State Nonprofit Association Leader Virtual Roundtable: Jim White

Jim WhiteJim White, Nonprofit Association of Oregon

On the job since: 2012
Organization formed in: 1977
Geographic scope: Oregon
2015 budget: $1.6 million
Staffing: 18 FTE

What are the most important issues facing the nonprofit sector in your state?

Nonprofits’ ability to secure funding through contributed revenue has created a cycle of scrutiny and justification, the degree of which is not seen in other sectors. Funders have a tendency to overemphasize efficiency around expenditures and overhead, at the expense of social impact.

According to Partners for a Hunger-Free Oregon, “The percentage of hungry people in Oregon is back up to where it was more than a decade ago.” This is despite the millions of dollars being spent on this problem. If we could develop common language, expectations and tools around measuring nonprofit impact in the state, and share those indicators with the public sector, we would be helping the most effective nonprofits prove their case, no matter their size or geographic location.

What are your core strategies for addressing these issues?

As nonprofits are increasingly relied upon to provide social services for citizens, new partnerships with federal, state and local governments are crucial to leverage and secure additional funds. We see our role as educating nonprofits to be able to secure this type of funding, so they can create more impact. This type of collaboration is what David Sawyer and Jane Wei-Skillern call Impact Networks, and is the key to creating lasting, transformational change.

How can philanthropy best support capacity building for the nonprofit sector in your state? What sorts of investments are most needed?

Philanthropy can help nonprofits further adopt a strategy of evidence-based methodology when evaluating philanthropic and programmatic investments. Philanthropic leaders and their organizations can take a rigorous approach to impact measures themselves — and hold their grantees to the same standard. By making the resources available to track impact measures, and creating a shared language around impact, philanthropy can help nonprofits unlock the hundreds of millions of dollars of public funds available to nonprofits in support of their missions.

What’s been a recent big success for your organization and what excites you about it?

We've been working hard to advocate for nonprofits to invest in themselves. Over the last year, we have advocated for a reasonable approach to increasing the minimum wage, an approach that would help nonprofits preserve their business model and still be able to provide the same level of services in their communities. We are extremely proud of the resulting minimum wage bill that will soon be signed by the governor which has a phased-in, tiered regional approach.

We have also worked in partnership with an innovative healthcare broker to bring partially self-insured health care to nonprofits employing between five and 35 full-time employees. These types of investments are crucial for nonprofits to be able to retain good employees and to create a fulfilling working environment at their organizations.

What are the most important public policy issues for you this year, and what are you doing about them?

The most important policy issue for all nonprofits, and therefore for NAO, is the implementation of the ground-breaking minimum wage law that just passed our legislature. Nonprofits had a big voice in crafting this law. Their voices were heard and now, as we go into implementation, their voices will need to continue to ensure that service breaks do not occur and that all Oregonians benefit from the changes through the nonprofits in their communities.

What are the one or two best opportunities you see for nonprofits and philanthropy to “go beyond the grant” to work together to create sustainable change in communities?

Impact is a huge opportunity and an Achilles heel for nonprofits. We need to improve our ability to prove our impact in communities. Nonprofits and philanthropy need to partner on setting evidence-based impact metrics that proves our interventions and then scale those as needed for the crippling issues that are vexing our communities: poverty, racism, violence and hopelessness.

What’s one more question we should ask you, and how would you answer it? 

Q. How can I help?
A. Get involved with your nonprofit state association. Join us as we build a movement of nonprofits across the state and with our colleagues, across the Northwest!

Jim White is executive director of the Nonprofit Association of Oregon, joining us this month for our virtual roundtable with state nonprofit association leaders.