My grandparents were together on this earth for nearly 70 years and each was the other’s best friend. When they’d walk into a room together, my grandfather would immediately introduce himself and in the same breath draw everyone’s attention to his “beautiful bride, Peg.” My grandmother would smile, shake her head, and demurely say, “Oh, Paul.”
My grandparents were the perfect symbol of teamwork. Even when they didn’t see eye to eye, they were always looking out for each other. So when my grandfather would buy firecrackers at the roadside stand to set off at our big extended-family 4th of July summer vacation, my grandmother stayed on standby to call the fire department when something (inevitably) caught on fire. She kept him grounded and he kept her on her toes. Together they were bigger, better, and (as far as I recall) pretty perfect.
Aristotle coined the adage about the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. My grandparents, for instance. Or the winner of last year’s MacArthur Foundation’s 100&Change competition for a $100 million grant, which was the joint proposal from Sesame Workshop and International Rescue Committee. It brilliantly combines the unique value proposition from each to create a solution that neither organization could deliver by itself.
Can a collaborative group of charities be greater than the sum of its parts?
I’ve probably been asked 200 times over the past five months why The Nonprofit Alliance formed. Don’t we have enough associations already? Isn’t someone else already doing this work? Is it really necessary to be so disruptive?
I get it. Between us — and I’ll deny this if you ever repeat it — I asked those exact questions the first time the idea of The Nonprofit Alliance was posed to me last summer. But the answers were then, as they are now, disarmingly simple. There are a lot of associations doing a lot of good. Even still, there are gaps — gaping, yawning, echoing gaps. To fill those gaps, we’re going to have to make some noise.
The Nonprofit Alliance is a brand new organization that was formed with an ambitious mission: to be the authoritative voice of nonprofits to promote, protect, and strengthen the philanthropic sector in the best interests of donors and beneficiaries.
Most of us working in this sector would say that we’re in our profession by choice; the rest might say that it’s by happy accident. We get up and come to work every day because we’re innately passionate about what we do to directly or indirectly address problems in the world that we know can be solved. To borrow a phrase from Steve Jobs, we are determined to make our dent in the universe. During an unsettled time, we represent what is best about our nation. It is our duty — our calling, really — on top of everything else on our overflowing plates, to make sure our voice is being heard.
The people, the communities, the creatures, and the greater good: These are the things that compel us to do what we do. And they are counting on us to make sure we protect and preserve this nonprofit ecosystem so that we have the resources and influence necessary to change the world.
So, just that small thing. Changing the world. If you’re trying to eat a whale (which I don’t suggest or support, by the way), you can walk around it all day, daunted by its massive size and wondering how you’ll ever finish. Or you can pick a spot and take a bite. The Nonprofit Alliance picked our spot, and before we even paid our first office lease bill, we took a big bite.
Our spot: data privacy.
Legislative decisions to protect consumer data privacy are being made right now. Most legislators recognize and value the services offered by nonprofits, and they want to do right by nonprofits so we can continue to make their constituents’ lives better. But they are not experts in fundraising. The Nonprofit Alliance has to be clear and direct in advocating for fundraising best practices, which are distinctly different from what may be best for other industries.
As an example, state legislators thought that their California Consumer Protection Act exemption adequately protected nonprofits because, as they said, no one had told them otherwise. That was, however, until The Nonprofit Alliance arrived in Sacramento.
Now we’re expecting data legislation to gain traction in as many as 25 states, and we’re on Capitol Hill talking to key leaders to propose a single, reasonable national policy.
If we want to be heard, we have to speak up.
That’s bite #1.
Here’s bite #2: We’re working to create a new and improved experience for The Nonprofit Alliance members. We’re building out an educational programming menu and cultivating mutually beneficial relationships with specialized associations that are making us stronger together.
We all have work “stuff” that keeps us up at night. At 2 a.m., I go back through those questions I asked myself about The Nonprofit Alliance last summer. Is this necessary? Is it right? Does it have to be now?
Yes. Yes. And yes.
And then, at 2:04 a.m., the next question: What will it take to be wildly successful?
Collaboration. The whole that is greater than the sum of the parts.
As with any new and ambitious venture, there are the early adopters, the ones who see the problem for what it is and want to be part of shaping the solution. In the case of The Nonprofit Alliance, those include our founding members. More than 100 individuals, nonprofit organizations, and commercial partners (including TrueSense Marketing) stepped up alongside The Nonprofit Alliance and said, “It’s time.”
Their financial support validated our plans and let us start acting on behalf of our nonprofit community, even before we were ready to open our doors for broader membership. We also have an incredible volunteer roster of about 85 people who are lending their time and expertise to craft the structure of The Nonprofit Alliance. They started with a blank slate and are building the “what” and the “how” of The Nonprofit Alliance as an association that will serve our needs and fill the gaps.
There’s broader collaboration, too. It’s the answer to that question, “What about all the associations that already exist?” It’s a powerhouse list of organizations, many of which formed in similar circumstances when change was needed. The Nonprofit Alliance isn’t here to duplicate another association’s efforts. When there’s so much good that can be done, why be redundant?
We see an opportunity to create a bigger platform, a stronger voice, that gives more attention to what’s already working, and more resources to tackle what’s not.
Look, it’s easy to be the new association in town. And, at the same time, mind-spinningly challenging every day as we build the plane that we’re already flying. But wow, the energy and momentum coming from so many directions, the “how can I be part of this?” and “what can I do to help?” phone calls, the “let’s move faster” drive — it’s phenomenal. This is our community coming together, bringing the best that we have and putting it on the table to say, here are the parts, let’s build a new whole.
For more information about The Nonprofit Alliance, visit our website, or email me, Shannon McCracken, CEO.
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