National Civic Participation Director Speaks to Local Nonprofits



Nonprofits might be making more money than you think.

"The nonprofit sector is an important economic sector. It's 11 percent of the workforce," says Sonal Shah, White House Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation director. "Nonprofits generate $600 billion a year."


Shah spoke at the Alliance for Nonprofit Excellence's Fifth Annual conference this morning, telling attendees that her office is trying to put a spotlight on issues and innovations.

"The President and First Lady believe that the solutions to the problems we face are in communities around the country," Shah said. "Our job is to find those."

The office allocates growth funds to successful programs around the country and looks for public/private partnerships, such as the text4baby program with Johnson & Johnson and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Text4baby aims to stem high infant mortality rates among low-income mothers by sending those women a text about what they should do each week of their pregnancy.

"Many times public/private partnerships mean government has paid for services or that government wants something for free," she said. "Each of us has to give something."

With the United We Serve initiative, the Craigslist Foundation helped with a database of volunteer opportunities around the country.

"Government is not the best developer of technology, so we have to partner with people who do that well," Shah said. "By the time we write a contract, that technology would be outdated."

As part of her trip to Memphis, Shah visited Porter-Leath, Youth Villages, and Big Brothers, Big Sisters yesterday as local examples of organizations addressing social issues in an innovative way.

"What we're looking to do is show there are innovative programs and that government doesn't have to take the same approach we have for years ... especially if they're not working," Shah said.

And, speaking of social innovation, staff at the Alliance for Nonprofit Excellence got in touch with Shah through her office's Facebook page.

UPDATE: Here is what Shah wrote on her blog about Youth Villages, one of the organizations picked by the White House as an example of an organization that is changing the community with innovative programs:

"What makes Youth Villages so successful in transforming lives? The answer stems in large part from their results-driven approach to treatment. In addition to a residential program for children facing these challenges, Youth Villages has adopted a preference for home-based treatment of children living with their families in their communities, which has shown solid results.

Youth Villages continually collects and analyzes data from its programs, and drives the knowledge generated from that data back into how they do business. Tracking youth who receive at least 60 days of service at six, 12, and 24 months after they leave the program, Youth Villages followed up with more than 12,000 children and their families in 2009. This diligent process has allowed Youth Villages to amass one of the most comprehensive data sets in the country on the treatment of children with emotional and behavioral problems and their families. More importantly than just collecting the data, they undergo a constant evaluation process that has yielded crucial information and has translated into direct program improvements and improved outcomes for children."


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