by Rob Meiksins, CEO
It was a case of “be careful what you ask for because you just might get it.” And we were delighted.
Every year at about this time, NPC holds an annual meeting with our member organizations, Milwaukee nonprofits of all types and sizes. This year we did something different—we held a session asking our members to talk to us and tell us what they see as critical issues that our organization should keep on its agenda. We put out that call, and people responded—even more than we had hoped.
More than 60 people came to the session; they were truly engaged, and they gave us some great thoughts. We used the World Café process, asking groups gathered around small tables to answer a series of questions that increased in depth and scope. The final question was, “What can we do that will help your organization and the sector?”
From these questions, hosts at the tables reported out three specific ideas, placing them under the category of any of the “three C's” of our emerging vision. These were written down as action items on flip chart paper. Then, all participants voted for their top action items by placing colored dots on them. You can see the results in this downloadable PDF.
Here are the main insights I took away from the listening session:
- It will be critical to strengthen the role of the nonprofit sector. The participants talked to each other and to us about their perception that the nonprofit sector does not receive the credit and support that it deserves. We talked about the sector needing to see it self and to be seen as an equal partner with the private sector and the public sector in the makeup of our society. Raising the visibility of our work, establishing a go-to voice for our sector, and promoting creative ways to support our organizations in the longer term were some of the ideas being shared.
- Organizational capacity must be addressed. How do we convince people who judge our sector and our work that it costs money to run a program? It is simply a fact that, just as for any for profit business or any public sector initiative, there are overhead expenses that are part of the cost of doing business, as articulated by Dan Pallotta in his famous TED Talk. Another topic was how the next generation, the millennials, will engage in the work of the sector, how we can welcome and support them, and what their leadership will look like in the future.
- Overregulation is rampant. The number of hoops nonprofits have to jump through to get and then maintain funding and/or contracts is overwhelming. Although few people would be against having to measure our impact, having to do it on a 12 month cycle is tough. Some HR regulations regarding levels of academic achievement some workers have to attain in order to be eligible for hiring seem overbearing. Why not just assess their ability to do the work?
- There is a real desire for forums where a community of leaders of nonprofits can come together and talk about bigger picture issues. You could tell this just from the number of people who showed up. They really liked having a safe space where they could openly talk about issues facing not only their individual organizations, but the sector as a whole.
- There is real interest in and excitement about where the Nonprofit Center of Milwaukee can go, and what we might be able to accomplish. Nonprofit leaders expressed genuine support for NPC, optimism for our future plans, and enthusiasm around the path we have begun to lay for our future.
If you were at the listening session, what were your take-aways? What did you hear the group say?
If you weren’t there, what would you like us to pay attention to? What can we do that would help you, your organization, and/or the sector as a whole?
Please comment below to answer any of these questions.
Thanks again to everyone who came and shared their time and ideas, and thanks also to NPC team members Margaret Thom, Susanne Vella, Bonnie Andrews, and Katie McKeown for making it a fun event.