Early each morning or (too late) each night I try to take a moment to find a story of some nonprofit on the frontlines of COVID-19 or in the middle of navigating the rage and brokenness flowing from the death of George Floyd. The stories are not hard to find because it is nonprofits that are providing the immediate relief (healthcare, childcare, food or housing assistance, or employment training) that is needed to just make it through COVID-19. And it is nonprofits that that are most trusted in communities, including in communities of color, to drive systemic change.
Our efforts these last three-plus months have rightly been on making sure that COVID-19-related assistance flowing from the federal government meets the needs of nonprofits of all types so they, in turn, can meet the needs of communities of all types. That work is not yet done, as we know. And it will remain a core focus for Independent Sector for however long it takes to get to the other side of all this pandemic.
While we will continue to focus on the immediate needs brought to the fore by these crises, we are also trying to keep our eyes on the horizon. We are looking for the point at which the policy conversation, and the legislative debate, will pivot to federal assistance for rebuilding, putting people back to work, and ensuring that all people living in the U.S. can thrive in resilient, equitable communities that are free from fear. When that moment of “pivot” to a focus on rebuilding comes, and we must believe it will, we need to be ready. And we need to have prepared.
Being ready and being prepared takes two things.
First, we have to make the case to federal policy makers that conversations about rebuilding, often framed in the language of “infrastructure spending”, MUST be about more than roads and bridges. Honestly, there are not a lot of policy makers who would put nonprofits and infrastructure in the same sentence. That’s as much our fault as it is theirs. So, we need to help policy makers see the vital role nonprofits play, in partnership with local government, in building community infrastructure – things like childcare centers, libraries, parks, playgrounds and cultural centers, faith-based community centers, job training, and affordable housing. And, nonprofits are at the heart of our civic infrastructure, standing behind the practices (volunteering and national service, charitable giving, advocacy, and voting) that knit the fabric of strong communities.
In short, our sector needs to be at the center of any infrastructure debate that may come – not on the outside looking in. That will take an extraordinary level of effort. It starts with a compelling and sustained messaging campaign that nonprofits are the proven instrument by which we can rebuild communities, put people back to work, and ensure an equitable recovery, especially for the communities of color and indigenous communities most decimated by this pandemic and the directly impacted by police violence and systematic racism.
Second, we must be clear on what priority investments we are asking for as a community. One of the miracles of our sector is its incredible diversity. But when it comes to advocating as a coalition of the sector, we will need to speak with one voice for a core, and limited, set of infrastructure funding asks that we believe best advance the health of the whole of our nation.
Pipe dream? Maybe. Worth the effort to try? Yes.
Independent Sector is honored to be joined by KABOOM! in the messy business of building a coalition to take on these two tasks. And we are equally thrilled to be discussing and coordinating our efforts with the National League of Cities, an indispensable partner if we aim to succeed in this work.
So, here’s our invitation. If you are even the slightest bit intrigued in the work I have laid out, reach out with an email. You might just want to be a part of this admittedly messy, undeniably important, piece of work. We are not sure where this will take us. We are sure we would love to have you alongside us.
Be well. Keep healthy. Dream bigger.