The Revolution Will Not Be Funded

It’s time to liberate activists from the nonprofit industrial complex


| March-April 2009



The Revolution in Nonprofits

image by istockphoto.com

This article is part of a package on rethinking charity in the economic crisis. For more, read  Giving When It Hurts Ladling Soup, Raising Hell : Nonprofit Insider Robert Egger Is Out to Reform Charities from Within; and  Tips for Practical Giving : Where to Give, What to Ask, and the Lowdown on Emerging Philanthropic Trends.

The nonprofit system has tamed a generation of activists. They’ve traded in grand visions of social change for salaries and stationery; given up recruiting people to the cause in favor of writing grant proposals and wooing foundations; and ceded control of their movements to business executives in boardrooms.

This argument—that reformers have morphed into cogs in the nonprofit industrial complex—is explained and explored in the fiery anthology The Revolution Will Not Be Funded: Beyond the Non-Profit Industrial Complex, edited by the INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence collective (South End, 2007).

One piece of the puzzle: “Foundations provide tax shelters for wealthy families and thereby take away tax income that could be used for social programs and entitlements,” Andrea J. Ritchie, an INCITE! member, told Make/shift. “And then [the foundations] dole out little bits of money for nonprofits to replace the services that the government no longer funds.”

The book brings together 21 experienced radical activists to explore the shortcomings of nonprofits as movement makers; here are excerpts from three chapters. —The Editors

 

AshleyJohnMorton
8/18/2009 3:43:28 PM

I am not one who would generally be described as revolutionary. However, I do fundamentally believe in community-building (for me, it often takes the form of sports), and I had a real epiphany about "funded nonprofit work" a few years ago. The high school rugby league in the town I was in was organized by volunteers who did scheduling, field booking, refereeing, coaching, etc. It was imperfect, but awesome - taking hard young kids who have been told that it's wrong to be tough, and giving them a clean, positive way to be tough and proud without being a bully or a loner was great. Sure, some of us ended up doing a bit more work than we should have. Sure, we had the occasional coach who was a jerk. But overall, it worked. Part of WHY it worked was because no-one was paid. Then, the primary organiser moved away. He asked me to take over as the primary point of contact. I asked him why the province's "rugby development officer" wasn't doing it. The outgoing organiser really had his head screwed on right because he said (roughly) "I don't want someone paid to do this. If an employee fails, or has a problem at home, or just has too much to do, it would be really odd for a volunteer to pick up the slack, for no pay. However, if we are all volunteers, then we are all there to pick up the slack for each other." Also, he said, once a task is into the "paid domain", it seldom comes back - if funding is lost, and the paid position disappears, so that now we need volunteers again - they're often not there anymore. I'm not saying that all non-profits should work with volunteer labour all the time. However, I do believe that we who volunteer should maintain an ethic that it is actually preferable to have a volunteer do something, rather than a paid person, where possible.


namehere
5/14/2009 6:26:54 PM

olde news. no kidding. anyhow, I welcome rich family money and know i will make use of it in a good way and still be radical as possible. rich families should share more and we should use it more. not about 100,000$ year non profit development peoples salaries about keeping it real no matter what we are doing, it is not the ngo sector anyhow, it is our own daring we need to engage more. grow food and compost and bike and see what happens then. this kind of self righteousness is an even deeper level of compromise they purport to expose. it deep. examine it all, the 'art" world etc etc etc etc just do it, drect action gets the goods, like th single payer direct action network that disrupted the senate the other day, still they are also a non profit it is what you do and how you do it and you will do it no matter what some people can avoid slave wage labor and get a hustle in the "non profit" world and do crazy real work while being outside of it this pseudo radicalness flim flams people just as much as corporate marketing dont believe the hype on anyone or anything, if it got propped up, be skeptical, even by utne, im out!


namehere
5/14/2009 6:26:12 PM

olde news. no kidding. anyhow, I welcome rich family money and know i will make use of it in a good way and still be radical as possible. rich families should share more and we should use it more. not about 100,000$ year non profit development peoples salaries about keeping it real no matter what we are doing, it is not the ngo sector anyhow, it is our own daring we need to engage more. grow food and compost and bike and see what happens then. this kind of self righteousness is an even deeper level of compromise they purport to expose. it deep. examine it all, the 'art" world etc etc etc etc just do it, drect action gets the goods, like th single payer direct action network that disrupted the senate the other day, still they are also a non profit it is what you do and how you do it and you will do it no matter what some people can avoid slave wage labor and get a hustle in the "non profit" world and do crazy real work while being outside of it this pseudo radicalness flim flams people just as much as corporate marketing dont believe the hype on anyone or anything, if it got propped up, be skeptical, even by utne, im out!


Catherine _1
3/12/2009 10:52:09 AM

Hi, Here's what I think is a 'great news' story for someone at your end, at least it's a great story for this reader to try and express, with gratitude... I'm housesitting at a friends place. I see a copy of UTNE with President Obama pointing at me saying 'Yes. You Can'. It's the first time I've ever seen the magazine. I read about overcoming fear and genocide... I'm led to the website, I see an offer to sign up for an emagazine. Oh, I can pick one topic from a list of many... hmmm, what will it be? My first inclination is to click Spirituality because I am one who knows a strong connection and understanding of/with Spirit, I live in trust, faith and Love, but wait... politics feels right. Imagine, an objective view, could be refreshing. Click. And... the first article I have received is one that completely relates to my life right now. 'The Revolution Will Not Be Funded' could not be more perfect a first for me in that I am a person who, motivated by responsibility, compassion, concern and Love, has recently returned from Africa where I spent 9 months living alongside HIV/AIDS orphaned children to learn directly from them, how I could best serve and empower them, hand to hand. I sponsored myself because I just couldn't see my way to accompanying an NGO or non-profit or charity from the west. I couldn't find one that felt real to me ( not to say there aren't some...). I felt inspired to try and build a new bridge, try and blaze a new trail, even if it's one only ants can notice, one that has nothing to do with tax receipts and government, or religion and dogma, or solutions and dependancies imposed from abroad. I seemed naturally/energetically repelled by the 'big business' aspects that dominate/drive? the world of donor charity and aid, which feel nasty, perverse and toxic to me, and, obviously don't seem to be working either... well, on the outside anyways. ( 12,000,000 or