The structures, practices, and cultures of the nonprofit sector are failing to empower the full potential of the people who work within it as the sector struggles to meet the challenges of our times. The Nonprofit Democracy Network is a community of practice that is evolving the sector from the inside out.
We are a group of organizations and workers supporting each other to make nonprofit organizations more equitable, participatory, responsive, and leaderful.
We are moving away from old models of governance, management, and strategy that were inherited from the very systems we are trying to change.
We are developing leadership and governance practices rooted in our anti-oppressive, democratic, and liberatory values. And creating more effective and accountable organizations as we do it.
We are weaving the nonprofit sector together with broader movements for a solidarity economy and collective liberation.
We are a community of practice. We are a community of support. We are a movement to shift how social change work is done in the nonprofit context.
We center nonprofits, and we welcome people who are adjacent to the sector and resonate with our vision of liberatory organizations.
The nonprofit sector is filled with passionate, talented people committed to co-creating a just and thriving world, but the structures and systems we work within make it difficult for us to live into our full potential.
In the process of trying to make change, we often recreate the dynamics of the very systems we are trying to change. We see this happening at the sector, organization, and individual level.
At the sector level we see power consolidated in funders with little accountability to impacted communities, scarcity mindsets that create competition instead of collaboration, and an overemphasis on programmatic interventions that fail to address the systemic nature of the struggles we confront.
At the organizational level we see structures that centralize power and responsibility at the top of hierarchies, and cultures of "professionalism" that devalue people and perpetuate the harms inflicted by our dominant culture. Executive positions make unsustainable demands on those who fill them while the leadership potential of people throughout the organization are unseen or suppressed.
At the individual level we see burnout and limited sense of personal fulfillment that results from feeling like an overworked cog in a machine, as well as a disconnection from our humanity from spending our days in environments that undervalue emotional authenticity, care, and well-being.
The nonprofit sector has a complicated and problematic history. Some of the problems articulated above may be inherent in the sector, while others might be solved for by shifting how the sector operates.
As long as those of us working toward deep systemic change affiliate with the nonprofit sector, we want to see a sector that is aligned with the movement for collective liberation.
Specifically, we want to see a sector that:
Incubates the world that we long to live in. Filled with nurturing organizations where people can grow and thrive in their full humanity while actively transforming the dynamics of oppression we’ve inherited.
Honors the wisdom, responds to the needs, and follows the leadership of historically marginalized communities. A sector that relies on deep listening and authentic relationships. A sector that supports and welcomes historically marginalized people to step further into their power to influence the priorities, analysis and culture of the sector and the development of the movement.
Supports innovation and collaboration. Where organizations can take risks, move slow, and pilot cross-issue area interventions.
Welcomes all people to confidently bring all dimensions of their being to the project of creating the world our hearts know is possible. Where lived experience, intuition, and embodied wisdom are returned to right relationship with cognitive and linear thought. Where people bring the energy of their heart and soul in addition to the energy of their mind and will.
We connect people and resources to support more equitable, participatory, responsive, and leaderful organizations. We are a space of thought leadership, resource curation, knowledge sharing, idea incubation, and peer support. More specifically, we do the following:
Build Supportive Relationships
Connect with other people about the lived experience of creating equitable organizations. Process the human element of what comes up in relation to things like power, identity, leadership transitions, and the turbulent political climate.
Solve Organizational Challenges
Get insight from peers about how to navigate specific issues your organization faces. Talk about how to align things like budgeting, compensation, fundraising, and accountability with your values.
Develop and Share Practices
Keep in touch with innovative tools to support common organizational needs. Learn and teach about things like organizational structures, culture building, board models, decision-making practices, and more.
Connect Across Issue Areas
Build relationships with people who focus on different parts of the interconnected whole. Know that you share a commitment to deep transformation, and plant seeds of collaboration.
Shift the Nonprofit Sector
Establish the legitimacy and effectiveness of liberatory organizational practices. Influence funders to create deeper alignment with the needs of social transformation. Catalyze a movement that will call nonprofit workers and leaders further into the movement for collective liberation.
Here are three videos made by NPDN members that offer deeper insight into the work and analysis of the Network.
Collaborative Self Governance sketches the connections between organizational change and collective liberation.
What is a Worker Self-Directed Nonprofit discuss common struggles of nonprofits and how new forms of management can address them.
Understanding Organizations offers a practical framework for how to think about creating or transforming organizations.