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Groundwork for Good: Twenty-two leaders make the case for enhanced investment in nonprofit infrastructure

An open letter to foundations highlights the need for infrastructure investment to ensure “integrity and impact” in the large and growing social sector.

In an open letter to foundations, 22 institutional leaders called for enhanced investment in nonprofit infrastructure – the “organizations devoted to supporting the health of the nonprofit sector.”

Likening the value of their work in the social sector to the role that roads, bridges, schools, and other essential infrastructure play in undergirding our society and economy, the authors asked foundations to “consider directing at least 1% of their grantmaking budgets to support the infrastructure upon which the nonprofit sector is built.”

Research, training programs, technological platforms, advocacy efforts, and the networking and knowledge-sharing enabled through events and conferences – the authors cite these and other resources as forming the fundamental infrastructure that makes “foundations and nonprofits more effective in their quest to make the world better.”

Endorsed and published by the Center for Effective Philanthropy, the “Investing in Infrastructure” letter was also signed by leaders of fellow nonprofit infrastructure organizations such as the Council on Foundations, Foundation Center, Guidestar, National Council of Nonprofits, Nonprofit Quarterly, Stanford PACS, and the Stanford Social Innovation Review. [Markets for Good is an initiative of Stanford PACS.]

As the authors note, the social sector has grown to encompass more than one million organizations whose collective outputs account for over one trillion dollars of economic activity in the U.S. and have fostered “countless transformed lives, communities, and ecosystems.” As in other major sectors, the authors assert that infrastructure – and the necessary investment to build, sustain, and improve upon it – is vital to the sector’s common interests and objectives, including ensuring “that nonprofits and foundations can act with integrity and impact.”

The letter identifies several key challenges facing the social sector, including inefficiencies in fundraising that lead to redundancy and waste; skills gaps and talent shortages among nonprofits; a lack of diversity in nonprofit leadership; and a need for greater transparency and communication to foster authentic evaluation, learning, and improvement.

“These are solvable problems,” the authors write. “With the right investments in civil society’s supporting institutions – across the local, state, national, and global levels – we can reach new levels of efficiency, ethics, and excellence.”

Notably, the 22 leaders stressed their own commitment to these principles: “We infrastructure organizations pledge to devote ourselves to magnifying the good created by philanthropy. We promise to hold ourselves to a high standard and to constantly strive to improve our own effectiveness. And, more, we pledge to work better together — to share, to collaborate, and to even consolidate where appropriate.”

While acknowledging the vital support already received in this area, the authors call for broad, collective action to support the common good: “If all foundations invest we can build a civil society capable of tackling the great challenges of our time. This is not the price of admission, not a good neighbor policy; it is an investment in impact.”

Look for more MFG coverage on this important issue soon!


Read the full “Investing in Infrastructure” letter here.

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