National Commission on Voluntary Sector Capacity and Sustainability

A national dialogue is underway focused on changes ahead for the Public and Private Sectors; however, we have heard nothing about the Voluntary Sector.  Yet we know it will be affected by the types of changes being discussed for the governmental and business sectors. 

This Memorandum represents a call to recognize the importance of the “Quality of Life” Sector.  It suggests establishing a non-political, non-ideological, fact-based process that provides us with the data and understandings needed to make sound decisions on voluntary sector policy, education, professional development, work force readiness, and overall capacity by these organizations and their dedicated professionals and volunteers to meet growing human services needs.  Successfully doing so will help ensure the “greatness” of our future national Quality of Life. 

Tracy D. Connors, PhD

MEMORANDUM FOR COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT STEPHEN BANNON

Subj:  National Commission on Voluntary Sector Capacity and Sustainability
Executive Summary

America’s Voluntary Sector of the economy – more than one million charitable, philanthropic organizations employing more than 10 million professionals – is a vital contributor to, even determiner of, any national strategy seeking to “make America great again.”

Recognizing the vital contributions made by the Voluntary Sector to America’s current and future “greatness” of our national quality of life, the new Administration is urged to consider a national initiative to better understand and define the role of the Voluntary Sector in America’s “greatness” and to identify what is needed to ensure the Voluntary Sector adds the capacities needed to sustain and improve America’s national Quality of Life.

The paper suggests the establishment of a National Commission on Voluntary Sector Capacity and Sustainability.

Answers would be sought by the nonpartisan, blue-ribbon Commission to three broad questions, including:

  • What is the current state of the “Quality of Life” sector?
  • What will the Voluntary Sector be expected to provide in the way of human services in coming years if it is to meet the growing needs, and to ensure continued improvement in national Quality of Life?
  • What will be required in the way of additional or expanded capacities for the Independent Sector to not only sustain overall quality human services delivery in the face of changing and challenging operating environments, but to improve overall excellence, organizational performance, and quality results?
Background

America’s economy is broadly organized into three “sectors,” including:

  • The Public (government) Sector: those portions of America’s economic system that are controlled by national, state or provincial, and local governments;
  • The Private Sector: businesses earning profits for owners; and,
  • The Voluntary Sector (also called “Third Sector,” “Independent Sector”: charitable, philanthropic, and nonprofit organizations whose purposes are to benefit and enrich society.

The Trump Administration’s emerging plans for the Public and Private Sectors reflect a vital strategic focus on results and outcomes that will “make America Great Again.”

To date, little is known or has been communicated regarding the role of the Voluntary Sector in making America great again.

However, America’s more than one million charitable/philanthropic organizations employ over 10 million professionals providing a myriad of human services that collectively provide the majority of America’s quality of life.

The Voluntary Sector is essential to any national strategy that seeks to make America great again.

Discussion
America’s overall quality of life depends on the collective human services provided by nearly one million charitable-philanthropic-nonprofit organizations.

The charitable-philanthropic/nonprofit sector is the most rapidly growing and changing economic and organizational domain in the world — a universe of voluntary associations and organizations representing civil society, philanthropy, and voluntary action.  The Voluntary Sector has more than doubled since publication in 1980 of the first handbook recognizing the new professional field of “nonprofit organization management” (Connors, 1980).  It has become a universe of voluntary associations and organizations representing civil society, philanthropy, and voluntary action.

America’s future quality of life will depend in large part on the ability of its more than one million charitable-philanthropic-nonprofit organizations to collectively provide a myriad of human services ranging from arts and education, to health, advocacy and social services.  Sustaining our national quality of life in the face of expanding needs and dwindling resources will require significant improvements by our voluntary organizations in mission fulfillment, performance, productivity, and human services delivery. These voluntary organizations must deliver a myriad of human services in the face of ever-changing operating environments, compounded by the ever-growing demands for social human services needed to sustain our nation’s overall quality of life, and further complicated by growing calls for improved Effectiveness, Efficiency, Transparency and Accountability.

Achieving improvements in overall effectiveness and efficiency resulting in substantially improved performance, results and outcomes will be among the most pressing challenges facing C-P/NP’s as transformational organizations.

Unanswered Questions

Regardless of one’s political views, all sides appreciate the significant contributions made to America’s quality of life by its voluntary action organizations–and the need to develop policies and guidelines that enhance cooperation, improve performance and results, and add capacities needed to ensure America’s future quality of life, without undermining the core values that make America’s nonprofits so important to its overall quality of life.

Improving performance and capacity while strengthening Voluntary Sector core values requires answers to the following broad questions, including:

  • What is the state of the “Quality of Life” Voluntary Sector?
  • What will the Voluntary Sector be expected to provide in the way of human services in coming years if it is to meet the growing needs, and to ensure continued improvement in national Quality of Life?
  • What will be required in the way of additional or expanded capacities for the Independent Sector to not only sustain overall quality human services delivery in the face of changing and challenging operating environments, but to improve overall excellence, organizational performance, and quality results?
Results and Outcomes

During an approximately one year charter for the National Commission on Voluntary Sector Capacity and Sustainability, the following results and outcomes would be sought, including:

Gain Better Understandings regarding the:
  • Overall contributions by the voluntary sector to national quality of life.
  • Dynamic operating environments in which most voluntary organizations seek to survive and to fulfill their public purposes and missions.
  • Nature and depths of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats facing voluntary organizations.
  • Current relationships and/or partnerships between government and voluntary sector organizations.
Provide fact-based knowledge needed to:
  • Ensure the ability of the voluntary sector to sustain current levels of human services delivery;
  • Understand the scope and depth of challenges to needed capacity by sector organizations;
  • Put into place the educational and professional development resources and opportunities needed to ensure improved organizational performance as measured by effectiveness, efficiency, and transformational organizational environments;
  • Establish a government-voluntary sector relationship that represents an effective balance between policies that protect public purposes and missions, and that support the traditional charitable ethos that characterizes and inspires voluntary constituencies.
Overall Milestones:

Broad milestones for the Commission would include:

  • Creation of a national survey designed to provide a robust data base from which to develop answers to the basic research questions.
  • Analysis of the survey to identify conditions, needs, trends, and understandings contributing to sound policy considerations.
  • Hearings to provide the forum for public participation and input to the process.
  • Compilation of the Commission’s Findings and Recommendations, followed by publication.