The vitality of a democratic society depends on a balance between the public, private, and nonprofit sectors. In fact, according to Stanford Social Innovation Review’s article on the plural sector, a healthy society is characterized by “respected governments in the public sector, responsible businesses in the private sector, and robust communities in the plural sector.”
In recent months, society has been thrown into complete disarray by serious threats to the checks and balances of all three sectors, along with various forces that are challenging the core functions and existence of nonprofits in the plural sector. These threats are re-energizing the sector, as through its work with nonprofits, New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (NYLPI) has witnessed a significant increase in the number of individuals and groups looking to start nonprofits and a higher demand for pro bono legal services to address formation questions.
The nonprofit sector is at the very crux of democracy. Its voice is driven by a sense of mission and a dedication to enhancing the public good through leveraging its exclusive power to convene both the public and private sectors to make a collective impact. Democracy as we know it could not exist without a vibrant nonprofit sector, and it is more critical now than ever that nonprofits position themselves to represent and amplify the voices of the communities that they serve.
With proposed changes to tax legislation and federal budget cuts looming, nonprofit leaders are demonstrating resistance by reengaging in society’s social contract to actively restore an impaired democracy. The nonprofit sector is designed to encourage civic participation by giving ordinary people a vehicle through which to mobilize, express their communities’ needs, and solve complex social problems. Leadership is a crucial part of the recipe that creates a thriving and engaged nonprofit sector.
As a result of the influx of legal and practical questions around nonprofit formation, NYLPI has teamed up with Foundation Center to create the Nonprofit Formation Fundamentals Series to help individuals gain the understanding and skills needed to start a nonprofit organization.
Based on the types of questions our staff has received from the communities around us, we developed a list of fundamentals we believe every nonprofit should be aware of and created a workshop series, running through the month of April, for individuals who are thinking about starting a nonprofit, recently established a nonprofit, or are new to the sector and want to learn more. Topics cover everything from financial management basics to best practices for good governance.
The success of the nonprofit sector supports a vibrant society where local communities propel fruitful social movements and initiatives while holding the public and private sectors accountable for meaningful reform and socially responsible investments. The nonprofit sector is the silver lining in these troubling times. Strengthening it is critical to helping society regain its balance.
Annamaria Santamaria is a Program Associate for Pro Bono Programs at New York Lawyers for the Public Interest. She works closely with startup nonprofit organizations to prepare them for the formation process and matches them with skilled attorneys at New York’s top law firms to have their legal needs adequately addressed.