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Follow up to Minnesota Council of Nonprofits conference

On October 3, 2008, I lead a session titled "Making the Case: Articulating the Common Good in Public and Nonprofit Programs" at the annual conference of the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits in St. Paul, MN. The session, described here, was based on the UM Extension companion program to "Building Extension's Public Value" that is directed to local government and nonprofit program providers: "Public Value of Public Programs." (Scroll down to "Educational Offerings.") The "Public Value of Public Programs" workshop is taught across Minnesota by UM Extension Community Economics Educators. If you want to read more about "PVPP," it was featured in a recent issue of UM Extension's magazine, Source. The article is here.

We had about 150 people attend the "Making the Case" breakout session at the MNCN conference. As with other short presentations, I had to leave out a lot of the PVPP content, and we didn't have time for small group work. However, there were some very good comments and questions from an audience representing a wide range of nonprofit organizations. One participant asked about the public value of research conducted at a nonprofit nature center, which can be addressed by thinking about what would happen in the absence of the program. Without the nature center's research, would the research agenda be advanced? By whom? Would the resulting research be in the public domain? Would research focus on knowledge that advances the public good? In short, the nature center creates public value by generating knowledge that creates public benefits; knowledge that would not have been created in the absence of the center's work.

Even with the tight session time, one participant at the MNCN session drafted and shared a compelling public message for a program that assists older foster kids in finding permanent homes. She named public benefits, including the greater likelihood that adopted kids will succeed in school and alleviating the burden on the foster care system. But, as an adoptive parent herself, the private benefits she named were equally compelling: the privilege and pleasure of adding a new, cherished family member and new face in family photos!

Did you attend the MNCN public value session? What did you think went well? What should I have done differently?