-up activities get underway.

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