December was the time for making lists as I was growing up. While those childhood lists predictably included all the items I had “red-pen circled” in the Sears catalogue (yes, I am that old), the lists these days are more daunting. They focus on all the things left undone and needing completion either before the holidays or in the very first part of the new year.
Now, truth told, I run parallel lists; one focused on home and the other on work. I am guessing, for many of you, you do something similar because there is a certain comfort in getting it all down in one place.
I’ll spare you the “home list” – though if anyone has an idea on what to send my 92-year-old father, who absolutely insists he needs nothing, I am all ears. I am thinking a good bottle of cognac for the dark winter that could be ahead. And for my college-aged son who is hoping for an electric long board – does that need to come with a helmet?
When it comes to the work of Independent Sector, here are some of the items on the list we are building as we look to the work of 2021 – work we hope to share with all of you in some way, shape, or form:
- As I write this, we are still sorting through the details of the near 6000-page bill passed by Congress on December 21. As you know, that bill includes a new round of COVID-19 relief, and there are some gains for our sector (like an extension of the universal charitable deduction first implemented through the CARES Act), though the final package failed to make available critical financial assistance for larger nonprofits that have, from the “get-go” been cut out of the Paycheck Protection Program. So, in 2021, we need the new administration and Congress to deliver the bigger COVID-19 relief package that President-elect Biden is promising, and it needs to provide access to key loan programs, expanded charitable giving incentives (raising the cap from the current $300/$600), low-cost loans to mid-size and larger nonprofits, full unemployment benefit reimbursement, and nonprofit access to emergency funding programs. The IS leadership has begun a conversation with the Biden team about these priorities and we hope for a meeting in early January.
- When the debate in Washington turns from COVID-19 response to the investments needed to drive recovery and rebuilding, we need a different infrastructure investment conversation among policy makers. We need Members of Congress and Administration officials prioritizing investments in our civic infrastructure – the norms and practices that hold the nation together, like volunteerism, service, and civil discourse in the public square. We need focused investment on community infrastructure – parks and playgrounds, libraries, schools, housing, and community programs that support the arts and humanities – things that allow communities, especially Black, Native, Latinx and other communities of color most decimated by the pandemic, to build back to a better place than before. And we need to rebuild (or in some cases build from scratch) the critical national infrastructure that is vital to all nonprofits and the work they do – think broadband service that is reliably accessible in all communities, across all states and Tribal lands, and think a viable US Postal Service upon which nonprofits depend to raise resources, engage with their constituencies, and mobilize voters and volunteers. This is the work of the Nonprofit Infrastructure Investment Advocacy Group (NIIAG) which IS formed this year in partnership with KABOOM! Just last weekend, the Biden team asked for the list of core NIIAG policy priorities – and because of the work we have done together, we were able to deliver quickly and substantively. We are also pleased to see that three core NIIAG priorities, much needed assistance for broadband access, childcare, and the US Postal Service, were included in the legislation passed last night.
- Like the business community, which is well and consistently represented in one presidential administration to the next, there should be a “seat at the table” for nonprofits. The structure for such representation is something Independent Sector has been asked to help the incoming administration assess. The reality is that our sector’s lack of clear and consistent voice within the current administration has made the work of 2020 much harder. We hope to fix that in the Biden White House and talks with the transition team are ongoing.
- With each passing day, the urgency of repairing the divides in this nation grows, and the role of the sector in that repair work becomes more apparent. To do that work, we need a charitable nonprofit sector that is healthy. Getting our hands on the best possible data and research to better understand our health, or lack thereof, takes on ever greater importance and, I hope, this will be a new focus of our 2021 sector-wide policy agenda.
- We will continue to grow in our understanding and practice of centering racial equity in our public policy work and in our assessment of sector health. As we shared with the Public Policy Committee in October of this year, Independent Sector is now four years into the journey of being an Annie E. Casey Foundation Results Count® Hub organization. This doesn’t mean we have it all figured out. What it does mean is that, in alignment with other organizations across the sector, we must continue to focus on how we use our Sector Health Report and our policy agenda to dismantle and rebuild systems that have prevented Black, Native, Latinx and other communities of color from thriving.
For sure, there will be priorities for 2021 that we just do not yet see – much as happened in 2020 with the emergence of the pandemic. So, we will work to remain agile and ready for what the new year will hold.
In the meantime, all of us at IS hope you and your families will have a bit of time to “power down” over the holidays. There is a common phrase around Independent Sector – “remember to drink while you pour.” Refresh yourself, even while you tend to the other demands in your world. And, if you want to take a more literal interpretation of “drink while you pour,” then we say “cheers, good health, and here is to the road before us.”