Report Calls for Capacity-Building Support for Changing Social Sector

Report Calls for Capacity-Building Support for Changing Social Sector

In the current economic and political environment, decades of social sector work on issues such as immigration, women's rights, minority rights, the environment, press freedom, and the social contract are being challenged and undermined, a new report from Open Impact argues.

Informed by conversations with twenty-one leaders of nonprofits, intermediaries, and foundations, the report, The New Normal: Capacity Building During a Time of Disruption (27 pages, PDF), found that nonprofits increasingly — and sometimes literally — are under attack and that their employees often are themselves targets of new government policies, leading to greater stress. Funded by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the study found that while certain nonprofits have seen a surge in donations and volunteers, many groups are being targeted for significant cuts in public funding and/or are facing steep declines in private donations, and that despite a renewed focus on issues of power, equity, and race in the social sector, those issues continue to be reflected in the unequal distribution of funding, with small grassroots organizations serving marginalized communities struggling to address bigger problems with fewer resources.

The report also found that the lack of investment in leadership recruitment, retention, and succession planning is a concern, given the possibility of younger leaders experiencing burnout as growing numbers of boomers retire; that many nonprofit leaders interviewed for the report said they don't feel well supported by their funders as they face these challenges; and that while some funders have moved into emergency mode, establishing rapid-response funds, dipping into their assets to fund immediate needs, or expanding their missions, others continue to take a "wait and see" approach or are attempting to be responsive without changing their grantmaking models.

The report offers recommendations for social-change leaders, such as being both responsive and strategic, building both internal and external capacity, and thinking systemically while acting proactively, as well as for funders, including being as nimble and adaptive as they ask their grantees to be, providing more flexible funding, and expanding their definition of capacity building.

"We believe this is a moment of reckoning in our sector — a moment of both crisis and opportunity," the report's authors write. "If this moment of disruption has a silver lining, it's that we've effectively broken the old social-change model and now have an opportunity to invent a new one."