Philanthropic leader on the deficit, nonprofits, and our greatest civic challenges

We hope you were able to join us for the Alliance’s annual conference on April 27. We came away inspired by the speakers and breakouts, full of ideas for our work as an organization, and with a renewed sense of connection to our nonprofit sector and the Mid-South community.

Rip Rapson, President and CEO of the Kresge Foundation, spoke eloquently about recent and expected changes in the nonprofit funding landscape and how Kresge and private foundations in general are preparing to respond.

According to Rapson, the current deficit reduction crisis is the second “tectonic shift in the nonprofit landscape” that will “almost certainly redefine how nonprofits work.”  Budget reductions, he reported, will “cascade down from Federal services and funding flows to the states, from the states to local government, and from local government to real people living in real places.”

Rapson described the scrambling of the sector to survive amid the financial crisis as a “training wheels exercise” that did not fully prepare us for this new era. He urged the audience not to think of the current environment as a passing phase, or a mere funding crisis, observing that “we are witnessing the deconstruction and reconstruction of what constitutes the common good.” Questions about our deepest ethical priorities as a society are at stake, he declared:

“How will we balance the virtue of long-term investment with an insistence on minimizing tax payments?  How do we preserve a civic architecture of compassion for those less fortunate while honoring the accomplishments of those who have achieved positions of economic and political power?  How can we avoid dismantling structures of mutual assistance in the face an impulse to trust and promote market efficiencies?

The combination of these factors – the new normal, the innovation imperative, and the recasting of the common good – presents a civic circumstance that isn’t temporary or minor or limited.  It’s real, it promises to endure, and it’s becoming embedded in virtually every dimension of modern American life.”

You can read Rapson’s speech here to learn how Kresge is responding to the crisis and how the philanthropic sector as a whole might—or must– move forward in this new age. You’ll also find presentations and articles by other conference speakers, including Cynthia Gibson of the Philanthropic Initiative and Richard Brewster from the National Center on Nonprofit Enterprise.

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