Civic Engagement

Get Out and Vote!

November 2, 2009

All across the nation, voters will be heading to the polls tomorrow. Although it’s not an election to compare with last year’s epic Presidential campaign, there are important races for governor in Virginia and New Jersey and mayoral races in New York, Houston, Miami, and several other large cities. While it may not be the most important election in history, every election should be conducted vigorously. And nonprofit organizations should be central players in educating and organizing constituents to participate in elections.

Improving Census Data

October 22, 2009

Participation in the 2010 census is a huge opportunity to shape the distribution of roughly $400 billion a year in federal funds to state and local governments. Census data guide government decisions about where to build new roads, schools, and hospitals, and where to locate job training centers and services for the elderly. Census information is also used to draw state and federal legislative districts. Everyone loses if the numbers are wrong.

The Problem of Youth Violence

October 21, 2009

Chicago gets lots of attention these days, both good and bad. It’s a beautiful, wonderful, complicated, and diverse city, with great assets but many challenges.
Most recently, the beating death of a Chicago public school student was videotaped and displayed on YouTube for the world to see. The images are chilling and frightening. Upon viewing the video, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan responded, “America has seen a side of Chicago that we all wish didn’t exist. This young honor student had his whole life ahead of him—but now it has been cut short by senseless violence."

Reasons for Optimism

October 19, 2009

Imagination is a powerful force. The human capacity to look at a problem, and imagine a way to solve it, lies at the heart of the progress and innovation for which our nation is so justly proud.
At the moment our country, and the Midwest in particular, face a host of challenges, many of which are rooted in the most serious economic downturn since World War II. One might ask, how can we hope to make progress on public policy issues when the financial deck seems stacked against us?

Third Future: Winnowing of the Sector

October 1, 2009

My third scenario centered on a winnowing of the sector. At one point last fall, I predicted that as many as 100,000 mostly smaller nonprofits would disappear during the recession. This number was based on a simple extrapolation of small-business failure rates during the past two recessions. During the relatively mild 2001-2003 economic downturn, for example, roughly 10 percent of small businesses failed. Although the failures were almost entirely offset by the creation of new small businesses that were created by unemployed workers, there is little reason to believe that the nonprofit sect

Second Future: A Steady Withering

September 30, 2009

My second scenario focused on a steady withering of the sector’s general capacity to meet its mission. Virtually every data point from the sector shows this scenario is coming true. It is not clear just how many nonprofit employees are now out of work, but surely the sector accounts for some percentage of the nation’s 9.7 percent unemployment rate. With revenues in steep decline, the probability for continued withering is 100 percent. 

Anecdotes ≠ Data. And Yet . . .

September 28, 2009

The deepest economic recession of the century may be technically over, at least according to Federal Reserve Board chairman Ben Bernanke, but the jobless recovery it has produced continues take its toll on the nonprofit sector. The good news is that there appears to be less damage thus far than anticipated. There is still plenty of anxiety about balance sheets, a double-dip recession, and inflation, but the anecdotes suggest that most nonprofits are still holding on despite the odds.


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