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ARNOVA's 45th Annual Conference

Washington, D.C.
November 17-19, 2016
Nonprofits, Philanthropy, and Government: Policy and Partnerships in an Era of Change


The size, reach, and scope of the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors have never been greater. In the United States, available data indicate that nonprofit revenues, expenditures, and assets continue to expand. Within philanthropy, foundations have experienced significant growth as well, leading some to declare that the foundation field is in the midst of a second golden era, comparable only to the period when these institutions first achieved legal status. Despite a significant slowdown due to the Great Recession, growth also characterizes the long-term trend in individual giving. Much more than a U.S. phenomenon, efforts to document cross-national trends in nonprofit, philanthropic, and broader civil society initiatives reveal a striking global pattern of increased activity.

What are the origins and the implications of these developments? The conference this year will explore these questions, especially in relation to policy and partnerships with government. Though widely used labels like nongovernmental organization (NGO), the third sector, and the independent sector connote separation from government, the public sector is intimately linked to the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors. Many studies have demonstrated that the growth of civil society and nonprofit organizations in the United States is inextricably linked to the structure and growth of governments in the U.S., from the founding of the colonies to modern times. Especially noticeable in the last few decades, the outsourcing of public services has contributed to the professionalization of nonprofits. Public policy is a more immediate source of exchange, though the direction of influence is not always clear. Public policy defines the regulatory framework for the nonprofit sector, for instance, but nonprofits also influence public policy through lobbying and advocacy.

Partnerships imply direct interaction, and the role of the nonprofit sector in providing public services is well established. Besides interacting with government through formal contracts and grants, many nonprofits have informal ties with public agencies and collaborate through multi-sector networks. Economic conditions and the Federal government's emphasis on social entrepreneurship and innovation also have led to more formal partnerships between public agencies and nonprofits. These partnerships by no means are limited to public charities. Foundations are establishing partnerships with public agencies to develop social impact bonds and to facilitate other innovations for the public good. Organizations engaging in hybrid, double-bottom-line activity - “doing good” and “making money” - have won new legal status in the form of benefit corporations and L3Cs in many states. What does the future hold for public policy and partnerships in this era of change? Research on the relationship between the nonprofit and public sectors has a long history in the field, and the conference this year will build on this tradition by considering recent changes in this relationship in the U.S. and around the world.

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