By Simon Mont, Organizational Design Fellow //
How can nonprofits and movement workers committed to social transformation embody the change we want to see and become more effective, accountable, and equitable as we do it? In late September 2017, thirty-eight people from eighteen different organizations based in ten different states came together to answer this question and learn how to effectively govern, manage, and coordinate their organizations. Over three days, the gathered organizations each contributed to training, knowledge sharing, and relationship building to prepare the soil for a vibrant community of support for these organizations and more long into the future: it was the beginning of the Nonprofit Democracy Network (NPDN).Read more
Now, more than ever, we must learn to govern ourselves. As nonprofits and movement workers committed to social transformation, how can we embody the change we want to see and become more effective, accountable, and equitable as we do it? The Nonprofit Democracy Network is a community of practice, organizational development training program, and peer support network for nonprofit organizations that want to deepen democracy within their organizations and make our movements for justice more participatory, responsive, and leaderful.
On September 25-27, 2017, we convened a cohort of people from nonprofit organizations committed to implementing or deepening decentralized and participatory organizational practices. Through our own experiences practicing participatory governance and working with dozens of other organizations, we’ve learned that decentralized governance can create organizations that are more effective at advancing their mission, more adaptable and responsive to complex systems, more accountable to their communities, and more equitable and fun places to work!
We’ve also learned that self-governance takes practice, training, and a good support network. Starting with a three-day in-person intensive, we are providing training from a variety of methodologies, creating opportunities for structured peer support, and cultivating a network of people from worker self-directed nonprofits with a shared commitment to embodying our visionary politics.
The initial cohort included:
Participatory Training: An in-person intensive gathering to build community and learn about topics such as peer accountability, the role of a board of directors, fundraising, staff pay, participatory culture, decentralized decision making, meeting facilitation, conflict engagement, history and current political context of the nonprofit sector, and more! Some modules will be customized to address specific needs of participants.
Peer Support: After the in-person gathering, we are co-facilitating monthly peer support and mentoring check-ins to deepen practice and integrate learning over time.
Ongoing Network Building: Co-creation of a library of resources, and opportunities to identify and create appropriate infrastructure for ongoing collaboration and mutual support, rooted in the missions and capacities of cohort members. Examples could be co-writing and publishing a book on nonprofit democracy, organizing and anchoring regional cohorts, policy campaigns to remove barriers to nonprofit democracy, collaborative funding efforts, etc.
The content of the three day training focused on how to create, care for, and increase the impact of deeply democratic organizations. We will begin by situating ourselves within our current political-historical moment and exploring how self-governance and nonprofits relate to our work and our collective liberation. Within this context, we will teach each about how to design systems, implement specific practices, solve sticky problems, and strategize for long-term resilience and effectiveness. We will support each other in making specific plans about how to take learning back into our organizations.
We learn primarily through story and experience. Every participant has experiences attempting to embody their political visions. Every participant has learning to share. No participant (including the Sustainable Economies Law Center) is an expert. We will curate and organize stories, exercises, and experiments to help us establish a personal and embodied understanding. Certain topics (like what employment laws to look out for and what the legal constraints are for structuring a board of directors) will be taught through direct presentation.
Participants will dive deep into particularly sticky issues. Many groups struggle with a common set of issues that includes: determining pay, onboarding staff, hiring/firing, conflict engagement, counter-oppression, decision making, and agenda setting. We will pay specific attention to these issues to ensure that groups walk away more empowered to design systems that work for them. The Law Center will ask participants what they could benefit from learning in order to curate the content appropriately.
Participants will be able to see the forest through the trees. In addition to learning specific policies and practices, participants will understand how those parts hang together to create a coherent whole organization. This will enable participants to have more agency to tinker and improve over time. We will also maintain our awareness why we are doing this so that our commitment to collective liberation infuses every aspect of our learning.
We are building connections for an intersectional movement for social, economic, racial, gender, and ecological justice, rooted in a shared commitment to deep democracy. Because revolution takes practice!