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Not again: can't IS get anything right?

Independent Sector (IS) likes to position itself as the representative of the entire nonprofit community. But with a membership heavily weighted in favor of grant-making foundations, it has only a few members from the huge segment of nonprofits that is comprised of service-providing charities.

Moreover, the organization frequently proposes to Congress and the states rules, laws, and regulations affecting charities and their suppliers that have been developed with little or no participation by the charities themselves.

The latest case in point: After eight months of effort, IS has proposed a document, 45 pages of small type, entitled Principles on Self-Regulation, containing six "Principles for Facilitating Legal Compliance," 11 "Principles for Effective Governance," five "Principles for Strong Financial Oversight," and seven "Principles for Responsible Fundraising Practices."

This effort in self-regulation of charities was produced by the IS Advisory Committee on Self-Regulation of the Charitable Sector, the 33 members of which include just two representatives of actual charities. The other members include 15 who are attorneys, educators, or both; five heads of trade associations; and seven heads of grant-making foundations.

If the proposal really intends to improve charity self-regulation, wouldn't it be reasonable to assume that charities themselves would have had the major role in developing the principles?

Moreover, the draft proposal was circulated just 12 days before the deadline for comment. After eight months, the Committee said, in effect, "read and digest thousands of words, and send us your comments quickly, because we have a meeting coming up in less than two weeks."

And while the seven "Principles for Responsible Fundraising Practices" deal with the area of most concern to the media, state regulators, and general public, the Advisory Committee itself didn't even review the proposed Principles before publishing them for comment.

One positive side to Independent Sector: It does take action, arrogant though it may be. The numerous other organizations representing segments of the nonprofit community (no single umbrella group represents as much as a double-digit percentage of the total) have only themselves to blame when IS actions are troublesome.

For years, I and others have proposed that all of the national umbrella organizations join in a coalition effort to regularly meet and discuss common problems and joint solutions. The longer there is no such coalition, the more complaints there will be about IS (or other individual organizations) proposing solutions for everyone else.

Lee M. Cossidy, executive director emeritus of the DMA Nonprofit Federation, is senior advisor to The NonProfit Times.
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Title Annotation:COMMENTARY
Author:Cassidy, Lee M.
Publication:The Non-profit Times
Date:Mar 15, 2007
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