Several months ago, we convened for the first time as a group of regional nonprofit leaders. Our intent was to exchange mutual support and ideas in the service of the social missions that we represent and about which we care deeply. What we found in each other’s company was far more profound and challenging than we expected.
In this year when we are celebrating the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s well-known speech and recalling his exhortation to create and nurture a “beloved community,” and in this time when we are so starkly aware of income inequality and its effects, we found ourselves compelled to speak out publicly.
With the extreme proliferation of nonprofits over the past three decades, we are acutely aware of one central idea: All of us with a social mission were created with the intent to put ourselves out of business. But how far have we really come? How much have we actually achieved? What could we do differently to advance our shared purposes?
We represent organizations that address everything from homelessness to racial equity to education, health care and beyond. What we desire for D.C. and our region is extremely bold and entirely uncomplicated.
We envision a community where everyone — regardless of race, class, age, gender identity, sexual orientation, ability or any other status — has equal access to education, health care, housing, safety, civic participation, employment, income and dignity. We envision a community characterized by compassion and informed by the impulse of love.
In the service of this shared vision, we are asking ourselves some critical and difficult questions. For all of you who participate in the philanthropic life of our region, we respectfully request that you join us by asking yourselves these questions as well:
Are we willing to address fundamental causes and advocate for change beyond our organizations’ issue interests?
Can we be completely open to new ideas such as merger, acquisition, consolidation, closure or partnership if and when they are better vehicles for promoting our vision and missions?
Can we deepen our commitment to empowering individuals, families and communities by permitting greater self-determination and control of resources and programs?
Are we willing to change our sector’s name? Wouldn’t it be more accurate to call our nonprofit community the “Social Profits” sector since collectively we are creating “social value”?
What would it take to finally change our very own mind-sets — and that of our employees, volunteers, public and private funders, individual donors and contributors — from the notion of “charity” to the notion of “investment”?
Are we willing to take the radical step of demanding that our sector report on how and where the notion of “love and compassion” fits into our work?
We know that our sector has significant influence and capacity in our communities. Just consider the size, scale and impact of the 13 mission-driven organizations that we lead every day. Though they comprise less than 1 percent of all nonprofit groups in the metropolitan D.C. area, our organizations provide direct service to more than 32,500 individuals, advocacy for social justice for more than 600,000 residents, and policy and technical assistance for hundreds of nonprofit groups. If our groups were incorporated as a single for-profit business, the company would be considered a major employer with more than 1,400 employees (a workforce larger than Wal-Mart’s or Starbucks’ operations in D.C.), 5,100 volunteers and nearly $108 million in total revenue. We operate 54 program sites in the region and participate in more than 235 partnerships and collaborations.
Why should you, public and private funders, corporations and foundations, and individual donors invest in the Washington region’s “social profit” sector?
First, the business case for such investment is quite clear and measurable. Investing in education, health care, housing and other community services leads to direct savings for governments and taxpayers (fewer social services required) and greater revenue (high-functioning citizens contribute more taxes).
Second and more important, as individual members of a community, we have an inherent responsibility — a social compact, if you will — to one another. Whether we are motivated by faith, compassion, or other personal reason, we are all part of something larger than ourselves. We call that community and strive for equality, justice and inclusion in the life of such community.
We provide. We advocate. We matter. We are working on behalf of a better and more “beloved” community. We aim to be true to the ultimate intent of our missions and fearless in our willingness to change or adapt as we seek to “put ourselves out of business.”
Don Blanchon, executive director, Whitman-Walker Health ●Jack McCarthy, chief executive, AppleTree Institute ● Julie Chapman, chief executive, 501c TECH ● Julie Meyer, executive director, Next Step Public Charter School ● Kim Perry, executive director, DC Vote ● Lecester Johnson, executive director, Academy of Hope ● Russ Snyder, chief executive, Volunteers of America Chesapeake ● Schroeder Stribling, executive director, N-Street Village ● Scott Schenkelberg,chief executive, Miriam’s Kitchen ● Suzanne LaPorte, president, Compass ●Tamara Smith, executive director, YWCA National Capital Area ● Diana Leon-Taylor, chief executive, Nonprofit Roundtable ● Glenn O’Gilvie, chief executive, Center for Nonprofit Advancement ● Heather Kaye, founder, Leadership Sanctuary
The below signatories are executives of area nonprofits representing social service, advocacy, and sector infrastructure organizations.
The views expressed in this letter do not represent official positions of individual organizations, but rather a shared perspective of the sector.