Giving Compass’ Take:
• The author explains the role of nonprofits in civil society and the effect of these organizations on democracy.
• How can nonprofit organizations encourage more participation and engagement in civil society?
• Read Stanford Social Innovation Review’s civil society dialogue.
Perhaps the most difficult hurdle for many investors is that the outcomes associated with civic engagement are amorphous and process oriented, making them difficult to measure. Their skepticism is understandable.
What’s the incentive to invest in these kinds of things, especially in a sector that has been somewhat laissez-faire in assessing even its most basic activities?
Nonprofits, therefore, need to move beyond the argument that civic engagement is part of their mission, which may sway some but not many, especially in the age of benchmarks and outcomes. Instead, they need to show how an expanded definition of outcomes—including communities’ ability to address issues beyond predetermined time frames and program foci—leads to longer-term results. In addition to using as a measure the number of homes that have been built for homeless families, for example, nonprofits could also assess whether and to what extent the larger community has the capacity to prevent homelessness and whether that fuels collective problem solving on other issues.
In short, social efficacy becomes an important outcome—one that has the potential to leverage funders’ investments (and perhaps codify the ever-elusive notion of impact) but is admittedly more difficult to evaluate. That shouldn’t preclude nonprofits from trying—and, most important, funders from providing—the resources to do so more rigorously.
Nonprofits’ role in promoting democracy, however, goes beyond individual communities. As it has been for the past century, the nonprofit sector is the doorway through which millions of Americans pursue a diverse array of cultural, social, political, and religious beliefs through civic opportunities that are the hallmark of a healthy democracy.
Read the full article about nonprofit role in democracy by Cynthia Gibson at Nonprofit Quarterly
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