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United Way Blog

The Age of Civil Society

In Germany alone, around 600,000 non-profit organizations and 30 million volunteers are committing themselves to solve social issues. Our society would not function without them. They often only become visible when the state reaches its limits. Like 2015, when thousands of refugees arrived in Germany. Our civil society stepped in and has shown enormous strength.

The non-profit sector faces many challenges. The highly fragmented system is nontransparent. There is no central register of the 600,000 nonprofits, so we do not know who they are and what effective approaches already exist. This makes cooperation among themselves and across sector boundaries more difficult.

In addition, many nonprofits lack an impact orientation. Their efforts end with reporting the direct output of their programs, such as the number of participants or certificates achieved. In order to achieve a real impact, i.e. to promote competencies, change attitudes and lives to the better, the focus should be on the target groups – i.e. the disadvantaged groups in our society. What should change for them and society, and what does it take to achieve this?

Furthermore, funding is a rather short-sighted approach too, on a strategic level and the funding time horizon. Sponsors should support nonprofits in their work and provide funding for the infrastructure and processes for evaluation and continuous learning, i.e. the classic overheads of a professional organization. Moreover, impact cannot be achieved within 2-3 years. Therefore, supporters should be patient and accompany an organization over a longer period of time.

Civil society lacks an exchange platform such as that established by politics and business long ago with the G20 summit or the World Economic Forum. It is time to give civil society a louder voice. In this spirit, Andreas Rickert imagines a Civil Society Summit that brings together worldwide social commitment.