The voices, votes, and value of nonprofit organizations

I love it when I come across a scrawled notation in one of my notebooks that, upon examination, turns out to be something pretty awesome.

This is an example of that.

From some notes I took in a meeting with our local chapter of Nonprofit Connect (formerly Council on Philanthropy) in September, I found “V3 Campaign” and the url. I visited the site yesterday, and found that it’s a national effort to: “make the voice of the social enterprise and non-profit movement heard, its value realized, and its votes counted in EVERY election.” Hurrah!

So the goal, as they state it, is “to develop a new generation of political leaders who understand the economic contributions of social service organizations, who recognize the potential of social enterprise and micro-credit to reinvigorate communities and who include the sector in their plans to rebuild the economy.” They do this through a three-fold strategy (hence the V3 name): using data to demonstrate the value that nonprofit organizations add to the economy (they, like many of us, are struggling with the term to use to define this sector, exactly), to help nonprofits understand how to make their voices heard in the political process (including advocacy, nonpartisan voter work, and media campaigns), and getting nonprofits engaged in direct electoral work, to the extent allowed by law.

They’re using videos, candidate questionnaires, fact sheets, and coordinated candidate forums to do this, and they take a long view: that by exerting the social change sector as a voting bloc, we can, over time, influence who is elected and, therefore, change public policies that impact our organizations and the people we serve.

The impact of the project is far from known at this point–they’ve got a 10-year timeline, and it’s a new effort. And it remains to be seen if V3 can get nonprofits as energized about the core social and economic (and political!) issues we address as we often are about our own survival–yet it’s precisely those issues that we most need elected officials to address; we’re in the social change business, not the nonprofit sustainability one.

But, still, I’m really hopeful. The vision behind V3 is Robert Egger of the DC Central Kitchen, an innovative and pretty inspirational social service organization. He gets this, and that bodes very well. And, truly, this is the first time that there has been an effort like this to translate the moral and economic weight of nonprofits into a political force. Even if it doesn’t totally succeed, that would not be failure.

Visit V3. Sign up for updates. Send your elected officials questions about how they will respond to the needs served by the social service and social enterprise sectors. Register your nonprofit coworkers to vote. Host a candidate forum for the 2010 elections (they’ll be here before we know it!). Make your voice, vote, and value count.

27 responses to “The voices, votes, and value of nonprofit organizations

  1. I’m sure that there’s some kind of rule about not commenting on your own blog posts, but I’m totally excited that I am going to hear Robert Eggers speak next Thursday at the Midwest Council on Philanthropy breakfast, thanks to the generous invitation of Nonprofit Connect’s ED, Michelle Davis. It’s a busy time right now with class preparation, but I’ll tweet about the session for sure, so check it out next week!

  2. Ashley Rowlett

    This sounds like such an awesome and much needed project!
    There is such a divide between micro and macro social work practice, but imagine if all social workers were passionate about advocating for those core issues. If we all worked together on political, economic, and social issues our voice would be too loud to ignore. If we could inspire and educate social workers, who don’t necessarily enjoy policy and politics, to do their part in macro practice.
    I am interested to see how the project is doing now; five years since you heard about it! I agree with you that it really can’t fail, if it educates and motivates even a few people!

    • Good point, Ashley–I know that there is a PAC for nonprofit organizations now, working in advance of the 2014 election, but I don’t know much else about the state of the campaign. I’ll check it out! I agree completely about the need to bridge the divide in social work, from both ends. We had a good discussion about that in my community and organizational practice class on Saturday, and some of our debates for the end of the semester will explore the different potential contributing factors driving what I see as a false dichotomy. Thanks for your comments!

  3. One of my biggest pet peeves is when people complain about elected officials and the decisions they are making, yet they did not vote or make any effort to get informed before the person was elected. This vision V3 has seems to be very hopeful and optimistic toward making change. I think it is very wise to have such a lengthy timeline of 10 years to create that change, because realistically things like this do take time. I like your comment that “we’re in the social change business, not the nonprofit sustainability one”. No matter what type of people a nonprofit agency serves, perhaps one of their greatest downfalls is becoming a “nonprofit for profit” and losing sight of why they got started in the first place or the core of helping others and not themselves.

  4. Tammy McCandless

    It is so important for non profits to be involved not only in the community but also in the political realm. I think that is truly evident in Kansas right now! I am blown away by DC Central Kitchen. I wish it would have been around when I lived in DC so I could have been a part of their organization. One of my most vivid memories of living in DC helps me realize how important social work is on the macro level as well as the micro level. When I lived in DC is there was a terrible snow storm and school was going on its third day of being out and it was a Friday. The school system in DC didn’t cancel school that Friday but after about an hour school was cancelled due to bad weather and accidents. The superintendent took a great deal of heat for not cancelling school at the beginning of the day and waiting an hour later. The reason this stands out to me because of why he didn’t cancel school right away. He said, that he knew that with class being cancelled three days in a row and heading into a weekend that 90% of his students would be going without food for five days. That school is often their only meal. This might stray a little from the original topic but it so important that social workers stay involved in what is happening politically in order to help people on an individual basis. And how exciting to have an organization that not only feeds people but finds a way to bring healthy, affordable food to them. If more organizations worked such as this one the world would be a much better place. It makes me excited to serve!

    • I always think of that on snow days, Tammy! What will you do, as a social worker, to encourage your organization to play an active role in the political context? What do social workers need to know about issues that affect their clients? What skills do they need to master? What relationships do you need to cultivate? How can your MSW studies help to prepare you for this role?

  5. I was really looking forward to reading the V3 website – only when I clicked on the link it brought me to an absolutely foreign location! My next destination was the DC Central Kitchen website, and I read as much of it as I could pull up. What an amazing program!! It’s hard to believe that a program of that magnitude began from the leftovers of a White House dinner. I found Robert Eggers to be incredibly motivating and inspiring as he works with and trains students and ex-offenders alike in kitchens throughout the country. If he can apply the same work ethic that he has applied in his kitchens towards his V3 venture – it is most certainly going to be a success! With his leadership V3 could really excel in the realm of public policy!

    • Oh no, Chris! I’m so sorry about the link! Broken links are the bane of my existence…it’s so hard to keep up! I’ll try to fix it. There’s actually now an LA Kitchen; Robert Egger moved there to start it up, and it’s very exciting. The V3 campaign has evolved in recent election cycles, but he continues to carry his message–that nonprofit voices are essential parts of the political dialogue–forward, in ways that are shaking up the landscape. And he’s a really nice guy!

  6. Chandra Smalley

    Vӡ (Voice, Values, Votes) pursued potential political candidates to ask how they would work with nonprofits if they were elected. It was reported that Mr. Egger believes the effort failed as a result of funding and time to devote to the project by the charities he involved in his efforts. Drawing from the contacts used in Vӡ, Mr. Egger organized CForward in 2012 with the mission of endorsing candidates that would strengthen nonprofits in their communities. This mission is uncommon in the arena of nonprofit organizations. The vision was in part based how charities are limited in the political sphere. Charities organized under 501(c)(3) of the tax code may not endorse or oppose political candidates. Advocacy groups organized under 501(c)(4) although limited, may endorse politicians that support their nonprofit agenda. CForward also included in its mission the education of political candidates about the contributions of nonprofit agencies, developing voting campaigns and asking supporter to nominate on its website politicians highlight the strengths and weaknesses of the candidates.
    Unfortunately when I went to the CForward website ( it stated that the day-to-day operations were suspended, but urged visitors to look to partners such as America Elects, Nonprofit Vote and state associations like the California Association of Nonprofits.
    I whole-heartedly believe that Mr. Egger’s unsuccessful attempt was not a failure. There is much to be learned from his nonpartisan attempt of addressing how we can influence the endorsement and election of our leaders. Politics are not working for people, and we as social workers can be the change agent. We can be the voice that Americans are seeking. Nonprofits can be essential in educating the people they serve to participate and vote. We can be and should be a nonpartisan resource to help educate and engage voters.

    • I think, Chandra, that CForward may revive its efforts for the 2016 election. It will be interesting to see, at least, if the (c)4 vision can play a significant role in that context. In addition to lack of time and resources (always a problem), some believe that it was precisely the nonpartisan nature of V3 that limited its effectiveness, since only a more overtly partisan push can garner significant attention, in today’s political context. How and where do you see political issues intersecting your work? How do you live your social work values as a citizen? How do you talk about politics with your clients, coworkers, and social work colleagues? If you don’t, why not, and what does that mean for social work’s role in the election?

  7. DC Central Kitchen is a great example to many other agencies. It is imperative for social work practitioners to get involved in politics to ensure social justice. I often think of ways our agency can effectively educate clients about political issues impacting communities and individuals. A way we can incorporate macro practice into our direct services is by talking to our clients, explaining the importance of voting, many people don’t even know how to register to vote. I also think that nonprofit agencies need to engage local officials by sending monthly news letters, invite them to agency activities and so on. Many agencies here in KC are doing great work with individuals, I think it’s time we take this great work to the next level and promote macro practice. Micro and macro complement each other, they are both important and we need a combination of both to have a successful practice. I totally love Robert’s idea, I think we have a lot to learn from this guy!

    • You should read his book, Gloria: Begging for Change. He came to KC fairly recently, actually, to speak at the Philanthropy conference. What do you think could help organizations in our community more fully integrate social change into their social services? Are there organizations around here you see as doing that particularly well? What are your ideas for how to take this step at Crosslines?

  8. This is a great initiative! It is highly important that workers within social service agencies be aware of political issues, candidates, and movements so that they can have an impact. As social workers we have an ethical obligation to be involved in social change at the global level. V3 provides a platform for social service workers to get involved while also encouraging political leaders to realize the value of the social service field. This open ended relationship between the two fields is exactly what is needed for social change to occur.

    • What are you seeing around this in this year’s election cycle? Do you get information about the election at your organization? Are people talking about candidates and their views on issues that matter to your nonprofit? Does your organization take steps to ensure that workers can participate in the electoral process (like giving people time off to go vote)? How could you catalyze action in some of these areas?

  9. To my knowledge my organization does not have any involvement with this years political elections. This is a discussion that I could most definitely bring up to my supervisor during supervision. Possibly introducing V3 would be a resource to my organization.

  10. I had a chance to visit DC Central Kitchen during the year that I lived and worked in Washington, DC. I was really struck at the time by the way the organization integrated social entrepreneurship to fund its programs. It’s catering program funded many of its vocational training programs, etc. Though the V3 campaign is suspended, the impact of DC Central Kitchen’s thoughtful and innovative organizational structure continues to impact the non-profit sector.

    In addition, I think individual organizations can embrace social and political advocacy even within the constraints that govern non-profits. I saw this happen successfully at Miriam’s Kitchen, where the policy advocates focused on issues rather than supporting individual candidates. Though their policy and activism was focused on permanent, supportive housing, they held political sway. The organization publicly challenged candidates to make commitments to improve supportive housing, thanked candidates who supported their policies, invited candidates for photo ops, visited candidates offices to advocate for policies, and staged public actions at the Wilson Building to bring public attention to the need for investments in housing. Their activism was focused on the issues, but successfully engaged voters and candidates in important policy conversations.

    • Oh how fun that you went to DCCK! Did you know that there is now an LA Central Kitchen? Robert Egger moved out there to start it. Thank you for sharing this story about Miriam’s Kitchen! I’ll have to check that organization out!

  11. Natalie Reeves

    Very interesting post. I am sad to learn that the V3 campaign was suspended. It sounded like what we need! This post prompted me to look into the DC Central Kitchen which looks like an amazing organization!

  12. Now Robert Egger started the LA Kitchen, which is doing similar work in Los Angeles! So inspirational. The more immediate question is: what are we going to do to continue this legacy, in this community?

  13. I’m sad to see that the V3 campaign was suspended. I was looking forward to navigating the website. On the other hand it seems like DC Central Kitchen is a great organization. I love the idea of working at multiple levels of the problem to promote good nutrition, job training, and preventing food waste all in one positive cycle.

    It seems like a great idea to create a campaign that connects micro and macro practice. I hope to see an initiative like this pop up again as I feel like many direct service workers do not attempt to put their hand in macro practice while at their agencies. I myself am very guilty of this as I am currently at a practicum where I have not done anything with macro level work and I hope to change that this semester.

    • There is an LA Central Kitchen, too, Janny! Yes, I am really intrigued by the intersection of micro and macro practice. I think that policy is stronger when informed by people’s lived experiences, and I know from my own practice that working on the individual level is more sustainable when practitioners are bolstered by their macro engagement and working collaboratively toward social change with their clients. I would be happy to talk with you about what this could look like in your organization, too!

  14. I have had the great pleasure of meeting Robert Egger, after his move to L.A., where we discussed how community members could solve problems surrounding hunger and homelessness. More specifically, we delved into the dialogue and action steps that can be taken by universities.
    Egger has made some remarkable points within the V3 campaign that I would strongly echo. There is a need for the non-profit sector to adopt a group strategy about partnerships with legislation. Different organizations must find common ground to prevent harmful legislation affecting their organizations and communities. Egger adds that one-tenth of the U.S. economy is equivalent to the entire economy in India.
    We must organize ourselves to have a voice in the political realm, so that we may be recognized by political members as active participants of the economy that deserve to be heard and recognized for the contributions we make. Besides employing 14 million people across the sector as the campaign’s website notes, there are nearly 80 million volunteers for non-profit sectors. Because of this, we make valuable changes that improve the communities surrounding us both socially and economically.
    The idea is we unite the voice, which means we speak about the values we bring to communities and the votes we possess. I believe that this campaign is necessary and needs to be adopted by all non-profit organizations. I find that this campaign is easily sold because it does not endorse a single candidate. It simply requires that candidates acknowledge the presence and power the non-profit sector holds and speaks to how they can increase and strengthen the sector if elected. We have to agree that increased funding and support for the non-profit sector is a win-win no matter a person’s political affiliation.
    I personally believe that the V3 campaign can be useful for any community even on a local level. I want to push organizations in my community to band together and become involved in local and state governments. We often speak about the financial cuts we receive and how that has made things difficult for communities. However, we are not connecting our voices to ensure that elected individuals are going to recognize our contributions and potential as active participants in rebuilding the economy.

    • That’s great that you met him, Gallal! I wonder if part of the problem isn’t that there really isn’t as much unity among organizations in the nonprofit sector as we sometimes want to imagine. I mean, just being a nonprofit organization doesn’t necessarily mean that one has progressive values or a strong commitment to social services…which makes me wonder if the reason we don’t come together more isn’t just because there’s not enough coordination, but maybe also because there’s not that much ‘we’. What do you think? Where do you see issues that nonprofits should come together around? Do you see examples–bright spots–of where this is happening? What would it look like to scale those?

  15. I loved this post! I find it ironic and highly interesting that something like V3 existed. Having the opportunity to intern with a non-profit agency, along with interacting with clients and learning about their unmet needs,I am understanding how the system (or politics) is a hindrance. I am assisting with the Silver Haired Legislature (SHL), which is a legislature made up of seniors age 60+ who advocate for the senior population at the state and federal level. The local non-profit- Area Agency’s on Aging fund the SHL. While this is an excellent idea in place for seniors to advocate for seniors, as a student assisting with case management,( and future social worker) social workers and case managers see and learn first hand what client needs are. Unfortunately, due to budget cuts and other systematic issues, clients needs do not always get met accordingly. Thus, I believe an additional legislature advocacy group-in area agencies on aging- essentially doing the same job as SHL should exist, (changing some of the bylaws such as the age requirement) allowing case managers, social workers etc… with direct client contact to be their voice. This would potentially provide a more powerful voice and hopeful way to stress the importance of funding, resources, and more for the senior population.

    • Thanks for this, Sandra. So, is it your observation that existing groups like professional associations (e.g. National Association of Social Workers) don’t provide that venue for sharing experiences in order to influence policy? What have you seen in terms of outcomes of the SHL’s advocacy? How do you know it’s working, in other words, in a way that makes you think that a similar approach for social workers would be valuable? What are the perspectives that you see missing in the policy debate over older adult issues, that you would want to see a group fill in? It’s certainly the case that we have many issues where the only mobilization around them are those directly affected–both providers and consumers–and a reason to think that bringing in a more diverse constituency could make a difference, but I’m just trying to understand more about how you see these issues playing out. I think the V3 Campaign’s goals, as I understand them, were to build the power of the nonprofit sector so that organizations would then be collectively positioned to push for the policies they want to see. What do you think are the biggest barriers preventing the policy changes you want in the domain of older adult policy?

  16. Yvette Martinez

    The vision behind V3 was great! A similar project is needed, like you stated “Even if it doesn’t totally succeed, that would not be failure.” I believe that this was not a failure but a stepping stone for a bigger and better project. This is the kind of motivation social services agencies need, they need to be more involved and be aware of the political process.
    I also looked into the DC kitchen as well as the LA kitchen; I love both organization and the mission behind them. Just taking a simple thought of preventing food waste; created jobs for the unemployed, training for culinary arts schools, providing meals for citizens etc. I hope someday something like the V3 comes again; I can’t imagine the things that could be done if we all worked together or were heavily involved with social change.

    • I hope that’s the case, Yvette. Recently, with the administration’s announcement of proposed relaxation of the prohibition against political contributions and campaigning by 501(c)3s, I think that a lot of nonprofits have gotten more nervous about getting involved in the public space–which is too bad, because our voices (and votes) are so needed there! What do you think would be most helpful in assisting nonprofits to take this step? That’s something I try to continue to do in my consulting work–help nonprofits become agents of social change–and I am always looking for guidance about where and how (and for whom) that’s most needed!

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