The Resilient Sector Revisited: The New Challenge to Nonprofit America

Brookings Institution Press
Free sample

Nonprofit America is one of the least understood segments of national life, yet also one of the most crucial.

Author Lester Salamon, who pioneered the empirical study of the nonprofit sector in the United States, provides a wealth of new data to paint a compelling picture of a set of institutions being buffeted by a withering set of challenges, yet still finding ways to survive and prosper. These challenges, however, are posing enormous risks to the historic character and role of nonprofits.

Operating in an increasingly competitive environment in which traditional sources of government and philanthropic support are difficult to maintain, nonprofits have turned decisively to the market. In the process, however, they may be losing their raison d'être, sacrificing their most crucial missions, and risking loss of public understanding and support.

To remedy this situation, Salamon recommends a "renewal strategy" for the nation's nonprofit sector that begins with a wider articulation and application of the sector's "value proposition"—the attributes that continue to make it deserving of the special privileges and benefits it enjoys. Salamon's pithy and accessible book is perfect for nonprofit boards, leaders of charitable foundations, government officials, and students of the nonprofit sector and of public policy, as well as anyone looking for guidance on how we go about dealing with public problems in America's increasingly collaborative system of governance.

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About the author

Lester M. Salamon is a professor at the Johns Hopkins University, where he is director of the Center for Civil Society Studies in the School of Public Health, was founding director of the Institute for Policy Studies, and serves as senior research professor at the SAIS–Bologna Center. In addition, he is scientific director of the International Laboratory on Nonprofit Sector Studies at Moscow's Higher School of Economics. Acknowledged as one of the premier experts on the nonprofit sector in the United States and around the world, he has written a number of books, including Partners in Public Service (Johns Hopkins University Press), Rethinking Corporate Social Engagement (Kumarian), and Tools of Government (Oxford).

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Additional Information

Publisher
Brookings Institution Press
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Published on
Aug 17, 2015
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Pages
120
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ISBN
9780815724261
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Language
English
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Genres
Business & Economics / Nonprofit Organizations & Charities / General
Political Science / NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations)
Political Science / Political Process / Political Advocacy
Political Science / Public Policy / Social Policy
Social Science / General
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"The nonprofit sector survives because it has a self-exploiting work force: wind it up and it will do more with less until it just runs out. But at some point, the spring must break." America's nonprofit organizations face a difficult present and an uncertain future. Money is tight. Workloads are heavy, employee turnover is high, and charitable donations have not fully rebounded from the recent economic downturn. Media and political scrutiny remains high, and public confidence in nonprofits has yet to recover from its sharp decline in the wake of well-publicized scandals. In a recent survey, only 14 percent of respondents believed that nonprofits did a very good job of spending money wisely; nearly half said that nonprofit leaders were paid too much, compared to 8 percent who said they earned too little. Yet the nonprofit sector has never played a more important role in American life. As a generation of nonprofit executives and board members approaches retirement, it becomes increasingly important to ensure that their organizations are prepared to continue their missions—that they are built to last in a supremely challenging environment. Paul Light, renowned expert on public service and nonprofit management, strongly argues for capacity-building measures as a way to sustain and improve the efforts of the nonprofit sector. With innovative data and insightful analysis, he demonstrates how nonprofits that invest in technology, training, and strategic planning can successfully advance their goals and restore public faith in their mission and capabilities. He explains the ways in which restoration of that faith is critical to the survival of nonprofits—another important reason for improving and then sustaining performance. Organizations that invest adequately in their infrastructure and long-term planning are the ones that will survive and continue to serve.
From their experience in nonprofit operations and their understanding of the realities of urban politics, the editors of this wide-ranging volume and their contributors dig into issues seldom explored in the literature. They study the role of nonprofits in local governing coalitions, the potential of nonprofits to replace social welfare programs, their efforts to restructure key elements of the local political process, and the unanticipated internal impacts of the changing roles of nonprofit organizations in the urban community. The result is a compelling argument that to understand life in contemporary American cities, we must take into account the expanding role of nonprofit organizations, their response to increased service demands, and their participation in common efforts to direct policy choices.

Hula, Jackson-Elmoore, and their panel of scholars, researchers, and close observers of urban policymaking focus on the delivery of social services to illustrate the complex and important set of roles that nonprofits have assumed. As social programs are cut at all levels of government, it is often believed that nonprofits can and should take up the slack and restore at least some portion of the cutbacks in such services. They examine how some nonprofit organizations have taken a proactive stance in this regard by implementing efforts that do not simply react to political and social change, but attempt to initiate and guide it instead. They attempt to change the political environment in which they operate, and the result has been to change the face of local politics in many jurisdictions. Each chapter of their book explores these expanding and emerging roles. Themes and focuses vary, which in turn reflects the variation and complexity within the nonprofit sector itself. At the same time, each chapter presents an emerging political or policy role now being played by today's nonprofits and voluntary associations, and a theoretical context in which such activities and behavior can best be understood. Scholars and advanced students in public administration, economics, and nonprofit management, as well as executive-level nonprofit managers, will find here an important update on what is happening in their special worlds, and the knowledge they need to make sense of it.

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