By James D’Ambrosio

Recently I attended the Westchester County Nonprofit Leadership Summit in Tarrytown, NY, where 700+ nonprofit professionals attended a day of learning highlighted by a keynote address from New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, who discussed a number of key issues impacting nonprofits in New York and his office’s efforts collaborating with nonprofit leaders to address them.

Prior to his address, a 40-page report — “Revitalizing Nonprofits: Renewing New York” — was distributed, containing 38 recommendations developed by 37 members of the Leadership Committee for Nonprofit Revitalization, comprised of nonprofit leaders and Attorney General’ staff. The Attorney General, commissioning the report last year and released in February, asked the committee to develop specific proposals to reduce burdens on nonprofits while strengthening governance and accountability.


Mr. Schneiderman highlighted key recommendations in the report, namely, reducing burdens and inefficiencies nonprofits encounter doing business with the state and delays in approval for payments and contracts. The report indicates that in 2010, state contracts valued at $1.8 billion were late. Just as important, his words and tone indicated a sincere desire to work with nonprofits to enact positive changes making it easier to do business with the state, something the audience was very happy to hear. This is critical: the report indicates nonprofits employed 18.1 percent of New York’s total private work force in 2010 — 1,246,916 paid employees and nearly $200 billion in revenue — a significant portion of the state’s economy and more revenue than nonprofits generated in California (about $160 billion), and Pennsylvania (a little over $100 billion). 

He noted that some laws — written 40 years ago — are far outdated and need to be modernized to reduce burdens and increase accountability: making it less onerous to incorporate as a nonprofit in New York; allowing some documents to be filed electronically (board and membership meeting notices, waivers of notice, and votes requiring unanimous written consents); and raising the revenue threshold required for a full annual external audit to agencies raising more than $500,000 (up from $250,000) that burdens small nonprofits. The AG indicated other states do not have such restrictions.


The Attorney General highlighted two proposals focusing on board recruitment and training:

1) NEW YORK ON BOARD: A partnership between the state and the business community to recruit nonprofit directors and match them with agencies statewide. With a pilot program slated to begin later this year, the aim is to: a) encourage private business to provide incentives for employees to serve on nonprofit boards; b) recruit from the many colleges and universities in the state; c) tap retirees — a large pool of talent with a wealth of career experience; and d) emphasize diversity, in terms of life experience and perspectives.  

2) DIRECTORS U: An initiative providing free and low-cost director education for board members, online and in-person. Beginning later this year, the premise is that directors need a better understanding of nonprofit laws and practices — fund-raising, endowment spending, regulatory compliance, labor and employment issues, political and lobbying restrictions, familiarity with state law fiduciary obligations, federal tax exemption requirements, and good governance practices. Over time, the effort could be expanded to develop training programs for nonprofit executives and staff.   


The length and scope of the report does not permit a complete review. Get the full report here. (Link to report is located at bottom of page.)



What do you think of these proposals or others contained in the report? Any suggestions to expedite them?


By James V.  D’Ambrosio

Last week I attended the 2011 Westchester County Nonprofit Leadership Summit in Tarrytown, NY, where 600+ nonprofit professionals and leaders from around the region gathered to discuss the state of the industry and build their skills in workshops and seminars. The day-long program — an unbeatable value at $30 — provided informative training for professionals at all levels.

The early part of the program focused on weathering the difficult economic climate and doing more with less. But an inspiring and provocative lunch-time keynote address dramatically altered the context of the event: Robert Egger, founder and president of D.C. Central Kitchen –the nation’s first ‘community kitchen’ where donated food fuels a nationally-recognized culinary arts job-training program and donations are turned into balanced meals in our nation’s capital — gave a riveting address clearly indicating why he’s an in-demand nationally-renowned speaker.

Egger provided his perspective on the nonprofit industry — where it stands and what needs to happen for it to remain vibrant. Specifically, he spoke about self-advocacy towards and collaboration with government, noting that nonprofits in New York comprise 17 percent of the state’s work force and generate $7.3 billion in revenue yet no candidate for governor in last year’s campaign spoke about nonprofits as a viable partner in bolstering the state’s economy. Egger implored the audience to reach out to government officials and start conversations about the importance of leveraging nonprofits’ talent and resources. (Earlier, Westchester County Executive Robert P. Astorino announced his appointment of an outreach coordinator — the county’s commissioner of mental health — to connect with nonprofits and discuss ways to cut costs, reduce overhead, and operate more efficiently.)

Egger maintained that continually vying for the same grant monies is neither useful or sustainable, and doing more with less has perhaps reached its limit. He advocated a bold, new business model — partnering with government to relieve pressure and increase organizational capacity. In a surprisingly concise 25 minutes, he challenged everyone to think and act expansively. Learn more about this visionary leader here: www.robertegger.org

Later in the conference, reflecting on the address, it occurred to me that many nonprofits may be so busy advocating, providing services for clientele and maintaining their own viability that they may not have considered the larger picture — where will they be 5, 10, 15 years from now? I concur with Mr. Egger’s vision; the challenge is steep, but nonprofits should embrace it. 

QUESTION TO READERS: What do you think of Mr. Egger’s vision for the nonprofit sector?

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