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GuideStar Blog

From the President's Office, October 2006

Dear Friend:

Later this month, a Nonprofit Congress will convene here in Washington, with hundreds of participants from around the country. In a joint statement, co-chairs Audrey Alvarado, executive director of the National Council of Nonprofit Associations, and Robert Egger, president of D.C. Central Kitchen, explained the reasons for the Congress:

Despite the value that nonprofits add to the quality of life in America, the survival of many charitable organizations is uncertain. Due to a convergence of factors—including declining resources, increasing demands to deliver more services, widespread misunderstanding about nonprofits, mounting operational complexities, and fragmentation within the sector—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. Now more than ever, nonprofits need to unite around our common values, develop a shared vision and priorities, and exercise our collective voice for a better future.
GuideStar is proud to be one of the Nonprofit Congress's sponsors. We have also been pleased to inform GuideStar Newsletter readers about the gathering (see "Nonprofit Congress: Many Missions, One Voice") and the survey on the guiding principles of the nonprofit sector. The survey results will help frame the work of the Nonprofit Congress, and we urge you to participate if you haven't already done so.

From where we sit here at GuideStar—in the middle of the maelstrom—we never cease to be amazed at the diversity and complexity of the nonprofit sector. Keeping track of 1.5 million nonprofit organizations is no easy task, and with the sector growing at more than 50,000 new organizations every year, there appears to be no slowing down in Americans' commitment and passion to provide public service. We think this diversity is a strength for the sector, reflecting the wonderful mosaic of America. And we think on the whole that the relative ease with which one can start a nonprofit organization is also a positive reflection of our country's "can-do" spirit. But when do our diversity and growth become more of a problem than a strength, and what should we do about it?

For starters, we would like to see government oversight officials play a stronger role in enforcing the rules and making sure that unscrupulous actors don't hijack the nonprofit sector for personal gain or an unseemly way to avoid taxes. The actions of a few harm all of us who care about the nonprofit sector. We support efforts to increase the resources of oversight activities at the federal and state levels.

Second, we applaud efforts by many of our colleagues—as well as our own here at GuideStar—to establish guidelines for appropriate and ethical behavior for nonprofit organizations. Although voluntary in nature, such approaches can be powerful incentives for boards and managers to lead their organizations in good conduct.

These guidelines are in part responding to the informational needs of individual and professional donors. Donors' increasing expectations along with self-regulation are the best ways to ensure that nonprofit organizations perform in an ethical and effective manner.

Finally, we wish the Nonprofit Congress well in its efforts to build a common agenda for our creative and rambunctious sector. We agree that the nonprofit sector deserves more credit for its contributions to our society and a stronger voice in shaping our society's policies and plans. Although it may not be possible to establish one agenda for everyone, any effort that strengthens our impact is worth pursuing.


Bob Ottenhoff
President and CEO