News and analysis
November 09, 2012

Foster America’s Economic Might

Nonprofit Leaders' Advice to the President

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 the president’s nonprofit agenda should be.

A sampling of their responses is below. To keep the conversation flowing, please add your own ideas by posting a comment at the bottom of this page.

Focus on strengthening our democracy, putting us back to work, and pulling us back together.

First, focus on election reform. This year we have seen a wave of voter suppression laws: More states have passed more laws pushing more people out of the ballot box than at any time since the Jim Crow era. Our next leader should empower organizations that are fighting back against voter-identification laws, challenges to early and Sunday voting, and restrictions on third-party registration.

One elegant solution would be to institute comprehensive election reform, which includes universal registration—a right that every other major western democracy currently enjoys.

Second, get the economy going by providing direct assistance to small businesses and nonprofits. Federal support via technical assistance, skill development, extended credit, and direct funds could make all the difference, especially in challenged communities.

Finally, eliminate discrimination in the public and private sectors. Ending employment discrimination is as important as job creation for the millions of Americans who are still subjected to unfair hiring practices because of their color. Bringing back federal funding of large-scale “matched pair testing” of biased hiring would revive an effective way to document and address discrimination in hiring.

As our democracy becomes ever more diverse, we need a leader who will build on that diversity by expanding the franchise, the job market, and equal opportunities for all.

—Benjamin Jealous, president and chief executive of the NAACP

Recognize and support the role of the arts in the economy.

The budget that Congress annually approves for the National Endowment for the Arts provides just a fraction of a percent of the total income America’s nonprofit arts industry generates. Yet this tiny investment reaches every Congressional district. What’s more, it promotes business and individual giving to the arts and helps power an entire industry of about 110,000 nonprofit arts businesses in our country.

They support 4.1 million jobs that generate $135.2-billion dollars of economic activity and $22-billion in tax returns.

If President Obama is serious about jobs and economic growth, then logically his administration must invest more in the arts and arts education, not less.

—Robert Lynch, president, Americans for the Arts

Invest in the infrastructure that makes affordable high-speed Internet available to all Americans.

The Internet is not a luxury; it’s a means of communication that is essential to our economic and social welfare.

Bringing access to everyone, and ensuring that access is at a globally competitive speed, is an investment in our economic future, ensuring that we can compete on the new global playing field. It will bring more economic opportunities to communities that need to reinvent ways to be economically viable.

Most important, ubiquitous high-speed Internet access will allow citizens to make and sustain connections to all types of communities—the people on their block, in their county, or around the world.

These are the connections that will help us solve problems and address the challenges we face as citizens of this country and the world.

—Holly Ross, executive director, NTEN: the Nonprofit Technology Network

Champion revisions to the tax code to encourage entrepreneurialism in the nonprofit world.

The imperative to reduce the national budget deficit has framed charitable deductibility as an expense to be cut rather than a job creator mobilizing forces for good to be enhanced. The nonprofit sector’s leadership hasn’t helped by mimicking special-interest groups protecting the status quo instead of emphasizing the sector’s unique societal role and its growing share of the national work force, now estimated at 10 percent, or 13.5 million people.

The next president should champion revisions to the tax code that would further unleash America’s volunteer and entrepreneurial spirit to create jobs and improve local communities rather than limiting it.

What would happen if the tax code provided incentives to for-profit social entrepreneurs that use a portion of their profits or products for charitable purposes? What would happen if there were incentives to companies that provide weekly volunteer opportunities to their staff? How might millions of new volunteers and billions in charitable capital help transform America?

These are the 21st-century ideas that a president should promote to help revitalize America.

—Emmett Carson, chief executive of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation

More ideas from this series

Ensure a Healthy Nonprofit Environment

Promote a Strong Future for Citizens Around the World

Help the Vulnerable