Last week, we were excited to host more than 250 nonprofit, corporate, and government leaders for the White House Forum on Nonprofit Leadership at the American Red Cross. The White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships and Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation convened a day-long dialogue on the important role of nonprofit organizations and how to develop leadership within the sector to drive the expansion of community-based solutions to our nation’s most pressing social problems and to create jobs.
“This forum addresses a central concern within the sector,” said Melody Barnes, the President’s Domestic Policy Adviser and the Director of the Domestic Policy Council, in her opening remarks. “Because we have historically undervalued and underinvested in nonprofit talent and leadership, these areas represent some of the greatest untapped potential for increasing the capacity of the sector. We can only succeed by ensuring that we have the right leaders in the right roles, and that those individuals are properly trained, managed, and supported.”
President Obama is doing his part to foster nonprofit leadership. One of the first pieces of legislation the President signed into law was the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, which supports current and future needs of the social sector by expanding AmeriCorps, creating the Social Innovation Fund, and strengthening the public-private partnership model at the Corporation for National and Community Service. The President has also made it easier for faith-based and secular groups to work with the federal government through our 13 Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships Centers housed across the Administration. The work of these Centers has been compiled in a new “Partnerships for the Common Good” toolkit, a comprehensive guide highlighting opportunities for faith-based and secular nonprofits to work with the government to achieve common goals.
At the Forum, our cross-sector colleagues exchanged ways to continue strengthening nonprofits to tackle national challenges. Through five concurrent working sessions, leaders focused on advancing diversity and inclusion; developing cross-sector talent pipelines; equipping leaders to face tough challenges; scaling social innovations; and catalyzing public and private investments in leadership.
After discussing strategies for their organizations and their sector, Forum participants took a lesson in leadership from Ken Chenault, Chairman and CEO of American Express, a co-convener of the event. Other Forum co-conveners included The Annie E. Casey Foundation, The Aspen Institute Program on Philanthropy and Social Innovation, Center for Creative Leadership, Commongood Careers, Independent Sector, and Public Allies.
Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor to the President, closed the day’s activities with praise and exhortation: “As leaders in the non-profit sector, you have the ability, and the responsibility, to make a difference in the lives of countless Americans. And in these challenging times, our country needs each of you.”
Joshua DuBois is Special Assistant to the President and Executive Director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Jonathan Greenblatt is Special Assistant to the President and Executive Director of the White House Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation.