How will Obama’s plan affect nonprofits?

obamahopeBy Katy Snyder

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.

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2 Responses to How will Obama’s plan affect nonprofits?

  1. Karina Kloos says:

    I am a huge Obama supporter.

    I am a strong Democrat.

    I believe entirely in the role of government.

    I work in the nonprofit sector.

    And my internal alarm bells are ringing with this plan!

    Right now there are strong social movements influencing the convergence of the business and nonprofit sectors and we’re witnessing the proliferation of social ventures, “philanthrocapitalists” and social-giving networks. In fact, we’re witnessing the proliferation of nonprofit and non-governmental organizations at an extraordinary rate.

    I think the $4,000 credit is a wonderful idea, especially as someone with $xx,xxx student loans and working/volunteering in a minimal paying sector. I think it’s the right incentive, too, to re-engage national and global citizenry.

    However, this is one of those times that if the government gets too involved in the bureaucratic regulation of the sector, it will stunt the growth and success that some of the social movements and market influences are already bringing.

    Perhaps I am entirely biased because I am immersed in the social sector, but I don’t think that there is a lack of opportunity out there to get involved and there already exists great social incentive for people to get involved. Consider all of the social-marketing out there (ie Ethos water at Starbucks) — this is certainly an indication that people care and markets are investing in social do-gooderism. (That does not necessarily commend all social-marketing practices, but rather is an indication of social movements and marketing strategies.)

    My hope is that Obama’s new policies are informed by people much more knowledgeable than myself, who have considered already the existing trends and opportunities and will develop policies and programs to improve the standards, funding and opportunities for nonprofits without taking away from its current advancements.

    Yes, the reality is that Obama will be faced with enormous tasks and these plans will not be a priority. But hopefully Obama will be able to follow through on the $4,000 credit incentive as I believe that could be the greatest contribution to the nonprofit sector and society society by re-engaging citizenry.

  2. Pingback: Top Nonprofit Street blog posts of 2009 « JVA's Nonprofit Street

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