Independent Sector: Preserving the Status Quo?

dc.contributor.authorWilliams, Andrew L.
dc.contributor.authorDoan, Dana R. H.
dc.contributor.departmentLilly Family School of Philanthropy
dc.description.abstractIn October of 1978, a committee met to explore the possibility of a merger between the National Council on Philanthropy (NCOP) and the Coalition of National Voluntary Organizations (CONVO). The vision was more than the mere marriage of two small organizations facing uncertain futures. Participants in this endeavor dreamed of an entity that would represent the entire nonprofit sector. The organization they birthed in 1979, Independent Sector (IS), was a meaningful step forward in unifying the sector. The IS board represented a broad range of sub-sectors and causes and also made strides in gender and, to a lesser extent, racial and religious diversity. Yet, there was an inherent tension in the project. Yes, it was true that people did not want to “interfere with pluralism” but they also wanted “a strong voice” to champion the sector—those involved called this dilemma a “persistent contradiction.” The tension was resolved in favor of the concerns of the powerful national non-profit institutions and foundations: tax policy, government relations, and sector advocacy. That is, the umbrella organization acted principally to preserve the sector, as constituted, and had little appetite for structural reform or discussion of competing notions of “the good” within the sector. Critics pointed to the exclusion of local organizations fighting issues that challenged societal injustice and inequitable distribution of power and resources. To them, and in retrospect to the authors of this paper, greater sector “unity” entailed consolidation of traditional power and continued marginalization of communities already on the periphery. Though four decades have passed, the same tension remains in the philanthropic sector. Contest and division between various interests and constituencies is as evident now as it was then. Enthusiastic support for the advancement of public goods often over-shadows issues of power—including the ability to impose one’s own definition of the public good on others. This critique has been leveled forcefully in recent years. Is it possible or even desirable to seek greater unity for the public good? Whose voices are privileged in the quest for greater sectoral unity? These are the questions this paper aspires to provoke and inform by examining the founding of the first major nonprofit sector association in the United States.
dc.eprint.versionFinal published version
dc.identifier.citationWilliams AL, Doan DRH. Independent Sector: Preserving the Status Quo? Nonprofit Policy Forum. 2021;12(2):341-366. doi:10.1515/npf-2020-0014
dc.publisherDe Gruyter
dc.relation.journalNonprofit Policy Forum
dc.rightsAttribution 4.0 Internationalen
dc.subjectNonprofit sector
dc.titleIndependent Sector: Preserving the Status Quo?
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