Nonprofit leaders to President Obama: Help the vulnerable

In his second term President Obama will likely make changes that affect nonprofit and charitable groups. Five nonprofit leaders and thinkers share their ideas about what he can do to strengthen their efforts.

Kevin Lamarque/Reuters/File
Girls hug President Obama as he visits the Boys and Girls Club of Cleveland in Cleveland June 14. Nonprofit leaders have suggested what the president might do to promote the charitable efforts of nonprofit groups in the US.

President Obama will face a number of challenges over his next four-year term and will likely make changes that will affect the nonprofit world. With that in mind, The Chronicle invited a group of nonprofit leaders and thinkers to share their ideas about what his nonprofit agenda should be.

A sampling of their responses is below:

• Recognize that the nonprofit sector is a critical partner with government and business in fulfilling the country’s needs.

The U.S. is first among nations in the unique arrangement by which nonprofits, led by private citizens, perform functions that in other countries fall to the public sector.

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Recognition means including nonprofits in planning discussions and creating an environment in which they can do the public’s good. This is one of the most hyper-organized societies on the planet. We have subsectors around the arts, education, human services, the environment, and other major aspects of human endeavor, and we have associations and coalitions for each. As a chamber of commerce is a means to find out what business “thinks,” these associations are willing partners in shaping and executing what works best to achieve national goals. And we need to identify those goals. An outcome most Americans would probably endorse, for example, is that all children become ready for post-secondary education, work, and life. From such a goal, we can identify the right tools­­ and programs to get us there.

—Irv Katz, president, National Human Services Assembly

• Increase support for global relief work and reject suggestions to cut international aid.

Cutting aid will only set back the already arduous task that many relief organizations face and impedes our ability to tackle some of the world’s biggest challenges, like food and water insecurity. Second, consider ways to make U.S.-based nonprofit organizations more competitive in international work. The administration should review and update policies and procedures to meet current and future needs.

These two points should be priorities if we hope to equip and empower American nonprofits to represent the United States internationally with good, quality work and to be worldwide leaders in humanitarian aid.

—Abed Ayoub, chief executive, Islamic Relief USA

• Focus on the safety net at home and abroad.

The U.S. Census estimates that nearly 150 million Americans­—half the population—are living in households considered “poor” or “low income.” Given the pressure on the federal budget, America’s soup kitchens, churches, and other effective nonprofits are an essential safety net. Rather than limit the deductibility of charitable giving, the administration should create a friendly environment for the nonprofits.

Internationally, hundreds of millions of people experience deadly poverty: 19,000 children die every day of preventable causes like diarrhea; 870 million people do not have enough to eat. Unfortunately, some effective humanitarian programs have been targeted for disproportionate cuts.

International aid is not only deeply American, it fosters nonmilitary diplomacy, encourages foreign allies, develops markets for American trade, and saves millions of lives every year. The administration should safeguard lifesaving humanitarian aid and unleash private donors at a time when the charitable sector is even more necessary.

—Richard Stearns, president, World Vision U.S.

• Give priority to improving methods for delivering vital services to those most vulnerable among us.

While there is a very robust discussion about how much money should be spent on various federal programs that serve the poor, few are engaged in conversation about how better to administer those services, how to maximize efficiency in delivery, and how to identify new solutions to prevent and alleviate poverty at large. We are hopeful that moving forward, the president will lead a national conversation about identifying new methods and strategies for lifting more Americans onto a path of opportunity and self-sufficiency in a way that is economically sustainable for the nation.

—The Rev. Larry Snyder, president, Catholic Charities USA

• Provide leadership to advance legislative and administrative measures that respect the integrity and hard work of immigrants and their families.

These measures must include access to permanent legal status, providing a pathway to U.S. citizenship.

Make U.S. citizenship accessible for eligible immigrants and refugees, keeping naturalization fees affordable and processing applications quickly. Ensure adequate resources to help applicants prepare for the citizenship exam and meet the English-language requirement, and work to ensure that federal programs for immigrants and refugees are linguistically accessible and culturally appropriate. The next president should bolster government and nonprofit efforts to protect the civil and constitutional rights of people throughout the United States, including immigrants and refugees, and to confront discrimination, racially motivated crimes, and other tactics used to suppress civic engagement and participation.

Immigration is one of our most distinguishing characteristics as a nation; it helps to drive economic growth and defines our identity. By focusing on the above priorities and issues, the next president has the ability to open the doors of opportunity for countless immigrant and native-born families—now and for future generations.

—Walter Barrientos, special-projects manager at Grantmakers Concerned With Immigrants and Refugees

This article originally appeared at The Chronicle of Philanthropy.

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