Live From Upswell: Now Is Time To Step Up

LOS ANGELES — The “brutal fact” in the nation and the charitable sector is that there is “a sense of unease,” causing “fissures and anxiety” and it’s “our time to step up in this very important” time.

Those are the words of Daniel Cardinali, president and chief executive officer of Independent Sector (IS), as he kicked off the organization’s business meeting yesterday during its Upswell conference here. Some 1,400 purpose-driven professionals are attending.

He also reported improved financial standing for the organization. For the nine-month period ended September 30, operating revenue was $7.7 million compared to $6.7 million for the same period in 2017. The organization’s budget grew to $12.5 million, an increase of $2 million compared to 2017 after several austere years that involved staff reductions.

The sector and nation face perils that start with the sector’s challenges, such as, an erosion of credibility, according to Cardinali. He pointed to the Edelman Trust Barometer that shows Americans trust nonprofits more than government and business but it is only 49 percent, down from 58 percent in 2017. The number of members of Independent Sector — 450 — might not be enough to cover all of the sector’s policy issues, he added.

“In times of doubt, uncertainty and wrenching social change, civil society is more important than ever. But civil society cannot thrive unless it is trusted, effective and deeply engaged with as many stakeholders as possible,” said Cardinali.

Independent Sector is in the process of reframing its mission which is steeped in expanding the voices that must be heard in making the sector’s case.

“We envision a world of engaged individuals, robust institutions, and vibrant communities working together to improve lives and the natural world and strengthen democratic societies,” is how the plan is framed.

The top elements of the plan are to build community, accelerate impact and lead on policy.

Building community involves the Upswell conference and its “labs” where numerous groups discuss ideas and inform how the organization will proceed. It also involves development of the philanthropy’s next generation of leaders and civil society thought leadership.

Accelerate impact involves ethics and accountability, telling the sector’s stories and its health. Independent Sector is involved with setting new metrics. “You can’t improve what you can’t measure,” said Cardinali.

When it comes to leading on policy, defending the Johnson Amendment is among the top concerns. The Johnson Amendment is a provision in the U.S. tax code that since 1954 prohibits all 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organizations from endorsing or opposing political candidates.

The nation’s major advocacy organizations know and understand the need to preserve the Johnson Amendment but the vast majority of nonprofit leaders “have no idea what it [the Johnson Amendment] means,” said Cardinali.

Internal and external advocacy strength must improve, he said.. There are “resource gaps” and a need to “muscle up.”

In other information at the business meeting, Independent Sector elected two new directors to its board. The directors are Janine Lee, president and CEO, Southeastern Council of Foundations, and Jim Clark, president and CEO, Boys & Girls Club of America. The new directors were each elected to serve a three-year term.

Additionally, the following directors have been re-elected to a second term: Antony Chiang, president, Empire Health Foundation; Terry Mazany, senior vice president for philanthropy, Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta, and Henry Timms, executive director, 92nd Street Y.

Retiring from the board was Kathy Calvin, president and CEO of United Nations Foundation.