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  • Writer's pictureKen Phillips

A Call to Action: A Vigorous Civil Society


Times are tough for non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and community groups. In most countries, they are underperforming compared to the needs they were created to address. Small organizations and community associations are struggling to survive. Fundraisers in many nonprofits are not getting the support they need from their boards and other staff members. And times are frustrating for people who want to live in a better world but don’t know how.

The good news? Millions of people work in nonprofits and many millions more volunteer their time to help make this a better world. There is global agreement on what should be done , and in the hearts of most people there is recognition that more should be done. See the Sustainable Development Goals adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015. This blog is a response to these challenging times. It is intended to assist you – a person who cares about others and believes society should be better for everyone. By working together where you work or study or donate or volunteer, we can make this a better world through strategy, teamwork, and leadership.

The Importance of Civil Society

A vigorous civil society sector is vitally important, indeed essential, for the wellbeing of society and for civilization itself. The civil society sector consists of charitable nonprofit organizations, informal community groups, public benefit professional associations, youth clubs, and other informal networks of people who are dedicated to making some aspect of the world better.

A Well-Functioning Civil Society

A well-functioning civil society is characterized by:

  • Freedom of Organization: Every individual enjoys the freedom to create a group or organization to take steps to make society better.

  • Government Support: Government facilitates the creation of organizations dedicated to the public good and allows freedom of assembly, speech, and association.

  • Community Commitment: Neighbors, businesses, authorities, and others have a commitment at the community level to improve conditions surrounding them in health, education, safety, environment, support, and other aspects of a high quality of life.

  • Donations and Volunteering: Individuals, corporations, governments, and other institutions donate money, time, and materials to help people who are sick, homeless, impoverished, or facing barriers due to disasters, handicaps, or other challenges.

  • Collaboration for Justice and Rights: Individuals, organizations, and institutions work together to protect all members of society through justice for all, equal opportunity, gender equality, and other universal human rights.

  • Accountability and Advocacy: Organizations provide information, education, and advocacy to ensure good behavior by government, corporations, and other institutions.

The Author’s Experience

In writing the Civil Society Series, I draw on a lifetime of experience with formal and informal nonprofit organizations of all sizes and in all fields of work. I have been exceedingly fortunate to have spent my career with nonprofits dedicated to making this a better world. My books are based on sixty years of experience leading, managing, and supporting nonprofit organizations and groups in the U.S. and many other countries. Having worked in or traveled to 100 countries and conducted thousands of semi-structured interviews with donors, fundraisers, NGO executives, Board members, and experts in evaluation, I have seen that strategy, teamwork and leadership for civil society can work in all cultures (except in repressive regimes).

Areas of Focus in the Series

In the first four books in the Civil Society Series on “Make a Better World,” the focus is on effective leadership and fundraising; strategic planning and culture; proven strategies for fundraising; and trust, impact, and communications for nonprofit organizations. These books including some discounts are available on Books with guidance on governance, management, and teams and on youth perspectives on what needs to be done to make their futures better are in process.

Conclusion - Time to step up!

 Individual donors accounted for 82% of all giving in the U.S. in 1983 but has declined to 67% in 2023. Fundraising is always a challenge, even more so currently:  “Overall charitable giving dropped 2.1 percent in 2023 after inflation, according to the most recent “Giving USA” report, the key findings of which were released Tuesday. … Giving by individuals in 2023 dropped 2.4 percent. The share of overall giving that came from individual donors continued to decline, albeit slightly, from 67.4 percent in 2022 to 67.2 percent in 2023. As recently as 2013, individual donors accounted for 73 percent of overall giving.”* Changes in  the charitable deduction and growing inequality and taxes paid along with economic factors have had a large impact on donations. *Chronicle of Philanthropy, 6/25/2024

The Work of Fundraisers, Board Members, Executives, Staff, and Volunteers

It is time for all fundraisers, board members, executives, staff, and volunteers to “step up” and take steps to make certain their nonprofits are trusted and respected by their publics by working with their colleagues inside their organizations. 

Fundraisers know their outside work of appealing to donors and understand it is essential for an organization to be attractive for donors. In all my work as fundraiser, executive, trainer, and consultant, I have advocated that all staff have a responsibility to assure this is happening. As one field worker in Thailand told me, “I get it. Fundraising is my job! Both my responsibility and my salary!” So true, for everyone.

This is the inside work of a fundraiser - to network internally to assure everything possible and appropriate is done by all staff to be attractive donors. Who would donate to a charity that is not attractive?

In my roles as fundraiser and executive director, I did step up to make my organizations attractive to donors and we were able to triple our revenues in both cases to levels of ten of thousands of dollars. The Six Steps to Leadership below can guide you, the reader, in how YOU can help as a staff member, volunteer, or donor to make a meaningful difference in the world. If you do not have a charity where you volunteer, find one. They will welcome you!

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