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Jocelyn Harmon

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Nonprofit Congress: Many Missions, One Voice

The National Council of Nonprofit Associations (NCNA) has established the Nonprofit Congress in order to unite charitable nonprofits and strengthen the sector. NCNA invites anyone concerned about charitable nonprofits to participate in this initiative.

Nonprofits play a critical and unique role in our society. Charitable organizations provide direct service to citizens, initiate new ideas, support minority and local interests, and build collective life by bringing people together. Nonprofit organizations are also an important vehicle for promoting citizen engagement and encouraging altruism.

Nonprofits are already working in coalition and reaching out to businesses, foundations, and individuals in collaborative and creative ways to respond to community needs and advance citizen engagement. Despite these efforts, "the survival of many charitable organizations is uncertain," says Audrey Alvarado, NCNA executive director and project director of the National Congress. "Due to a convergence of threatening factors—including declining resources, increasing demands to deliver more services, widespread misunderstanding about nonprofits, and mounting operational complexities—nonprofits find themselves operating in a most challenging environment. The communities we serve and the issues we care about suffer when we are fragmented and isolated."

Goals of the Nonprofit Congress

The Nonprofit Congress aims to bring together nonprofits from across the country to:

  • Affirm the sector's shared values;
  • Develop a vision and priorities for the sector; and
  • Exercise the sector's collective voice.

Components of the Nonprofit Congress

The Nonprofit Congress is divided into four phases:

  1. Personal Declaration
    Individuals who care about nonprofits—including staff, board members, volunteers, funders, clients, business leaders, and government officials—are invited to show their support for the sector and the aspirations of the Nonprofit Congress by signing the Declaration for America's Nonprofits. To date more than 2,200 individuals have signed the  Declaration, which encourages nonprofits to come together as an industry and develop a unified and forceful agenda.

  2. Town Hall Meetings
    The Nonprofit Congress is being driven by local nonprofits. Charitable leaders and their allies are convening via local Town Hall meetings to share their dreams, express their concerns, define their values, and unite around opportunities for the future of the nonprofit sector. Information gathered from the Town Halls will be used to develop the values and priorities for the sector. To date, 37 Town Hall meetings have been held in 16 states. An additional 50 meetings are in planning in 18 another states, for a total of 34 states.

    The issues of concern to local nonprofits that have emerged in Town Halls thus far include:

    • Accountability (governance and regulations/oversight)
    • Advocacy/Public Policy
    • Communication with Constituents
    • Collaboration (both within the sector and with external partners)
    • Employment (attracting new people to work in the sector)
    • Funding
    • Public Relations (spreading the word about the good work that nonprofits do)
    • Technology
    • Volunteers (recruitment, retention, and management)

  3. National Meeting
    On October 16-17, 2006, approximately 500 nonprofit delegates will meet in Washington, D.C., to affirm the values and prioritize the issues generated from input gathered at Town Halls and to create a collective action plan for the sector.

  4. Taking Action
    After the National Meeting, the Nonprofit Congress will continue to build the capacity of delegates to take action in support of the plan at the local, state, and national levels in partnership with media, business, government, and civic leaders. In addition, the Nonprofit Congress will link the delegates to key partners, such as state associations of nonprofits, in an effort to strengthen and build the initiative.

More Information

For more information, go to

Jocelyn Harmon, June 2006
© 2006, National Association of Nonprofit Associations

Jocelyn Harmon is director of development and communications for the National Association of Nonprofit Associations (NCNA). NCNA advances the vital role and capacity of the nonprofit sector in civil society and supports and gives voice to state and regional associations of nonprofit organizations.