February 11, 2009

Article Two, Section Two (Part Two)

Dear President Obama:

There was a period of time before India's independence that only 3,000 Englishmen ruled a country of 350 million. Before Gandhi, India was a country fractured by a lack of unified vision. Before the great Salt March, Indians wandered through history without a coherent identity. Before they were represented at the highest governmental levels, Indians did not have a voice.

My friend, Robert, shared this fact with a group of future nonprofit leaders at a conference last month, and I still have not been able to get the thought of such a splintered society - and how much it relates to the nonprofit sector here in America - out of my head. I thank you for your bold leadership amidst a tough economic and political climate thus far, and ask for two minutes so that I may indulge in my own audacious hope:

On Sunday night, Grammy Foundation president Neil Portnow called on your Administration to create an Cabinet-Level Arts Czar.

And Mr. Portnow wasn't the first make such a request; Quincy Jones has repeatedly suggested that having a Secretary of Culture is the right next step for America, saying that arts and culture are "just as important as military defense."

Lest you think otherwise, let me boldly stand in solidarity with these men in saying that arts and culture are pillars of any great society - and that any government worth its weight in rhetoric should work hard to foster the advancement of these endeavors. However, it would be shortsighted not to recognize the deep impact of the National Endowment for the Arts or the myriad other government programs designed to promote arts and culture.

Furthermore, exclusively highlighting a focused sub-group at such a high level completely ignores the holistic significance of the rich tapestry woven together by the golden thread of the Social Sector in its entirety. Said differently: we have many missions, but we wish to speak and be heard as one voice.

We are a group in adolescence, finding our identity. We represent over one million organizations with missions ranging from health-care to earth-care, from animal rights to human rights. Yet we have more that unites us than divides us. Whether our organization is providing shelter for an abused woman and her children or providing future generations with the promise of cleaner energy, the core of our mission is the pursuit of a more dynamic community. As significant employers in every American city, we represent nearly 15 million paid employees and another 80 million volunteers annually. We work diligently, responsibly, and with integrity - returning every invested philanthropic dollar to the community nine times over (and that's a conservative estimate). In other words, we are the economic stimulus you have been looking for.

We are a group faced with the fierce urgency of now, looking to usher in a bold new era of social innovation. Both you and the First Lady held jobs in nonprofit organizations, so you know firsthand how essential it is to have nimble, grassroots organizations able to respond to a rapidly changing economic environment. Now is the time to move beyond the limited constructs of charity and fully explore the powerful potential of the United States Nonprofit Sector.

The well-intentioned requests of Mr. Portnow and Mr. Jones are noble, yes. But we represent much more than musicians, artists, and writers. Every young woman who has hammered a nail into a home for Habitat for Humanity, every young man who has ladled soup into bowl after bowl at a local shelter, every grieving mother who has written letters of support to men and women in service overseas, and every person who has run a race to support breast cancer research or fight Alzheimer's disease - is ours.

Mr. President, we humbly implore you to create the Department of the Nonprofit Sector in order that Social Change and Community Development have a Cabinet-Level voice in your Administration. Thank you for your time, energy, and continued service to the nation that de Tocqueville called great, "because she does good."


Samuel I. Richard
Alliance of Arizona Nonprofits
Young Nonprofit Professionals Network, Phoenix


Tall, Dark, & Complicated said...

Outstanding, Sam. This letter fully conveys the strength of your hope and resolve.

Candi said...

Great job Sam! I love the letter, it full of passion, truth and hope. I was going to highlight my favorite part, but I would then have to highlight the entire letter. You did a great job conveying who we are "group in adolescence, finding our identity".

Loved it, thanks

African Kelli said...

Well put. I am 100% behind this.

Aaron Stiner said...

Nonprofit organizations are the most efficient providers of public goods, are the most responsive to the will of citizens, the most innovative creators of social change solutions and more trusted than their for-profit brethren in how they spend and allocate dollars.

That's why.

Look again at the list of cabinet positions and the glaring omission of cabinet level representation for one of the US's most important and largest employment sectors becomes obvious.

John Spencer said...

From a purely economic perspective, non-profits keep dollars in the local economy and help with preventative economic disasters. They are in the "business" of fixing what is broken and bringing about new innovation.

Well-written, Sam. This is one of my favorite posts you've written.

Elisa M. said...

Sam - Wow! This post conveys very eloquently the key arguments for creating a Cabinet level Nonprofit leader.

Are you going to send this (in snail mail oh my!) to the President? If so, would you consider co-signers? If you are and will, I would like to add my name to the list of co-signers.

Thanks for your remarkable leadership, as usual. I'm going to Tweet and FB this like crazy!