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Where Do Nonprofits Fit in Obama’s Plans?

(Nov. 10, 2008) During the U.S. presidential campaign, Sen. Barack Obama shared his plans to stimulate public service and build the capacity of nonprofits, including initiatives to encourage new and more effective nonprofit programs.

Obama, now U.S. president-elect, put forth a three-step plan to increase public service. The first component is a large expansion of the size and scope of America’s federally funded volunteer programs, such as AmeriCorps and the Peace Corps. The second part is moving these volunteer service and “service-learning” programs into schools and colleges. The third aspect is leveraging public and private sector investment to “incorporate higher levels of competition, innovation, and accountability” in the nonprofit sector.

Obama’s plans for nonprofits themselves were not very specific, but do call for the creation of an agency within the Corporation for National and Community Service called the Social Entrepreneurship Agency for Nonprofits. The agency would make grants to build the infrastructure of the nonprofit sector and capacity of nonprofit organizations, including their ability to ensure accountability, manage volunteers and improve outcomes.

Barack Obama’s plan to increase public service and improve nonprofits can be found on his campaign website. For more about Barack Obama’s proposed plans affecting the nonprofit sector, see this campaign coverage on The Chronicle of Philanthropy‘s website.

Obama on Role of Government, Charities

Obama made numerous comments about charity at the ServiceNation Presidential Candidates Forum on Sept. 11, the first joint-appearance of Obama and Republican challenger John McCain following the party conventions. The forum’s focus was public service and was held at Columbia University in New York. The full transcript of the candidates’ comments are available online.

Asked if the expansion of government-funded public service programs “gets in this way of private initiative” or if such an expansion can “repress public service and national service,” Obama said the following:

“The fact is that we have to have government. When a hurricane strikes, as it did with Katrina, we have to have a FEMA that works, which by the way, means that we should be encouraging young people, the best and the brightest, to get involved as civil servants, to pursue careers of public service so we've got people who are trained in federal emergency management who are able to take on the job.”

“Now, that does not crowd out the Red Cross,” Obama continued. “That doesn't crowd out the thousands of church groups that [helped Hurricane Katrina victims]. What it means is that each area has a role to play.”

President-elect Barack Obama’s plans for increasing public service opportunities with federally funded programs, tying service with education, and increasing social innovation and nonprofit effectiveness would cost about $3.5 billion per year if fully implemented.

The Chronicle of Philanthropy has more coverage on the lead-up to the U.S. presidential election here.

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