Opportunity Nation Named One of Top 10 Non-Profits to Watch in 2012•
Compiled by Ben Gose, Suzanne Perry, Caroline Preston and Cody Switzer
As the 2012 presidential campaign kicks off in earnest, nonprofits that focus on elections and hot political topics will be among those winning much of the attention in the new year. But so, too, will organizations that help those hurt by the global economic crisis and groups that themselves have suffered because of the turbulent economy. Other organizations will grab the spotlight because they are charting a new course or because they have appointed new leaders.
Promoting free-enterprise ideas in the presidential race
Well regarded among conservatives for championing limited government and private enterprise, this Washington think tank is hoping to reach a broader audience in 2012 with its “Road to Freedom” project.
The institute’s president, Arthur Brooks, who wrote a book bearing the project’s name, will lead the effort, including events on 50 college campuses to make a “moral case” for free enterprise as well as to build a platform that could be adopted by the presidential candidates this year.
The organization has already raised $9-million for the $11-million project, which could bolster its growing influence.
Prominent governors like New Jersey’s Chris Christie and Wisconsin’s Scott Walker have made pilgrimages to the institute in the past year, and the think tank co-sponsored one of the Republican presidential debates.
The organization, best known for its solid data and academic reputation, now boasts that it is creating a “powerful communications, education, and government-affairs machine.”
A push for partisan politics
Just in time for the 2012 elections, CForward hopes to persuade the nonprofit world to ditch its traditional reluctance to engage in partisan politics and work to elect nonprofit-friendly candidates.
Sure, tax laws bar charities from engaging in electioneering. But this new advocacy group—started by Robert Egger, president of the anti-hunger charity D.C. Central Kitchen—says that’s no reason nonprofit employees, volunteers, donors, or board members can’t get political on their own time
CForward plans to endorse candidates who have solid plans to strengthen nonprofits in their communities and funnel money to them through a political-action committee.
This election season, it will focus exclusively on state and local races. Coming up soon: an upgraded Web site that will feature profiles of candidates and allow visitors to rate them or donate to them.
A new leader succeeds a “legend”
Susan Dreyfus, the new chief executive of Families International, succeeds a man with an outsized reputation—Peter Goldberg, a prominent nonprofit advocate who built the organization into a mega-nonprofit that oversees three national social-service groups and one for-profit company.
Mr. Goldberg, who led Families International for 17 years, died of a heart attack in August. Ms. Dreyfus will bring inside knowledge to the job, which she starts this month: She leaves a post as secretary of Washington State’s Department of Social and Health Services, but she served as Families International’s senior vice president from 2003 to 2007.
Ms. Dreyfus calls Mr. Goldberg a “legend” and a “visionary.” But she says she is ready to fill his position, partly because he was such a good mentor to her.
Seeking $1-billion for girls
This will be a big year for America’s favorite cookie purveyor: Girl Scouts of the USA will celebrate its centennial, start a major fund-raising effort, and unveil a “Year of the Girl” campaign to mobilize organizations nationwide to promote leadership opportunities for girls. And it will do all that with anew chief executive, Anna Maria Chávez, the first Latina leader in the group’s long history.
Girl Scouts, which had been losing members annually until it saw a slight uptick in 2011, aims to raise $1-billion over five years for programs, volunteer recruitment and training, advocacy, and other activities designed to show its relevance to today’s girls. The modern touches include a set of new badges: Cadette Netiquette, for example, rewards girls for learning how to navigate social media, while Science of Style replaces From Fitness to Fashion.
5. Grameen Bank
Microfinance under assault
Last year could hardly have been worse for Muhammad Yunus, the Bangladeshi microfinance pioneer, and his nonprofit creation, Grameen Bank.
Mr. Yunus and the bank shared a Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 for promoting economic development through small loans. But in May, Mr. Yunus was forced to step down from the charity under pressure from Bangladesh’s government, which is said to view him as a political rival. The government said Mr. Yunus had misused charity funds, but a study by an independent watchdog group found otherwise. According to recent reports, the government continues to harass and intimidate Grameen officials.
Grameen’s misfortunes have coincided with the bursting of the hype bubble around microfinance, as more scholars examine the approach and find that it isn’t as simple or effective as so many people had hoped.
An energetic movement with lessons for nonprofits
Occupy Wall Street—and its dozens of spinoffs—have spontaneously achieved what many nonprofits spend years trying to generate: a brand, passion, media attention, and dollars.
In less than four months, the “Occupy” movement has turned the phrase “the 1 percent” into widely recognized shorthand for social inequality and what it calls “corrosive” corporate influence over the democratic process.
A big question for 2012: With its loose structure and anti-establishment ethos, will the protest have staying power? And if so, will it have to develop more formal approaches to be able to force change?
However it evolves, the movement challenges nonprofits and foundations to consider how to tap into the energy that has propelled thousands of people to occupy parks, squares, and campuses across the country.
A united effort to combat poverty
This new coalition of about 200 nonprofits, businesses, colleges and military organizations is hoping it can finally crack the problem of poverty in America—an issue that has taken on increased urgency during the economic downturn.
With $3.5-million from grant makers and heavy-hitter members like AARP, the Ford Foundation, and United Way Worldwide, Opportunity Nation may have the resources to make some waves.
One of its approaches: Use positive language. The coalition rarely uses the word “poverty,” instead saying it wants to increase economic opportunity and help people achieve the American dream.
But to succeed, it will need help from both Democratic and Republican lawmakers. And that could be an uphill battle right now given that Congress is diverted by election-year politics, under heavy pressure to cut spending, and in no mood to work on a bipartisan basis.
Pension squabble at venerable arts nonprofit
Orchestras around the country are not feeling much brotherly love for the Philadelphia nonprofit.
The 112-year-old Philadelphia Orchestra pulled out of a pension fund last fall because it said it couldn’t afford to pay tens of millions of dollars it owes retired musicians.
The decision by the orchestra has left other members of the plan, which include major orchestras, the national musicians’ union, and record labels, concerned that the pension fund will become insolvent
The Philadelphia group, which has declared bankruptcy, says it had no choice. The government is taking over the orchestra’s pension obligations, but the skirmish and what it says about financial struggles at America’s arts groups will be a story with a large audience in 2012.
Political pressure intensifies on embattled group
Planned Parenthood has been under intense pressure from anti-abortion activists in both Washington and a variety of state capitals—and it looks set to remain in the spotlight during the 2012 campaign season.
Since Republicans took control of the House in 2011, they have been trying to pull all federal money from the family-planning group, even for services not related to abortion, because its clinics terminate pregnancies. They have so far been unsuccessful, but that could change if Republicans win more political power in Washington.
Five of the Republican presidential candidates have signed a “pro-life” pledge that includes a promise to strip federal funds from Planned Parenthood. Mitt Romney, who is leading in the polls, did not sign the pledge but says he supports such a ban.
Planned Parenthood is also fighting several critical legal battles at the state level, including whether Indiana, New Hampshire, and Texas can deny Medicaid funds to groups that perform abortions.
A new face for young nonprofit employees
The 15-year-old Young Nonprofit Professionals Network has hired its first director and full-time employee—Trish Tchume, formerly of the Building Movement Project, a nonprofit that works to strengthen social-change groups.
As the new face of young nonprofit workers, her goal is to streamline the once all-volunteer organization’s leadership and rally its 30,000 members. Expect her to be involved in research and advocacy for better leadership training and working with the White House and Independent Sector on their new Initiative for Nonprofit Talent and Leadership. Her efforts in 2012 could influence her organization—and nonprofit leadership—for years to come.