Is there a crisis in the Community Benefit sector?

Is there a crisis in the Community Benefit sector?

Posted on September 04, 2013 by Pam Truitt

We live in a world of opinions—I could (and might) write a separate blog on this topic! So, when I read an opinion by a well-regarded source, I lean toward believing it at face value.  However, experience has taught me to compare it to what I am seeing or experiencing in my own backyard.

Regular readers know that La Piana Consulting is The Patterson Foundation's strategic partner for the Collaborative Partnering Initiative, and we value and appreciate all that La Piana has brought to the partnership table.  Among the assets is the depth of experience collected over decades of work.

Recently, David La Piana penned a blog opining that the community benefit sector (aka nonprofits) is in a management crisis. I agree on some but not all of his points. It would be interesting to know more about the basis for his opinions in this blog…..we should stand in each other’s shoes someday.

I’m going to focus on two points and offer my own opinions:

Nonprofits are stressed and need help; they want new ideas, and they must develop new skills. The need for high-quality training and consulting, and for investment in ongoing innovation in management practices, is at its most acute. But these needs have risen just when our capacity-building resources for the sector are at their weakest. 

I completely agree that the sector is stressed. What I’m not hearing or seeing is the appetite for innovation in management, which according to David is at the break point. Many in the sector tell me that they know change is coming, but leadership around the issues has yet to emerge.

Funders have not been completely insensitive to this problem. Some have undertaken efforts to strengthen their local MSOs or to identify and improve access to the best local independent consultants. But we are in a nonprofit management crisis, make no mistake. Ongoing government funding reductions push us to be more creative, risk-taking, and bold; to think outside the box; to continually innovate and to fail faster; to follow, in short, the latest dictum from the business management gurus. But we can only do it with a robust support system — and the MSOs are the backbone of that system.

There’s that innovate word again. By all accounts, Community Benefit Organizations (CBOs) in Florida are feeling the fiscal ramifications from all angles:  loss of federal and state funding, escalating increase in demand; change in donor and funder behavior and now sequestration. I am aware of the financial pains being experienced, but I’m not seeing either innovation or failure. My backyard includes four counties with more than more than 2,000 Community Benefit Organizations. The only pushback I see from the business community is around the question of whether there are “too many” organizations.

One point that David didn’t cover is that Community Benefit Organizations take on the social aspects of life—arguably among the toughest to solve. I’ve been privileged to be in a number of presentations by La Piana colleagues and one power point slide that stuck is “two heads are better than one." So true!

The Patterson Foundation provides independent facilitation for two or more organizations interested in working smarter/better. The Patterson Foundation doesn’t push a particular agenda, but we know that organizations can benefit from learning and sharing to spiral up. We believe that it takes leadership, readiness, willingness, readiness and capacity.

TPF is in the space that others can’t or won’t do. It's values make it even more clear.

Do you believe there is a crisis in nonprofit management? Are CBO’s in your community innovating?

  • Learn about these and other concepts used in TPF's approach to philanthropy.


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