The Consigliere

December 22, 2015       Paul Clolery      

John Gardner and Brian O’Connell are acknowledged across the nonprofit world as the godfathers of modern philanthropic thought and action. Hardly mentioned is Bob Smucker, the man who was one of their chief influencers. He was the sector’s Tom Hagen, counselor to the guys out front.

Strategist and confidant to the sector’s leadership for decades, the secrets he took with him when he died last month were probably the stuff of legend. The petty jealousies between big egos and the plans that were made but never hatched stayed with him. Smucker never betrayed a trust, which is why he was so integral to the sector’s political development.

He knew where all of the bodies were buried and helped navigate around them, never having to publicly dig one up and move it. Privately, however, was another matter. His razor sharp tactics based on that knowledge shaped many an assault on Capitol Hill and state legislatures.

He was a generous man who gave away his most precious possession – his time. Anyone who needed advice on lobbying or how to approach a problem found a willing ally in Smucker. As founder of the Center for Lobbying in the Public Interest (CLPI), he really meant public interest. His background in providing a safety net for the world’s most vulnerable shined through all of his actions.

While CLPI was folded into the National Council of Nonprofits, its impact and Smucker’s voice are still making a difference across the nation through its network of training fellows. The training fellows are employees of state associations, which turn to the NCN and the CLPI backbone for advocacy training.

Smucker literally wrote the benchmark book on charitable arm-twisting in 1999, The Nonprofit Lobbying Guide. The coming election cycle would have kept him very busy. In fact, every nonprofit executive should be saddling for the 2016 roundup.

Tim Delaney, president and chief executive officer of the National Council of Nonprofits, summed it up when he was quoted saying: “The nonprofit sector and our country owe Bob Smucker a tremendous debt of gratitude. He believed in the wisdom of the American people and the power of giving voice to that wisdom through advocacy.”

Hyman Roth would have said: “This was a great man, a man of vision and guts. And there isn’t even a plaque, or a signpost or a statue of him.” The sector needs to change that oversight and give Smucker his due and place in nonprofit political development and lore.

Here’s the opportunity to do just that for Bob Smucker. Everyone who makes a living from lobbying for the charitable sector needs to get out a checkbook. Delaney and the National Council of Nonprofits need to set up a scholarship program in his name so that lobbying can be taught for many years to come. As soon as the dedicated bank account is set up, the first $500 is on us. NPT