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What can we do?

by Mary Erin Casale
This article was reprinted with permission from the National Council of Nonprofits, our nationwide network of State Associations. It originally appeared in Nonprofit Knowledge Matters on July 21, 2016, and was authored by Jennifer Chandler, Vice President, National Council of Nonprofits.

Since you received our last e-newsletter, numerous shocking episodes of terrible violence have taken place in communities across our country. Whether your nonprofit has witnessed this violence up close, or from afar, no doubt it is palpable as an ominous presence. You may be feeling helpless, but still asking: “What can we do?”

As nonprofits, we can’t just throw up our hands. We serve missions that are intentionally designed to “make our world a better place.” Yet the data reveal that there’s a lot of work ahead for us here domestically. The United States currently ranks 19th – and is the ONLY major Western democracy on the underperforming list of the Social Progress Index, which measures factors like nutrition and basic medical care, water and sanitation, personal safety, and health and wellness. And a recent report from the Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality documented how the U.S. scores at the bottom (10th out of 10) from among the world’s wealthiest nations for factors that included poverty, employment, income and wealth inequality, economic mobility, educational outcomes, health inequities and residential segregation. “Social progress” scored in those measures eludes us.

Yet when we ask, “What can we do?” there is hope. We can address hard issues when we work together: nonprofits, philanthropists, and governments. Historically, nonprofits have served as places where people gather to collectively find solutions to social problems and advocate for social progress.* But solutions are less likely when nonprofits work in isolation. Social progress requires collaboration, collective advocacy, and having the courage to take a stand. In the wake of many of these incidents, nonprofits are on the front lines, helping communities to heal and creating a space for dialogue to find solutions. Several state associations of nonprofits have taken leadership roles to convene nonprofits with a wide variety of missions, along with local partners in philanthropy and government, for conversations that bring different viewpoints and experiences to the table to come up with solutions that make sense for the local community. Take some time this summer to explore what’s going on at your state association of nonprofits and engage in local conversations. Progress may not be swift, but we can achieve it by working together.

*For an in-depth review of how nonprofits and the First Amendment rights of speech and association have historically played a role in social progress, we recommend this article by Jon Pratt in Nonprofit Quarterly, Battlefield History and Status: First Amendment Tensions between Nonprofits and Government.

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