The following is a conversation between Dan Cardinali, President and CEO of Independent Sector, and Denver Frederick, Host of The Business of Giving on AM 970 The Answer in New York City.


Dan Cardinali © Independent Sector

Denver: It is always so interesting to hear from the leaders of nonprofit organizations about the work they do around a particular issue and the lives that are being transformed as a result. But it is also essential to take a step back now and again to understand the dynamics of the sector in which this work is going on and the issues that impact all of these organizations. We cannot find a better person to do that with than my next guest. He is Dan Cardinali, the President and CEO of the Independent Sector. Good evening, Dan, and welcome to The Business of Giving!

Dan Cardinali: Denver, it’s a pleasure to be with you.

Denver: Give our listeners some of the history of the Independent Sector and of the organization’s mission and goals.

Dan: Independent Sector was founded 37 years ago by a social entrepreneur, John Gardner, who was really a public intellectual. He had been in the for-profit, nonprofit, academia, a chronic social entrepreneur who founded many organizations. He realized that there was this very important role for the founding of the Independent Sector to be an organization that brought philanthropy and nonprofits together into a vital meeting ground where it was non-transactional. It was about understanding where the world was and how civil society can come together and solve problems, build culture, preserve the natural environment, and then to translate that activity into good public policy… So the sector could be a real force for good, but partnering with government and with business in transforming the world.

Denver: Most people, I don’t think, fully appreciate the scope and breadth of this sector in the United States. Why don’t you describe it to us?

Dan: Sure. The name goes — you hear social sector, you hear charitable sector, you hear nonprofit, they’re all basically the same. There are about 1.6 million nonprofit and philanthropic organizations in the United States. They range from the zoos to museums, to the food banks, to churches, to synagogues, to all sorts of wonderful think tanks that produce incredibly important ideas. These 1.6 million organizations make up the nonprofit sector.

I don’t think most folks know that 1 in 10 Americans are actually employed by the social sector. If you think about the 63 million volunteers every year this country has, 1 in 4 Americans is actively involved in this sector. So we generate about $ ½  trillion dollars of economic activity, and if you look at that volunteer time alone, it’s worth almost $200 billion of value. So it is in a robust, dynamic part of American life and American economy.

Nonprofits, small as they may be, provide a really important opportunity for citizens to continually engage with each other, solve problems, and improve the community.

Denver: You just mentioned there are about 1.6 million nonprofits, and I think we have about 320 million people in the country right now – so doing some quick math, that’s about one nonprofit for every 200 people. Do you think the sector would benefit, be more efficient and effective, with a little bit of consolidation?

Dan: I think that is kind of a nonprofit-by-nonprofit reflective question. One thing that you can see is, efficiency does matter when you’re using and stewarding resources on behalf of community. So in so far as you can create efficiencies, and if consolidation enables you to do that, that’s terrific. An organization I used to work with– Communities in Schools– we saw some consolidation over the years when you had a number of very small rural affiliates unable to get the kind of critical mass that an economy of scale by consolidation promoted. And they were able to hire even better staff, build the kinds of technology systems that enabled them to be much more analytical, and then therefore, better services to kids.

However, there’s something in America that’s incredibly important. This notion of association– Individual citizens making decisions about coming together and solving problems or promoting culture or preserving the environment.

Nonprofits, small as they may be, provide a really important opportunity for citizens to continually engage with each other, solve problems, and improve the community. So you want to be careful with a blanket statement, like, “We need to consolidate!” as much as: “What are we trying to get accomplished?  And how do we get an organizational structure strong enough to help us really achieve that vision?”

Denver: So taking the entirety of this vast and multi-faceted and fascinating sector, what is the unique role that the Independent Sector plays and the distinct contribution that you make, Dan?

Dan: The Independent Sector is unique in the country in that we are the only organization that has both grant-making organizations–those philanthropic, whether they’re individual or corporate or private philanthropies– and grant-seeking organizations – nonprofits who depend on philanthropic contributions to achieve their mission. We bring those two dynamics, those leaders together, and create a clear understanding of where the sector needs to go. We catalyze. We get out of their way. We just bring them together in a non-transactional way and say, “Look, every year, there’s a national conference.” And during the course of that year, we’re bringing those communities together, curating conversations, and really determining: what are the key issues the sector is facing and how we collectively can come together to solve for those problems, those opportunities.

The other thing that is critical is having both sides of the sector, as it were, grant-making and grant-seeking. We can translate our learning into good public policy work and ensure that the sector has not only its protection for its independence to play its role as an advocate and support to government, and to provide opportunities for business to learn, but we can also provide proactive policies. In the Independent Sector, there is an extraordinary wisdom about what is good for America – and translating that into positive, constructive public policy is part of our key work.

My only encouragement to the philanthropic institutions that are strong with their theories of change, is being clear about the fact that they’re looking for a contractor and not getting under the hood of how nonprofits then spend their money. Nonprofits are contractors. They provide a service. They should give a price and be able to do their work against that price and not have to justify every single dime.

Denver: Picking up on what you just said:  the grant makers–those with the money, and the grant seekers–those looking to get some of it. There has been this age-old problem of a power imbalance, that dynamic. Are we making any progress and evening the playing field a bit?

Dan: Are we making any progress? That is a really good question. I don’t know the answer to that. I am extremely encouraged by what I see–a really positive public discourse around the role of general operating as a way for grant-making organizations to really share power.  By turning over resources and enabling a nonprofit to make its decisions over how to allocate those resources to achieve its mission, and then reporting back on how it’s actually achieving its mission is really a powerful way that power can be shared.

On the other hand, and I’m a huge proponent of this, with the focus on analytics and outcomes, many, many grant-making institutions have their own theories of change.  So they often turn to the non-profit sector as contractors in service of their theory of change. My only encouragement to the philanthropic institutions that are strong with their theories of change, is being clear about the fact that they’re looking for a contractor and not getting under the hood of how nonprofits then spend their money. Nonprofits are contractors. They provide a service.  They should give a price and be able to do their work against that price and not have to justify every single dime. So if you’re going to have a theory of change and implement it, sharing power means turning over to the nonprofit a clear opportunity to say, “I will deliver you this value for this price, and you don’t get to play around with my budget.”

Denver: Micromanage it. That’s exactly right. Somebody made the analogy one time about sending a FedEx package and just trying to imagine when you paid, whatever you paid for, telling FedEx that they don’t want any of their money to go toward gas or delivery; they wanted it all to go towards the boxes. That’s essentially what happens in the nonprofit sector, and we accept it.

Dan: We accept it. Right. So my point is, we can’t have our cake and eat it too. Either you’re going to look to nonprofits as a contracting organization… terrific! You pay the price that they set, and then we’ll have a marketplace. Not my ideal, but that’s certainly a way to handle it. Or you partner deeply. That means shared power and general operating (support) is a phenomenal vehicle for making that happen.

If you want to be a marathon runner, you’ve got to start training. It doesn’t mean that you will run the 26 miles the first time out, but it does mean that you start to push yourself.  And you figure out how to get better time, how to run longer, how to manage your interval training, all of those things. I think it’s just the same piece applied to the nonprofit sector.

Denver: It certainly is. Well, let’s turn our attention to those evidence-based programs and measurable outcomes. I’ve had two conversations just in the past week about them. One person was just expressing their exasperation with all these smart and committed people. Why they are so difficult and seem to remain so elusive, and the other was complaining how donors not only want this information, they insist upon this information, but aren’t willing to pay for it. So let me turn to you, Dan, and ask you: where do we stand as a sector on all of this?

Dan: I think we are still in the early stages of, for lack of a better term, metabolizing how to become a more data-driven sector. And what I have found in the work over the last 25 years is the frame of being evidence-based or data-driven is actually distracting and not helpful. Most of us who have been in the social sector care deeply about the expression of our values and find colleagues that share those sets of values. I’ve never met anybody that doesn’t want to be better at the expression of those values.

So the notion of continuous improvement and that you, much like an athlete, you can’t run until you have learned to jog, and you can’t jog unless you have learned to stand well. There is simply a process whereby all of us have to build our capacity to be committed to quality improvement. Evidence and data and evidence-based programs are a vehicle or framework to help us go down that path. If you want to be a marathon runner, you’ve got to start training. It doesn’t mean that you will run the 26 miles the first time out, but it does mean that you start to push yourself.  And you figure out how to get better time, how to run longer, how to manage your interval training, all of those things. I think it’s just the same piece applied to the nonprofit sector.

The problem is that there is still, I think, an underdeveloped framework for how those of us in the social sector can actually think about where we are developed mentally, and that there is a commitment on philanthropy and nonprofits to do the hard work of building our capacity. We are still focused on this very distracting thing about overhead, that if you have 15% overhead, you’re on the margins of being a well-run nonprofit. If it’s 10%, you’re better, and if it’s 20%, you’re bad. It’s just a very distracting conversation that doesn’t talk about impact or outcome.

Denver: Yes. We had somebody on the show who actually took a look at that.  She went to GiveWell and looked at the top 40 organizations that were rated as the best by GiveWell. Turned out, those 40 had the highest overheads. So essentially, the idea that we really care about how much somebody—how they’re spending their money and not what the outcome is, has truly been distracting.

Many of the leaders of the best nonprofit organizations that I have had the pleasure to speak to will tell me they consider themselves to be first and foremost, a tech company. They are certainly, I think, more the exception than the rule. How is the sector doing, Dan, by and large, in utilizing and leveraging technology both to manage their organizations and obtain better outcomes for their clients?

Dan: I think we are woefully behind in our integration of technology. There are a number of reasons for that. One of which is, in general–This is going back to the notion of grant-making organizations—Very few philanthropies are committed to investing in the kinds of infrastructure that enable nonprofits to shift into being much more technology-enabled. This is hugely problematic. Government funding doesn’t allow for very much of it either. So you have a structural financing problem that is holding the sector back from fully embracing technology. It is rare, and there are some wonderful philanthropic institutions that get this. I mentioned earlier about the role of general operating (support). This is exactly why general operating is so important. When a nonprofit is ready to be able to take this technological leap, it should have the freedom with its board to make those sets of investments to accelerate its impact. But those are rare, and I think it’s a structural problem in the sector.

Denver: Not to overstate it, but the nonprofit sector has had kind of an exclusivity on doing good works, along with federal agencies and government agencies, of course. But now, you have more and more social good businesses with a double or a triple bottom line. What challenges, as well as what opportunities, do you see this presenting to the sector?

Dan: In general, I’m extremely excited about this. If you think about the common good while something, I think, the social sector has stewarded on behalf of America for many, many years, we don’t have a monopoly on it. I do think we have a particular—much the way the university has rigor around research– we in the social sector have rigor around the constant refinement of what social good is. So I don’t see us losing a critical role in shepherding what common good really means. I do think that we have now the wonderful adaptive challenge of partnering particularly with business and figuring out ways to scale.

I think business embracing the notion of its role in the common good is one of the most exciting trends. I think there is a lot of work that still needs to be done there because the pressure on businesses is always to deliver. There may be a double bottom line, but there’s one that’s first among the second or the third, and that is driving profits. When profits drive difficult questions out of the conversation, business, I think, fails. So there  is this notion that in the Independent Sector, we attend to those problems that are neither solved by markets, nor is government capable of solving. And that is a unique place that still is very much an important role for us in society.

Denver: I know a lot of young people don’t really differentiate between the nonprofit sector and social good businesses. They want to make a difference in the world, and where they work doesn’t make that much of a difference to them as long as that good is being accomplished… which, again, puts a challenge to the sector to attract the very best people and develop the next generation of leadership. Tell us about your program to address this which is called “Engine”.

Dan: Exactly. With the incredible generosity of, interestingly, a corporate investor, American Express…  they have long recognized the role of leadership as critically important to transforming organizations and helping them adapt to contemporary challenges and opportunities. So, for about 10 years now, they have funded our ability to attract from across the sector– in a wonderfully diverse way, both in terms of grant-making and grant-seeking institutions– folks of color, different regions, gender– really being attentive to gender equality in terms of the leadership that we’re supporting, and very large institutions and community-based institutions. So it’s this rich group now of about a hundred alumni who have come together every year, reflected on where the sector is going, what their particular role is. Now, they’re forming a community. We have a critical mass of young leaders which we are really excited about, who are now helping us re-imagine this next phase of Independent Sector, the organization’s work.


Dan Cardinali and Denver Frederick at the AM970 The Answer Studio

Denver: Right. Let me ask you about a very cool initiative, and, I think, it’s quite a timely one as well. And I believe it was actually started by one of your board members, and it’s called “On the Table.” What is that?

Dan: That’s great. “On the Table” is this wonderful initiative started by one of my board members, Terry Mazany, who has had a wonderful long tenure. Unfortunately, he’s stepping down as the CEO of the Chicago Community Trust. But in preparation for their 100th year anniversary, Terry and his team said, “We’re a community foundation, and this notion that we have this unique role between grant-making and working with donors to solve the communities’ problems foster those things that are going well, build culture, all the wonderful things the social sector does.”

So Terry was very aware that there was a need for Chicago Community Trust to build its capacity to be present and listen-to community and be- prompted-by community. So he and his team developed this mechanism whereby it’s called “On the Table.” It happens once a year. They started with 11,000 participants at dinners four years ago. This past May, they were at 100,000. So it gives you an insight that citizens desire to come together to break bread and have conversations about what’s important to them.

One of the things that Terry told me is that the dinners they do, at the same time every year in May, have no agenda. Citizens are allowed to come together. What they can do through technology is capture the themes. Those themes, then, are aggregated and the Chicago Community Trust used those themes in two ways. Most importantly, it informs how they allocate their resources to support the community. So they are literally being prompted by the pain points and the opportunities the community feels.

The second way they use it is they inform donors about what the community needs. That is a powerful role. So “On the Table” is a mechanism whereby community is created, understanding about what is important in community happens, and then change is catalyzed by virtue of that engagement. It’s a really powerful model.

Denver: And a timely one!  We really need people talking about these issues together around the table as we did with our family way back when. It’s a great model. You have talked a moment ago about how some of these Engine leaders are helping the Independent Sector re-imagine itself in the 21st century, and I know with your tenure, that’s what you’ve been focused on. Well, one place where that new thinking will really be on display is at your annual conference in Detroit this coming October. The theme is “Our Common Future.” What will be new and different about it, Dan?

Dan: That’s great. Thanks for asking. We’re very, very excited about the conference, “Our Common Future” which is going to be the 25th through the 27th of October. A couple of things: One, we are partnering with the Council on Michigan Foundations and the Michigan Nonprofit Association. I’m sure it’s not lost on you. There is no Independent Sector conference term to it. So that’s part of the big change. It is actually a collaboration among organizations to come together and make meaning, which is the core mission of the Independent Sector. We believe by, in a sense, suppressing our brand that folks will see themselves as being able to bring them their whole selves and their organization in service of the collective work of the Independent Sector, not the building, “I went to the Independent Sector Conference and that’s great.” That’s one piece of it.

The second thing we did is, for the first time ever, we sent a team of four… an interdisciplinary team of four, mostly 30s-, 40s-something folks, to live for a month in Detroit. And they went to a local human-centered design institute called Civilla, certified by Stanford. The temptation here was to send our team to Stanford, so we had the street cred. We said, “Well, if we’re going to walk the talk of actually partnering with this community, who has done phenomenal work—“ And this guy, Mike Brennan, who is a product of the United Way system, 30 years. Mike had had this insight that human-centered design could help unlock a community’s ability to problem-solve. So we sent our team to live and work with him, and they then went out into the community for the first time. So we didn’t use our host committee, although they were part of this. We actually went out talking to social entrepreneurs, folks who were in the sector and not in the sector, many of whom had never heard of Independent Sector, the organization, much less ever imagined going to the conference.

We said, “Well, what would it mean if you had a gathering of people like you here in Detroit talking about what you’re actually learning in Detroit?” That became a national conversation. We heard a very strong appetite for these change makers to be in relationship with each other. That cracked an atom for us about, “Wow, the future of the Independent Sector Conference will be not calling it the Independent Sector Conference.” We’re going to name it, and we’ll reveal the name in Detroit in October, and it will be the kind of south by southwest for the social sector. It will be a place where you gather with your friends, with other change makers, and form community that lasts all year long.

The other piece that we’re doing is we’re treating the conference not as an event, but as a community engagement strategy. And we’re looking to Detroit, L.A. in 2018, and Chicago in 2019, and creating a momentum amongst those three communities so that there is this place-based learning that gets brought up into a national conversation. So place begins to matter. So when you come to the conference, you won’t want to miss the Detroit experience because it will become the platform on which you can do these case studies and say, “Wow, the sector’s really changing. I learned these five things in Detroit, and I met a whole bunch of folks that are working in L.A. and I want to go to L.A. and I want to actually engage with them over the course of this year, so when I go to L.A., I’m learning at a much deeper level.” So I’m super excited.

Denver: And that is a dramatic shift, I will say. Speaking of Detroit, Rip Rapson, the President of The Kresge Foundation, who was on the show a while ago, we spent almost the entire time talking about Detroit, and it really has become an incubator or a laboratory for other places and cities around the country. As you said, your team was up there for about a month. I know you spent some time up there. What are some of the lessons of Detroit for the nonprofit sector?

Dan: I think there’s a lot to learn with Detroit. Let me start with Rip. I think Rip Rapson is an example of someone who came in, I think, about 10 years ago to a very well-regarded, extremely effective organization and asked a critical question: The Kresge Foundation: is it structured in a way that is most impactful to this moment in Detroit? He said, “I think we can make some changes.” That is really hard to do. He fundamentally reworked how that organization shows up in community, how it uses not just its grant-making, but the full range of its assets to catalyze economic development. To partner with business, to build a set of coalitions with a set of other funders. So he began to open up the imagination—He kind of walked the talk of what was happening in Detroit. If we’re going to re-imagine the city, we, as an institution, have to re-imagine how we show up, the kind of people that are here, how we’re in relationship with community. We have to be intentional about the best use of our resources.

I think he’s an extraordinary example of one dimension of what’s happening in Detroit, that there are these incredible institutions. Whether it’s Civilla, that is a brand new social enterprise bringing in human-centered design with traditional leaders, whether it’s the entrepreneur movement that’s happening, or whether you have someone like Skillman Foundation, that has a 10-year history doing incredibly place-based work, partnering with public education and publicly learning about what went well and what didn’t. There’s just incredible amounts of stuff going on there that I think — we hope folks come and learn because there’s going to be terrific access to those institutions.

Denver: Well, you do make it sound exciting, I will say. You said at the very outset that the Independent Sector was involved in policy issues, and boy, there are a lot of them. But let me ask you just about a couple. One is expanding the charitable tax deduction, which, by the way, is commemorating it’s 100th anniversary this year. I think the law was passed in 1917. What are you advocating for here?

Dan: Sure. Just a minute on the charitable deduction. I don’t think everyone fully understands just what a unique asset it is in American life. It is the only tax deduction that is altruistic, that you are rewarded for giving money away to community. So I just think that is a really important dimension. That incentive has helped support and expand the world’s largest civil society, and one that is a generator of enormous innovation, huge numbers of jobs, and been an incredible bulwark of supporting community life– whether it be culture, environment, the social safety net. The charitable deduction is a powerful, and probably one of the most important tax policies, if you ask about the health of American life. So that’s number one.

The other thing about the history, that, Denver, you mentioned, I think, is important to remember. In 1917, you have to remember this country was about to go to war. And that meant that there was going to be an enormous pressure on the Treasury of the United States. Citizens, politicians, recognized that there was a need to correspondingly incentivize citizens to take care of communities when government was going to be at a moment of enormous pressure. Not that the government was retreating. They wanted to make sure that government and citizens were partnering in an even more intentional way. So those are really critically important, and I don’t think folks often understand that. If anyone wants to see a really cool 90-second explainer video, you can go to, and in 90 seconds, you can get the history on the charitable deduction.

Denver: It is very well done.

Dan: Thank you. With all that being said, we have got a great team at the Independent Sector. In 2014, in anticipation of the 2016 elections, and we know since the era of Ronald Reagan that every new President is going to propose tax policy. So we wanted to be ready and so we were watching very closely, of course, what we saw on the House and Senate side and then what we are listening in terms of the campaigns. We, in 2016, ran some polling, and began to recognize that there was a tax blueprint that was going to increase the standard deduction and try and simplify and lower the marginal tax rates. So we are a data-driven organization and we partnered with the Lilly School of Philanthropy, and asked a critical question. So, what does this mean for charitable giving? Is this going to incentivize and help charitable giving or not?

The answer was, if they double the standard deduction and lower the marginal tax rate, which is the proposal that’s most commonly talked about now, you would lose about $13 billion in charitable giving. So, going back to this notion of this being a unique tax incentive, we think this is a very bad thing for Americans.

So the question, then, became: What’s our policy solution? You can say, “Well, great, that’s a problem but what are you going to do?” So we came up with this notion of the universal deduction along with lots of colleagues. Independent Sector never operates solo. We work with the Alliance for Charitable Giving, the Leadership 18, a whole group of folks, plus our public policy committee.

This notion, we began to ask: How many folks actually take the charitable deduction? Turns out currently, only 30% of Americans can take the charitable tax deduction because most take the standard deduction. So we said, well, if we believe in this value of incentivizing everybody to be part of the solutions in their community, the universal deduction and above the line deduction, became the kind of searing insight. So that’s where we came up with it. This notion that it democratizes access to incentivizing all citizens to be part of building their community, and it was a critically important part of ensuring that the charitable sector would remain strong, even as tax policy shifts.

Denver: Another issue that you’re consumed by is the Johnson Amendment which was introduced by LBJ, I think, it was back in 1954. What is the Johnson Amendment?  What’s happening with it?  And what is your position?

Dan: Sure. The Johnson Amendment was put in place to ensure that nonprofits did not get involved in electoral politics. So a simple way of saying this is: if you make a charitable donation to your local Goodwill, there is a clear sense that they are not going to be involved in partisan politics. Doesn’t mean that they don’t advocate on positions that are good for the clientele that they serve. We want that because they are incredibly smart about what is effective practice because they’re at the grassroots level. But the risk we run is we want to keep that firewall very strong between electoral politics and the appropriate advocacy of the nonprofit sector. The Johnson Amendment does that.

The repeal of the Johnson Amendment would enable the charitable tax deduction to be used for electoral politics. We think that, that is going to be very, very, very bad for the role currently nonprofits play. If money is being diverted from your local food bank to support candidates, we think that’s bad for everybody involved. It also can put social sector leaders in a very difficult position about endorsing candidates, which they can’t currently do.

Denver: Right. They can’t put a poster up in their window.

Dan: That’s right. So we want to see the Independent Sector, along with thousands of organizations, are clear-eyed about saying, “We want to oppose the repeal of the Johnson Amendment.”

Denver: Where is it now?

Dan: There are a number of proposals. We have been working with both the administration and The Hill on being clear about what the implications of these are and looking for policy solutions that enable them to appropriately clarify how nonprofits can be clear about their advocacy role.

Denver: I follow the Independent Sector; it’s part of my job. And I’ve noted that you’ve been a little bit more out there, Dan, than you have in the past. Now, tell me, is that my imagination?  Or is this something that you have intentionally been doing? 

Dan: When I was on the board, before I stepped into this role as CEO, there was a sense that the Independent Sector was—not our organization– but the social sector—was at an inflection point. That it had stepped back a little bit from taking up its role in partnering with government and business. So the board, with the staff, decided that we, as an organization, Independent Sector, along with our membership and our colleagues, needed to step up our role of publicly claiming the expertise that the sector has. Part of doing that is being more public about what we believe, and being willing to be in dialogue.

We don’t assert that we’re always right. We have positions. But we really believe in healthy public discourse. And that, we think, is lacking in this country. So we, along with, again, many of our partners, believe it’s critically important to say, “Look, in community, in civil society, is incredible wisdom.” It needs to be brought out into the public square, it needs to be part of policy formulation. Business needs to know that we are alive and well here, and we have a very clear understanding of what citizens need, want, and really how business could partner in scaling solutions.

Denver: Many people would consider Independent Sector to be an infrastructure organization, and, boy, do I know the challenges inherent in funding an infrastructure organization. Everybody wants them; everybody needs them and recognizes their importance; everybody loves what they produce, and nobody wants to pay for them. They want the other guy to pay for them. So, what is your revenue model and your sources of support?

Dan: Sure. Before I talk about the Independent Sector’s revenue model, let me make a statement about infrastructure organizations. I think that is an unfortunate term. So for Independent Sector, we decreasingly refer to ourselves as an infrastructure organization and see ourselves as part of a catalytic community. Our business model is changing, but currently, it’s driven by—We have wonderful members that make up an incredibly important part of our revenue source; our conference generates revenue; we own a building that generates revenue… and then philanthropy increasingly investing in general operating to enable us to do our work and kind of get out of our way.  And a lot of those folks are members, and so they have a voice that they put in, in dialogue with other members – nonprofits, grant-seeking organizations. So it’s a really powerful model of kind of power sharing.

I think the challenge before us is: Can we come up with enough adaptive solutions, be innovative while being technically good at what we do with our current missions?

Denver: Let me close with this, Dan. I think no matter what the industry, the changes and the disruptions that are about to occur are really mind-boggling. If we stick with Detroit for a minute, between Uber and Lyft on one hand, and autonomous vehicles on the other, you can’t even imagine what the auto industry is going to look like in the years ahead. What do you see as the big opportunities, the great challenges, and the potential upheavals that will occur in the nonprofit sector over the next 5 to 10 years?

Dan: Wow, that’s a big question. I love your model of the disruption of Uber and Lyft. So I’m going to build a similar metaphor. I think the social sector is a little bit like Netflix was in 2009, where currently, we figured out how to get those DVDs to our clients. But we’re looking—One eye to the horizon, we’re saying, “What is thing called streaming?  And how are we going to fundamentally adapt to a world that is soon to be streaming while maintaining our current client base?” We are intuiting that once we go into streaming, are we going to then have to build studios the way Netflix and Amazon have done?

So we’re at this moment, and I think like Blockbuster, there will be winners and there will be losers. And it is unavoidable. I think the challenge before us is:  Can we come up with enough adaptive solutions, be innovative while being technically good at what we do with our current missions? The way we think about this is, there is a shift going on from being either programmatically or organizationally excellent, which has been rewarded over the last 15 years.  And I ran an organization that was rewarded mightily for being really good at what it did, to now having to go from programmatic excellence to problem-solving. That means organizationally, we’re going to have to be in relationship with each other; we’re going to have to share services; we’re going to have to give up intellectual property and open source things in ways that are deeply uncomfortable, and in some ways, we’re not rewarded for from a financial point of view.

Denver: Interesting times ahead. Well, Dan Cardinali, the President and CEO of the Independent Sector, I want to thank you so much for being here this evening. Tell us about your website, the information you have there, and how people can become more involved or help support the organization.

Dan: Thank you. Denver, it’s a real pleasure, and thank you for the work you do. This radio show, I think, is an incredibly important public forum and public square that helps all of us be better informed and challenge our way of thinking.

We would love for folks to become part of the Independent Sector, really through the conference. There are two websites: One, the IndependentSector.Org. It’s a long website word. Most misspell – I did for the first six months I was at the Independent Sector. At, you can learn about public policy, and you can learn about contemporary issues these. We’ve got a wonderful podcast called 100 Days for Good if you’re interested in public policy. It’s a 25 to 30-minute download on what’s going on in Washington. You can stay updated. That’s open source; it isn’t just for members. is our website for the conference. We would love to see change makers from business, government, the nonprofit, philanthropic sector there. Come, share your stories. We’re going to be out in the community, going to dinners on Thursday night. We’re going to be walking the streets of Detroit, learning from change makers in the community on Wednesday morning. This is going to be a wonderful gathering.

Denver: Not to mention your monthly updates that you’ve just started.

Dan: Thank you. Very good. So join.  You get a sense of what’s really going in the DNA- making of the Independent Sector.

Denver: Great. Well, it was a real pleasure to have you on the show, Dan.

Dan: Thank you very much.


Dan Cardinali and Denver Frederick

The Business of Giving can be heard every Sunday evening between 6:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Eastern on AM 970 The Answer in New York and on iHeartRadio. You can follow us @bizofgive on Twitter, @bizofgive on Instagram and at

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