Alliance Lays Out New Vision

Los Angeles — The Alliance for Strong Families and Communities is undergoing a re-visioning on everything from its mission, network, operations and dues structure. The national organization is developing a plan of action to combat what President and CEO Susan Dreyfus called “unprecedented changes” that focused on knowledge, advocacy and equity that “changes the context of how people live.”

For change to be durable it had to come from within, said Dreyfus. That focus on values-based advocacy launched a year-long project by a nine-member task force that included FSG, a consultancy with U.S. and international offices.

The three themes that permeated Dreyfus’s talk and sessions during the Alliance’s national conference were: the theory of change in the sector and organizational operation; ownership by the members and their responsibilities to the organization, each other and their communities and reciprocity, and the working together to exchange ideas and for community building.

During the past year there were surveys, meetings and interviews of members, staff, board members, eight funders and five non-member executives. It was determined there would be changes in vision, long-term outcomes and intermediate outcomes, she told the members at a general session of the annual conference on Wednesday and today during an interview with The NonProfit Times.

Seven targets were established from the surveying and discussions:

  • Systemic change must occur;
  • Doubling down on policy influence;
  • Generative partnerships are needed;
  • The network must reflect the nation’s population changes, ethnically and geographically;
  • Sector health and capacities;
  • Real time strategic leaning communities; and,
  • Topic regional convening.

From this came the new visioning, “a healthy and equitable society,” Dreyfus said. Key long-term elements to driving toward the equitable society involve population health and well-being; education success; economic opportunity; and, safety and security.

Dreyfus said that the network will embark on a reorganization of core actions, some of which launched on Wednesday and others will evolve during the next year. The Alliance unveiled a new technology platform called “myAlliance,” a social platform that emulates LinkedIn and Facebook. Alliance members will be able to create their own communities and will have digitized access to research and organizational documents. All staff or member organizations will have access.

The organization is also working on a shared network policy platform. There will be more on that in the spring, she said.

The Alliance will be pushing new spirit of reciprocity, which involves changing the application process for joining the organization; the CEO Council will work out those details.

There will also be a push for more cooperation outside the usual members. The Alliance will work closely with the American Public Human Services Association to focus on financial stability and in April will co-host a National Health and Human Services Summit.

The Alliance will also rework its financial model. The dues structure will change. New members will pay the new fees beginning Jan. 1 while current members will see charges change in 2018. The push will be for a more diverse membership, particularly from the South and West, she said. Dreyfus called it a strategic action network for the 21st century, “what it is collectively we are trying to achieve.”

What is really troubling to Dreyfus is what she described as a “looming workforce crisis” that is brought on not only the aging of sector leaders but “over-credentialing” in many areas of nonprofit work. She gave as an example that often a master’s degree in social work is a job requirement of applicants when “there’s no evidence it’s necessary” for a particular job. A value must be placed on life experience in communities, she said, and value on “desire to do this work.”

Training is vital but she perceives the pendulum swinging back toward growing internally from an organizational standpoint and from a community view. She called some areas of the sector “over-professionalized, over-credentialed.”

She described a “deep structural imbalance” in funding for social services, particularly healthcare that the network must work to change. She called it a lack of “actuarial soundness.” Governments push nonprofits to take less than what a service costs while not expecting the same from those paving roads. “They assume we can go out and raise the money to fill that difference and it is not possible,” said Dreyfus.

There is also the case of paying people a living wage so that the work can continue. She cited cases where staff are leaving healthcare and human service nonprofits to work in hospital systems because the starting pay is thousands of dollars more than what is paid at the agency.

She believes that in many cases the altruism of working in the charitable sector is left out of the capacity building discussions. It seems as more is handed off to the sector by government that it is all about outcome measurement in a sector where there is often high failure rate environment.

“We have to build back in the role of altruism,” said Dreyfus, so that “we are all trying to achieve a theory of change.”