By Jeff Moore
Independent Sector’s 2015 Threads series sparked conversations across the country and across the sector. Threads brought together thousands of sector leaders to examine emerging sector trends and to explore the challenges and the opportunities organizations face as they seek to advance their missions. The responses that we heard, summarized in our Threads report, continue to inform Independent Sector’s thinking as we respond to the sector on the critical issues raised. The summer 2016 issue of ISQ shared our first steps in responding to Threads, and much has happened since then.
Threads community conversations had multiple aims, two of which warrant special mention. The first was to listen to, and learn from, local leaders. As we move through 2016 and beyond, we look forward to more time listening to the field. The second aim was to use what we heard and learned as a springboard to deeper understanding and action that empowers the sector in its work. Of the nine broad themes of sector-level challenges that surfaced in conversation after conversation, we are beginning with a dedicated focus on three:
- Relationships among sector organizations and across sectors, focusing on cross sector collaboration and the relationship between grantees and grantors
- Diversity, equity, and inclusion
- New nonprofit capital
This year, IS is piloting new ways to engage and support the sector around these three critical issues. Our goal is to connect those with questions on these topics to resources and experts that offer novel insight and effective strategies so that nonprofit and philanthropic organizations can achieve greater social impact.
In July, we launched three online focus areas that lift up these challenges and the associated best thinking on how to address them. We worked with IS members who are some of the top experts in each focus area, whose deep knowledge helped us to curate a selective list of high quality and balanced resources for each issue: cross sector collaboration, under the ‘organizational relationships’ focus area, was curated by the Presidio Institute; diversity, equity, and inclusion was curated by ProInspire; and new nonprofit capital was curated by the Urban Institute Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy.
Each focus area includes core resources on proven strategies and best practices, as well as current thinking and emerging issues. The cross sector collaboration focus area showcases articles and toolkits that offer frameworks for designing cross sector partnerships. The diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) focus area tackles sensitive topics related to discrimination, like implicit bias and microaggressions, and applies them to the nonprofit workforce. And, the new nonprofit capital focus area breaks down the set of new actors and tools that provide private financing for public good, highlighting how nonprofits can finance themselves in new ways.
This set of resources is a starting point, and will expand over time to include additional sub-topics, emerging thinking, and recommendations from the field. We’ll rely on your feedback and suggestions along the way to ensure that the focus areas include the most relevant and helpful answers to the questions that challenge you the most.
In addition to the online focus areas and our curation work, we are also taking a ‘deep dive’ into one specific issue that arose in every one of the 15 Threads conversations: the strained relationship between grantees and funders. Our first contribution to this conversation is a series of eight case studies, known as Model Partnerships for Impact and features grantee and funder pairs who exemplify positive power dynamic relationships and illuminate the practices and behaviors that contribute to the positive dynamic.
Following the publication of these case studies, IS will publish a synopsis of key findings gleaned from 40 interviews and will create a series of tools to help aid the transfer of positive behaviors, conditions, and practices. Prototype tools will be piloted at the Independent Sector Conference in Washington, DC November 16-18, 2016.
The goal of this universe of work is to catalyze partners to raise questions, create shared solutions, and ultimately strengthen the nonprofit and philanthropic sector. We will continue to draw on your wisdom and ask for your input as we experiment and learn in this space. Spend time today browsing an online focus area, and share your feedback with us.
Join us at the Independent Sector Conference and be among the first to test the new grantor/grantee tools. In either case, we look forward to learning from and with you as we continue to pull the threads through.
Jeff Moore is the VP of Strategy at Independent Sector.