The social sector, the nonprofit community — call it what you will — is filled with passionate people who choose to spend their days (and a good part of their nights, too; it’s not a 9 to 5 occupation) doing work that helps other people.
At the Council of New Jersey Grantmakers, we do our best to help well over 100 philanthropic organizations in New Jersey make the most of their resources. The grantees of these philanthropies also have a place to turn. The Center for Non-Profits is the only umbrella organization for 501(c)(3)s in the state, providing “advocacy, resources, training and information to strengthen non-profits and help them thrive,” as the Center’s website proclaims.
It’s helpful and not particularly surprising that grantmakers and grantees each have organizations they can turn to. What’s different about the situation in New Jersey, though, is what close partners our two organizations have become. The president of the National Council of Nonprofits calls CNJG and the Council “role models, not only for state associations of nonprofits and regional associations of grantmakers around the country, but for all community leaders.”
It wasn’t always that way. For years, the Council and the Center mostly worked laterally on programs and issues for their respective constituents. We promoted each other’s large-scale events, often sat at the same table when advocating for “defense of the philanthropic sector” issues, and shared the same kind of nonprofit-centric concepts with the general public.The two organizations were friends and allies, not partners.
This began to change in 2012, when Nina Stack, then President of CNJG, asked Linda Czipo, President & CEO of the Center, to make a presentation at a Council board meeting about nonprofit policy trends and the Center’s work. The board found what Linda had to say compelling, and indicated the desire for CNJG to work more closely with the Center on programming and advocacy. Soon after, the Center was invited to join the Council’s Leadership and Policy Committee, and the Council was invited to join the Center’s Advocacy Committee. This was a big step and much more has been accomplished since then.
With an initial goal of making funders aware of key issues facing nonprofits, a docket of programming and education specifically for the philanthropic sector was an early focus of the partnership. Systemic issues prevalent in the social sector are a big part of the agenda. They include the “overhead myth,” issues related to government contracting, and the true costs of providing programs and services.
A good example of this work is the “Doing Good Better” group, formed in 2014, made up equally of nonprofit and grantmaker members, and co-chaired by a representative from each organization. They worked to identify one specific critical issue on which to work collaboratively. The group selected full-cost funding as the issue that could benefit from the state’s philanthropic and nonprofit sectors coming together in one voice. The partnership is working together to finalize a set of principles, and continuing to raise awareness and support for the concept of full-cost funding among our memberships.
The process our two organizations engage in is crucial to the partnership’s success. The Center and the Council meet at the beginning of each year to broadly discuss and outline what to collectively work on and try to accomplish in the coming year. These goals, ideas, and plans are documented and reviewed throughout the year. In preparation for each annual discussion, the previous year’s plans are revisited to determine what was accomplished, what we can build upon, and what is no longer a priority. A new agenda is set for the coming year. The partnership appreciates that not every goal will be accomplished and flexibility is important. Equally important, while these planning sessions form a framework for the year, there is open and frequent communication throughout the year.
The two organizations, the people and groups they represent, and, by extension, New Jersey itself, are stronger because of this partnership. The boards of both organizations fully support the partnership, appreciating its depth and value. The common bonds are strong: mutual trust and respect as equal partners; honest communication; and a commitment to the ideals that animate the social sector.
Linda was back before the CNJG board at our June 28 meeting, presenting findings from the Center’s 2018 New Jersey Nonprofit Trends and Outlook report. Her words were both insightful and another reminder of how important it is that we continue this fruitful partnership.
Jon Shure, Interim President/CEO
Council of New Jersey Grantmakers