A shared history of building community
// By Jacqueline Brennan
As we get ready to descend on Los Angeles this month to learn more about social change at Upswell, I can’t help but think about the first time I attended an annual conference of nonprofit and foundation executives from across the country organized by Independent Sector.
That was in 1988 when I was delivering the first copies of the Chronicle of Philanthropy to give the foundation and nonprofit executives gathered in Houston. We raced to put together a staff and design our first edition so it would be ready to debut at the meeting. That was no easy feat because we had just made the decision to launch our publication a few months earlier. As a matter of fact, we were still hiring reporters to join our newsroom as we went to press with that first issue. After all, the nonprofit beat was not common anywhere in the country, and very few journalists understood why charities and foundations were worth their attention.
My fellow editors and I knew that there were plenty of important stories to tell, in part because of the encouragement of Independent Sector and other prominent players in the nonprofit world.
Nonprofits were growing increasingly professionalized by the 1980s. They were also facing key threats, such as serious reductions in federal funding that directly supported them and the people they served. Adding to the challenge, nonprofit executives were very isolated from one another and had few outlets to learn about key issues and trends in public policy, leadership, and charitable giving.
Impressed by our organization’s reputation for developing the Chronicle of Higher Education, which connects campuses across the country, Independent Sector and others urged us to deploy our journalistic skills to help unify charities and foundations by providing information they need to thrive.
Our role as a connector — gathering essential news, ideas, and advice — has never been more important than it is today. We were all reminded by the Pittsburgh synagogue attack, that charitable and religious institutions can become targets of horrific violence, even as such institutions lead the response to fighting such hate and brutality.
Another essential part of our mission is to help the public learn more about how nonprofits work. Just last week, we released our list of America’s Favorite Charities — the cause-focused organizations that raise the most in cash and stock. As I talk to reporters around the country about our findings, they are struck by the changes in giving — especially the drop in the share of middle-class donors who are contributing to many of the organizations that are the bedrock of the nonprofit world.
One reason for the change, of course, is that trust in all institutions is falling. Dan Cardinali, president and CEO of Independent Sector, talked about that when he visited us last week to mark our 30th anniversary. He made a point of noting how important it is to rebuild trust in nonprofits to heal divisions across the United States, and we look forward to reporting on efforts to do just that. We’re also eagerly looking ahead to more decades of collaborating with Independent Sector and other associations to keep telling the stories that matter — and providing the independent scrutiny that makes the nonprofit world stronger.
30 years after my first Independent Sector meeting, I hope to see many of you at Upswell and learn how we can provide the news and information you need to do the hard but urgent work of changing the world.
Stacy Palmer is the editor of The Chronicle of Philanthropy.