On March 25, the Biden White House held its first briefing for the nonprofit sector on the American Rescue Plan. The National Council of Nonprofits and Independent Sector (IS) were asked by the White House to help launch that initial briefing and we were anxious and proud to do so.
We look forward to, and are working with the White House on, more gatherings of the sector and the Biden Administration to discuss critical policy issues. As I wrote in February, we see at least three policy priorities in 2021 that would involve the White House: (1) relief; (2) rebuilding; and (3) representation.
“Relief,” of course, has consumed all of us for the past year – making sure financial relief was made available for nonprofits as part of COVID-relief legislation. “Recovery” is the conversation we are stepping into now – in part with the Biden’s shifting focus to infrastructure. Through the work of the Nonprofit Infrastructure Investment Advocacy Group (NIIAG), we are working to make sure that these new investments advance an equitable recovery and rebuild our civic infrastructure, along with roads and bridges. “Representation” is about making sure that the nonprofit sector, which we know is perhaps the most critical of all partners to government in making sure relief and recovery actually happen, is actually at the table when those policy conversations and decisions are happening. In the words of one of our Public Policy Committee members, “you never solve relief and rebuilding without addressing representation.”
IS has been having this “representation” conversation with the Biden team since before the election. Initially, IS was asked to share our thoughts on how the nonprofit sector, the nation’s third-largest employer of the private workforce (you know all the stats), might best be engaged in a Biden White House. IS then prepared an options memorandum to address the goal of deeper partnership. After the election, IS delivered that memorandum to the Biden/Harris Transition Team.
In December, the Biden team suggested to IS, without any commitments, that it should explore how the question of representation might be addressed in an Executive Order framework. More specifically, IS was encouraged to think about issues of structure and other concrete actions the Administration could take, with the stroke of a pen, to build this critical relationship, strengthen nonprofits and, in so doing, strengthen all communities.
Since January, with input from more than 100 diverse sector organizations and leaders, and with help from Holland & Knight (a legal firm with deep expertise in drafting and advancing Executive Orders), IS worked to develop such an Executive Order/Executive Action framework. To be clear, there are many more policy changes we seek in the world, but these are the actions we believe the Biden Administration could take without requiring new legislation. After review with our Public Policy Committee, the NIIAG, and the IS Board of Directors, the Executive Order on Strengthening the Nonprofit Sector and its Partnership with the Federal Government was delivered to the White House on March 24.
Please review the Executive Order/Executive Action framework (the “Framework”) by opening the link above. It is lengthy, so here are some highlights:
- The Framework does suggest a specific approach to establishing a White House Office on the Nonprofit Sector within the Executive Office of the President.
- Because our aim is to create structures that will last, the Framework recommends subsequent strategies to further codify and make permanent these structures.
- The Framework presents a menu of actions, beyond structure, that President Biden might take to improve the health of our sector and to strengthen the underpinnings of our civil society.
- The Framework does not need to progress as “a whole.” Progress on such items as government research and data might, in fact, move more quickly than recommendations on structure.
- This is a long-haul piece of work. We have framed this as an agenda for the first year of the Biden Administration.
- While this Framework is, admittedly, largely focused on the needs of the sector and the possibilities of this enhanced partnership, we are clear that, in the end, this is work that must be done to make sure that all the communities we serve are thriving. This effort is a critical means toward that end.
There is much to do and there is a fair amount we do not know, now, about how this all might unfold. But we believe this is a conversation that must be had and it is a conversation that was invited by this new Administration. For that, like you, we are grateful and hopeful.
Much more to come. Please email me with questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org. And, as always, thanks for all you do as sector leaders. We are stronger with you than without you, especially in efforts such as this.