The Challenge of Strengthening Nonprofits and Civil Society


Steven Rathgeb Smith is the Nancy Bell Evans Professor in the Evans School of Public Affairs at the University of Washington. He is also director of the Nancy Bell Evans Center on Nonprofit Organizations and Philanthropy at the Evans School. From 2004 to 2007, he was associate dean of the Evans School. He was the editor of Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, the journal of the Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action, from 1998 to 2004. In November 2006, he began a two-year term as president of that organization. His publications include Nonprofits for Hire: The Welfare State in the Age of Contracting (with Michael Lipsky, 1993) and “The Varieties of Faith-Related Agencies,” in Public Administration Review (with Michael Sosin, 2001).


The Winter Commission Report was centrally concerned with improving the performance of state and local governments. Since the issuance of the commission’s report in 1993, the delivery of services by state and local government has been substantially changed by the growing role of nonprofit organizations in providing public services and representing citizen interests. As a result, state and local governments and nonprofit agencies are faced with complex governance challenges. The central argument of this paper is that despite the dramatic changes in the relationship between government and nonprofit organizations in recent years, the key tenets of the Winter Commission report—the need for improved training and education, greater transparency and accountability, more emphasis on performance, and improved citizen engagement—remain deeply relevant in improving the governance of the public services in an increasingly complex policy process and service delivery system at the state and local levels.