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ARNOVA's 46th Annual Conference

Grand Rapids, Michigan
November 16-18, 2017
Strengthening Local Communities: The Role of Nonprofit and Philanthropic Organizations


In recent years there has been a resurgence of interest in place-based work on the part of nonprofits and the larger philanthropic community. This interest is partly the result of ongoing efforts—in the United States as well as around the globe—to devolve responsibility for addressing public needs to local communities. These changes have sparked a resurgence of scholarly interest in the roles that nonprofit and philanthropic organizations play in communities, including efforts to improve local economies, health and education systems, and environments, as well as the unintended consequences of such work.

This renewed interest has encouraged the development of new methods and models for addressing and understanding the complexity of communities. The creation of community data systems, the development of collaborative governance processes and collective impact models, and the refinement of tools based in systems-thinking have helped to revive a focus on the interconnectedness of life in communities and the necessity of changing systems in order to change outcomes for residents. Issues such as racial disparities in health and education, economic inequality, and environmental crises require thinking and acting systemically, locally, and collectively.

The 2017 ARNOVA conference theme explores the roles that nonprofits and philanthropic organizations take when they attempt to strengthen local communities. How does theory guide our understanding of the intersection between place and nonprofit activity? What methods and models for place-based work are most promising? How are community members being engaged in creating, implementing and monitoring change in their own communities? Are there effective ways of communicating about complexity to various audiences? How are foundations and nonprofits partnering to change local systems? What roles do social entrepreneurs and for-profit business communities play in cross-sector collaborations?

In Michigan, where ARNOVA 2017 will be held, there are many examples of cross-sector partnerships to improve local systems, ranging from the Grand Bargain (the agreement among government, nonprofits, and foundations that allowed Detroit to exit bankruptcy) to efforts to address the health crisis created by the contamination of the Flint water system, to the donor-led resurgence of Grand Rapids. How is place-based work different in these urban areas from work in rural areas? How does federal and state policy help or hinder local action on major community issues? What role does advocacy play at local, state and national levels? How does sense of place and sense of community affect philanthropy and voluntary action?

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