JVA Communications/Resource Development Associate
Barack Obama’s victory last Tuesday brings with it a host of anticipated changes for the country—a timeline for withdrawal in Iraq, possible closure of Guantanamo Bay, renewed stem cell research (http://www.cnn.com/2008/POLITICS/11/11/obama.executive.orders/index.html). But what does it mean for your nonprofit?
Obama’s personal work for nonprofits undoubtedly influenced the ambitious plan he has put forth for nonprofits—he served as a community organizer and did legal work for nonprofits in Chicago. His wife, Michelle, founded a national community service organization (http://philanthropy.com/free/articles/v20/i19/19003702.htm), and his mother worked for the Ford Foundation in Indonesia (http://philanthropy.com/news/government/4162/how-nonprofit-work-influenced-barack-obamas-mother).
Obama’s plan for nonprofits and community service, entitled Plan for Universal Voluntary Citizen Services (it can be downloaded by going to http://www.barackobama.com/issues/service/ and clicking on Read the Plan), focuses on making community service more appealing and accessible to Americans and improving the effectiveness and innovation of nonprofit community service organizations.
To increase the capacity of nonprofits, Obama’s plan focuses on innovation and expansion of nonprofits through the creation of a new government-supported nonprofit called the Social Investment Fund Network. The Social Investment Fund Network’s aim is to provide nonprofits with the same opportunities for research and development that private sector companies have. Through this agency, private sector funding (leveraged through government seed money) would be distributed to eligible nonprofits to “improve local innovation, test the impact of new ideas and expand successful programs to scale.” The Social Investment Fund Network would be housed within the larger Social Entrepreneurship Agency for Nonprofits, an agency that Obama plans on creating to “build the capacity and effectiveness of the nonprofit sector.”
The overarching goals of the agency include:
• Improving coordination of programs that support nonprofits across the federal government
• Fostering nonprofit accountability
• Streamlining processes for obtaining federal grants and contracts, and eliminating unnecessary requirements
• Removing barriers for smaller nonprofits to participate in government programs
Beyond innovation and expansion of nonprofits, Obama’s attempt to make volunteering for nonprofits and community service organizations more appealing to Americans may also help nonprofits find more willing and committed volunteers to help them provide services. One way Obama plans to do this is to offer a $4,000 tax credit toward tuition to college students who perform at least 100 hours of community service a year. For the baby boom generation, Obama plans to expand programs like RSVP and Foster Grandparents to better connect retired boomers with volunteer opportunities.
While funding for innovation and expansion of nonprofits, the promise of throngs of new volunteers and streamlining tedious processes like federal grant applications all sound like a great plan for nonprofits, the new president might find that more pressing issues, namely the economy and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, take precedence over what’s happening on Nonprofit Street. It will be up to nonprofit organizations to let him know that they are a vital part of what will keep the country strong.