Browse Tag: non-profit

Finding Common Ground (Part 1): Why Aren’t More Activists Collaborating?

Based on how often marginalized people talk about the power of “community”, especially within the realm of grassroots activism, one would imagine the non-profit industry would have evolved into a flourishing ecosystem of recyclable free-flowing skills, bartered services, and shared progressive ideas by now.

Yet, when you think about how many grassroots groups and non-profit organizations are working on the same exact issues and, unfortunately, due to this overcrowding, are often fighting each for resources in an unhealthily competitive manner (e.g. hoarding funding opportunities, barring access to resources, guarding intellectual capital, etc.) it’s easy to conclude that, often enough, this is not the case.

Let me put this in context: there is a funding crisis, everywhere; not just in the US or in the UK, or even in Africa, but globally.

In the U.S., the financial crisis didn’t just negatively impact the wall street suits, or even the industrial blue-collars, but the many grantmaking foundations that have provided the steady source of funding to non-profits for years. As a result of Wall Street’s snafu, a number of foundations have needed to significantly reduce the size of their grants; a few of the larger ones have even merged. As I’m quickly learning via my ongoing Southern Africa social media project, the effect of this can be felt all the way across the Atlantic Ocean, too. Downes Murray International, an African fundraising consulting firm writes:

“While some major Western donors to Africa, like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, plan to maintain or increase their giving, many are scaling back their efforts in Africa in order to concentrate shrinking resources on projects closer to home.”

Here in South Africa, in an attempt to slow down the funding drain, governments have significantly cut back subsidies for critical social services, beefed up funding requirements and tightened up monitoring and evaluation practices, creating a domino effect of non-profits cutting back on most of their programming, or shutting down completely.

Even outside the non-profit industrial complex, grassroots groups are feeling the pinch of the financial crisis. In a recent online fundraising workshop I hosted, an attendee complained about being inundated with messages from “too many smaller, community groups all asking for support for the same issue.”

The harsh reality is that under the current economic conditions, many not-for-profit organizations have just two choices: adapt or die.

After years of dependency on government aid and foundation grants, non-profits are being forced to operate more like businesses (e.g. diversify their revenue streams, reduce overhead while increasing output etc) just to keep their heads above water.

Ironically, non-profit professionals may have to adopt a few strategies from the same “capitalists” in the corporate sector they once characterized as greedy and selfish for their unwavering focus on profitability and expansion. Yet, if this means, sustainability and wider reach for organizations striving for long-term social impact, could this shift towards running more like a business be such a bad thing?

Due to the funding crisis, complete dependency on charity, government, and in the case of Africa, foreign aid, is no longer an option. And, quite frankly, the non-profit industry could do with a good dose of the kind of survivalist creativity that’s prevalent in the corporate sector, such as collaborating with other players to pool resources, using strategic partnerships with similar organizations to strengthen service offerings, or even merging to widen their reach (or prevent closing up shop completely).

Just to be clear, I’m not suggesting that activists and non-profits should only ever consider collaboration as simply a tactic to navigate financial crises; organizations, especially the ones working with communities that are particularly marginalized, constantly under-resourced, and over-looked for more traditional forms of support, should already be working together, not just to save money, but for the sake of furthering their collective missions.

We have a moral obligation as people who are working towards social justice, to always choose the path that maximizes our social impact and/or increases our sustainability, regardless of what the economy is doing.

So, again, why aren’t more non-profits collaborating? What have we got to lose by working together? Why isn’t collaboration not happening as frequently as we suggest it should, especially when we have so much to gain? I hope to explore some of these questions in part two of this series.

Got an opinion on that? Why do you think we have so many activists, non-profits, and social impact initiatives doing similar work, yet not working together? Ego? Time and resources? Lack of awareness? Are you an individual activist doing social justice work? What has kept you (or turned you off) from collaborating in the past? What do you see as the “cons” for collaborating (as there are certainly a few). Note: This is a no judgment zone. Please share freely, as the conversation around collaboration is important for us to have if we are to move forward.

A Rant — The Ugly Business of Good Social Causes

I really wish the LGBT and non-profit industry in general would stop hiding behind “good causes” and own their mistakes/shortcomings so we can all move forward. [Free Idea: Someone should create a for the non-profit industry]

Companies in corporate America (yes, those ugly ‘for-profit’ entities) get “reviewed” all the time. And guess what? The smart ones make it their business to incorporate both positive and negative feedback into their marketing campaigns, products, and services. They’ve learned that alienating their customers by guilting or scaring them into silence is a sure way to fail. Moreover, they only ever defend themselves from competitors, which — at least in this analogy — would be warranted if a similar non-profit / group was using internet slander to harm your reputation or to make themselves look better.

I was just perusing some non-profit blogs today, and read a number of disheartening, angry remarks from alleged “community leaders” all across the country. Geez — and I thought Boston had issues. It seems it’s not uncommon for people, who are supposedly working angelically towards social justice, to sling low-blow internet shots at social commentators for stating opinions that expose new flaws (or highlight old ones). *In one case, a blogger simply mentioned that a certain social group / organization wasn’t her cup of tea in passing, and was called a fame-monger for using negativity as a means to receiving more site hits. Are you kidding me? This really got me thinking…

Shame shame shame to organizers, non-profit execs, promoters-for-a-cause, or anyone who thinks that manipulating others into feeling guilty for admonishing your “good” work, or worse, threatening them with internet attacks is justified or “good for the community.” None of us are above judgment. I work very hard to bring racial equality into dialogue within the LGBTQ movement but it doesn’t mean that I am without fault — ask my volunteers, I drive them nuts — and it certainly doesn’t do much for my popularity ranking, even if I’ve just been cited as a “celesbian” (lol, I love this new word). Plus,  I know that at the core of our resistance to hear negative feedback (I include myself in this) is a strong desire to be recognized for our efforts, to feel as though people do acknowledge how hard we’re working. However, as leaders, we should learn to pat ourselves on the back. In so doing, we can rid the general public of the responsibility of prefacing each and every criticism with praise, and learn to not take things so personally. Moreover, if we all learn to give cross-issue support to each other, we’ll have each other to lean on (or to rant to) while the crowd chants on…

Moving forward, we should remember to thank community members who voice their opinions (no matter how callously… ok – I take that back – some people need to chill out), and tell them “Thank You” for keeping us accountable. Shoot, at least some of them have an opinion you can take direction from; this certainly trumps the blank stares and shoulder shrugs one typically receives after requesting constructive feedback. But, I digress… Regardless of what kind of feedback you choose to accept, at the end of the day, it all boils down to whether or not you’re sticking to your mission statement. If your mission is too narrow to matter, or too broad that you do a piss-poor job of including all the relevant stakeholders (who then start complaining), consider redefining it, or better yet, scrapping it altogether. You’ve gotta be clear, and listen, cause fact: some companies —  non-profits, organizers, promoters, and lobbyists included — will do a much better job than you if you’re not.

The non-profit LGBTQ community shouldn’t have to deal with mediocrity due to lack of competition or options. Our social justice movements can only be as effective as our ability to listen and incorporate both kinds of feedback into our work.

So, to community members, if an LGBTQ promoter hosts a night that sucks, tell them why, and let them know how it could be better. If a grassroots movement leaves out people of color, damn right speak up, even if they throw buzzwords (like “diversity” and “inclusiveness” at you). Moreover, I dare you to take the next step — volunteer your time. If black people forget to advocate for latinos, asians, white allies etc during conversations about “people of color” then it is up to anyone who notices to call it out. Being unpopular isn’t fun (I should know), but it does get people to sit up and listen (even if they don’t admit that they will).

We are all part of the problem if we choose treading on eggshells vs. keeping people in check.

We are all part of the problem if we discredit our individual opinions based on some smackademic concept of oppression hierarchies.

We are all part of the problem if no one speaks out.

Social responsibility includes more than just donating old clothes to Haiti, or volunteering at a homeless shelter; it means raising your voice whether in solidarity or (respectful) disagreement so that your community leaders never forget who they are serving.  And for leaders, this also means keeping a finger on the pulse of your constituents’s needs, even at the expense of your ego. We can’t call ourselves leaders if we do not learn to hear reason rising from the heat of an angry crowd.

Diversity speaks. (That means you.)

*Note: I’m not posting links to the forums I was reading because the platforms / arguments don’t matter. I’m more interested in debunking the perceived benefits of blogging on the internet, one of which is that free speech is without reprimand (or cost in mental health)

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