Mark Murphy is a big picture sort of guy who learned about policy making from a pro, none other than Senator Ted Kennedy. When Murphy moved to Boston to be a bicycle delivery boy, being a policy advisor to a senator was probably not on his radar, even though he had in hand a 1980 bachelor’s degree in international relations from University of California-Berkeley. Yet the story of how he got the Washington job, even though it includes the element of being at the right place at the right time, reveals a little about what Murphy is like.
By pure chance, one of the guys Murphy used to deliver to on his bike was a leading Africanist at Boston University. Murphy himself had studied foreign policy regarding sub-Saharan Africa, which he describes as “a pretty highly specialized area.” The coincidence was the beginning of a relationship in which Murphy eventually asked to do a private reading program with him, and the professor agreed. “We met regularly to talk about African affairs,” says Murphy. “I was in his office one day when he got a call from Senator Kennedy’s office. The Kennedy aide said to the professor, ‘We need someone to work on foreign aid issues, with an African background if possible, really cheap, and right away.’” A week later Murphy moved to Washington.
Murphy appears as a panelist at “New Jersey Non-Profits at the Crossroads” on Thursday, September 21, at 8 a.m. at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Jamesburg. The event is sponsored by the Center for Non-Profit Organizations. Cost: $110. For more information, call 732-227-0800, visit www.njnonprofits.org, or E-mail to email@example.com.
Having worked on foreign aid and refugee issues for Kennedy, Murphy left in the early 1980s to create a nonprofit in his area of expertise, the National Coalition for Haitian Refugees. Following this first nonprofit venture, he has worked at the Ford Foundation and as a policy advisor to the Commissioner of Human Services in New Jersey. In 1987 he received a master’s degree in public affairs from Princeton University. Murphy is also the founding past president of the Council of New Jersey Grantmakers, a statewide organization of foundations and corporate giving programs.
Murphy has been working since 1982 on nonprofit advocacy issues, which he defines as “how nonprofits should appropriately be informing public policy, both in terms of research and analysis and of being centers for social innovation that can demonstrate new ways of addressing social issues.”
Murphy is the president of the Fund for New Jersey, a private grant-making foundation that gives out $4 million a year in New Jersey to promote public policies that make government more responsive to the needs of the people. The fund focuses on tax and budgetary policy, inner-city poverty, and urban education.
Murphy is also one of the founders of the statewide Center for Nonprofit Corporations, this event’s sponsor. This meeting, he says, is designed to help prepare for the first national Nonprofit Congress in Washington on Monday and Tuesday, October 16 and 17. That event is being organized by the National Council of Nonprofit Associations. “They have held conferences and town hall meetings around the country to ascertain issues, challenges, and what is a common platform around which we can organize and chart a common future,” says Murphy. The delegates to the national meeting, including Murphy, will share the results of the New Jersey conference at the national congress.
Murphy says there is broad acknowledgement of the challenges facing the nonprofit sector, and he lists these, in no particular order:
The nonprofit sector needs to better document and communicate its impact. “People are looking for measurable things that the nonprofit sector is doing to ameliorate poverty and broaden educational outcomes,” says Murphy. “We need to be better at data collection and program design
to document and communicate our
The nonprofit sector faces intrusions and restrictions being proposed and imposed by the federal government. Murphy mentions two that are very troubling. The first is the government’s use of lists of organizations and individuals that limit nonprofits’ latitude of association.
A year and a half ago the State Department put out a list of individuals and organizations and asked the philanthropic sector to avoid contact with anyone on the list, based on possible terrorist affiliations. “It had over 1,500 names and was so poorly put together that it inadvertently included the name of the mayor of Miami, Florida,” according to Murphy, who says he is concerned about both the existence of the lists and the extremely sloppy way they were compiled.
The second area he mentions is the Internal Revenue Service’s intrusions into nonprofits’ freedom of speech. He tells of a celebrated case, brought during the 2004 election campaign, against a Los Angeles minister who encouraged his congregants to get out and vote without mentioning any specific candidate.
“Almost immediately the church received a letter from the IRS threatening to revoke its nonprofit status,” says Murphy, “because it was in violation of bans on electioneering.” Murphy finds this particularly troublesome on many counts, including the fact that there was no electioneering, that the letter was not an act of intimidation, and that, in his opinion, the church was threatened for political reasons.
The nature of nonprofit donors and their expectations are changing. The investment sector has fueled the rise of social innovation funds and other pooled vehicles that allow donors to focus on the outcomes they want to see. This is another reason it has become so important for the nonprofit sector to be able to document and communicate its impact, says Murphy.
“We have a much more discerning and more skeptical donor,” he says, adding that trust in this country is at an all-time low. The nonprofit sector, in tandem with the for-profit sector, has seen high level fraud and abuse. He gives Bill Aramony, the head of the United Way, who, in 1995, was sentenced to seven years in prison after being convicted of diverting $1.2 million of the non-profit’s funds for his own use, as an example. “We need to come together and create industry standards of ethical behavior that not only meet the exact terms of the law but go further to establish high principles of ethical conduct,” he says.
The lines between the traditional sectors of capital, government, and social services are blurring. “It used to be clear what was government, for-profit, and nonprofit,” says Murphy. “Now we have nonprofits starting businesses, governments that traditionally would deliver services themselves now contracting for them, and for-profits saying, ‘We could run your prison system much better.’”
Because the three sectors are vying for the same contracts, critical questions arise: Who is more competent to do what? Who can do it better on a cost-effective basis? What are the services a government should not contract for? Where does a for-profit work better than a nonprofit?
The democratization of information technologies has meant a revolution in the nonprofit sector. Citing the issues of human rights, the global environment, women’s rights, and women’s economic independence, Murphy says, “They are all now international movements that would have been unthinkable without the Internet for fundraising, issue organizing, and advocacy.”
Issues like banning the use of land mines in guerrilla warfare, cleaning up the millions of land mines placed, and never detected, and ending child labor, he says, “went from obscurity as issues to the creation of international sanctions that have been very effective over the course of a few years. You never would have seen that with”
In New Jersey nonprofits have their own problems as a result of demographic, economic, and social shifts. “We are becoming an older population of white suburbanites and a younger population more heavily influenced by new immigrants and unskilled labor,” says Murphy. “Those demographic realities shape everything from employment to tax revenues — all issues that nonprofits will have to address.” Unless the economy and employment pick up, says Murphy, continued state budget deficits in New Jersey will also mean fewer dollars in the government grants and contracts that nonprofits have traditionally relied on for the bulk of their operations. The result? “We are in ever more need of diversifying that funding base,” he says.
In response to the many challenges facing nonprofits, the effected organizations are truly “getting their acts together,” in the sense of thinking nationally and strategically about what the coming years will bring,” says Murphy. As nonprofits pull together to alleviate the many problems facing our country, he expresses the hope that “in unity lies strength.”