National Council of Nonprofits Taking Over CLPI

April 24, 2012       Mark Hrywna      

The Center for Lobbying in the Public Interest (CLPI) will transfer its training materials, curriculum and program content to the National Council of Nonprofits (NCN) and wind down operations after 14 years of operation.

“The powerful intellectual property and legacy of CLPI will bolster the National Council’s mission of advancing the vital role, capacity, and voice of charitable nonprofit organizations through our state and national networks,” said Tim Delaney, NCN’s president and CEO.

A special task force will explore the best ways for NCN to use CLPI’s resources and materials. Delaney said there is no formal timeline for the task force’s work but it’s already started an informal listening tour and invites nonprofit leaders with insights about quality nonprofit advocacy training to share comments at http://www.councilofnonprofits.org/survey/feedback-nonprofit-advocacy-programs. For the time being, NCN will continue to keep the CLPI website operating as a resource for nonprofits regarding compliance with lobbying laws.

“We do a lot of work behind the scenes in just trying to get the work done and not shine a light on ourselves,” Delaney said. “What we anticipate is that nonprofits probably won’t see that big a difference yesterday versus today but in the next few months, as we wrap our arms around these new tools to see how we can best deploy them throughout country, we believe that nonprofits will be able to tell the difference,” he said. “And that will be occurring at their local level — at the state association level – and not a top-down model.”

There’s a struggle to educate people about what they’re legal rights are, he said, and a lot of it is getting the basic information widely disbursed, targeting the right audiences, and engaging in training.

“We just see this as grand opportunity to take things to a higher level, merging the boots on the ground network that the National Council has throughout our state associations, with the terrific and powerful training materials and information that CLPI has developed over the years,” said Delaney.

The direction of the National Council was increasingly synergistic to what CLPI did, said CLPI Board Chair Michael Cortés. “The National Council is not the same National Council I knew two or three years ago,” he said, moving more into policy development and related work with its membership. “It was just increasingly making sense to combine capacity building with advocacy work.”

Meanwhile, CLPI’s funding base had gradually decreased over time, with reported revenue of $285,350 but expenses of $400,000, according to its income tax filings, down from revenue of almost $600,000 in 2007. Net assets were down to $156,000 last year. By comparison, NCN had revenue of almost $1.2 million last year, and net assets of almost $1.25 million, six full-time employees in its Washington, D.C. headquarters and a network of 37 state associations.

CLPI staff had dwindled to about two full-time employees and President Larry Ottinger stepped down after his contract expired but stayed on as a volunteer. Among CLPI’s biggest assets has been its network of training fellows that it has around the nation, said Cortés, who expects the organization to dissolve in a matter of weeks after the formal transfer is made and all bills are paid.

Many of the CLPI training fellows are employees of NCN’s 37 state associations, which have often turned to the organization for advocacy training, according to Tim Delaney, president and CEO of the National Council.

“We had to ask ourselves, is the staffed corporate model that we’ve been using the most efficient use of resources available,” said Cortés. “We were growing increasingly concerned that the funding base and scale of operations were getting small. We liked the work we were doing in the field and advocacy work in the Beltway, but when you get too small, we have to ask ourselves, is there a better way to do this?”

CLPI board members periodically discussed alternative business models for the organization in recent years, according to Cortés, and in January moved forward. “The economy has hit the entire sector and we’ve been no exception. One of the issues is just an overall reduction in giving throughout the sector as needs have increased. Part of it is shifting priorities in the grantmaking world,” he said.

When CLPI founded was founded in 1998 by Bob Smucker, Thomas Troy and David Arons, there was more of a priority in strengthening the sector building capacity and infrastructure, said Cortés. Some funders decided to shift priorities toward direct services that are more urgently needed. “It’s all very understandable, but it made infrastructure organizations that much more challenging to support,” he said.

“Consolidating where mission is served more effectively in an era of decreasing resources is part of our story, as it is an awful lot organizations around the sector,” Cortés said. “Our mission, we think will be better served.”

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