It was somewhat ironic that for most of 2020, as many of us were isolated away from friends and family, Independent Sector’s staff and leadership focused intently on the concepts of belonging and community. But perhaps it was just the right time for us to take this journey toward deeper understanding of our own communities, since it is when you are without something that you realize just how much you need it.
As we have articulated in the past, one way we hold true to our goal of achieving a more robust, healthy, and equitable sector is through our ability to build community among individuals and organizations. To gain insight on how we might enhance our efforts toward this goal, we partnered with Pittsburgh-based Urban Kind Institute and Dr. Jamil Bey to measure the sense of community that existed without our network. We surveyed and interviewed leaders at IS member organizations, IS staff and Board members, people who have participated in one of our leadership programs, and people who have attended our Upswell events. We learned a great deal about how you view your sense of belonging to Independent Sector, and what more we could be doing to create a space and place that provides membership, influence, the integration and fulfillment of needs, and a shared emotional connection – all elements of a strong sense of community.
Now moving into 2021, we have also accelerated our work to further understand how we, as a community, define the health of our organizations and sector we all operate in. Through a set of focus groups held in February, we gathered leaders from across the spectrum of organizations that make up our sector and asked them questions about the health of nonprofits in the following areas: financial resources, human capital, governance and trust, and public policy and advocacy. To the individuals who participated and gave us your time and perspectives, thank you. Leaders helped us understand more about how we could use data to set benchmarks for the sector’s success in these areas, and opened up questions about our sector’s ability to become more equitable and ultimately achieve justice for the communities we serve. The feedback was expansive, rich, and varied. We are grateful for your time and perspective, and we are positive that because of your engagement, our next report and additional resources that come out of this effort will better serve you, your missions, and your communities.
So, how do both our sense of community and the health of the organizations and sector we make up fit together in our work moving forward? Well, we hope one major way will be through our Upswell events this year. In addition to our annual summit, which we will hold, again virtually, on October 20-22, we will also hold four Upswell Pop-Ups events throughout the year where we will take a deeper dive into the elements of our sector’s health. At a high level, our goal is to help one another achieve health and racial justice within our organizations, sector, and country, and in collaboration with the communities we serve. We will have the tough conversations about where we are and where we need to be; we will focus on the implications on COVID-19 in everything we do; and we will always aim toward this vision of building a healthier and more equitable world together.
You will get more information on this later this week, and we are excited to tell you more not just about Upswell, but also about the many other ways Independent Sector will be building a sense of community while driving our collective work forward through this year and beyond.
It’s important work. It’s necessary work. And we won’t achieve it unless we do it together.