Deepening the Nonprofit Democracy Network: Tools for Collective Self-Governance

By Sue Bennett and Chris Tittle, Law Center staff and co-directors of our Worker Self-Directed Nonprofits program //

On March 27-29, 2019 the Law Center and an amazing team of facilitators and co-organizers hosted the second Nonprofit Democracy Network: Tools for Collective Self-Governance gathering. Over three days at the Omni Commons in Oakland, 60 people from 26 social justice organizations from around the country dove deep into the practices, structures, relationships, and cultures of workplace democracy.

Participants in the 2019 Nonprofit Democracy Network

Building off the first Nonprofit Democracy Network gathering in 2017, our intention was to continue cultivating a collaborative space where people from different organizations can share their wisdom and insights as we collectively grow our capacity to self-govern. Our starting place for a lot of these discussions is an understanding that the technical is the political: how organizations hire people, onboard them, delegate labor, share information, make decisions, give and receive feedback, raise money, create budgets, compensate people, etc, are all opportunities to reproduce or transform systems of oppression. As the activist and author Harsha Walia has said, “our journeys toward liberation must also be liberating.”

We explored topics including equitable compensation policies, reparative HR policies, different models of equitable decision-making, how to coordinate work in worker self-directed organizations and create inclusive accountability structures, how to create an organizational culture that supports liberation and justice, how to transition from a traditional hierarchical structure to one that is more cooperative, and more.

A framework for equitable decision-making Group brainstorm on healing, trauma, and participation Group brainstorm on ideal pay scales

During the first day, we took a look at the many different discourses currently at play in the field of collective self-governance, including the idea that collective self-governance includes but is bigger than today’s non-profit models, and that we need to talk about and question governance, no matter what legal structure we form. We had lots of time to connect with one another, share about our own experiences in moving toward more democratic structures, and explore how this all connects to our efforts for greater justice and equity.

On day two, we attended thematic tracks focused on specific topics to do more specialized and experiential learning. One goal for these tracks was to identify and develop new tools and practices to support the wider community of practitioners - stay tuned as we continue to develop these!

On day three, we shared our learnings with each other and begin strategizing how we might implement them in our respective organizations and within the Nonprofit Democracy Network (NPDN) itself.

Throughout the gathering, we sang together, moved together, and shared meals and stories. As one participant put it, “Singing and making beats together was everything!” Kelly Baker of the New Economy Coalition added, “thank you for such an incredible experience. I feel nourished, refilled, grounded, and excited.”   

participants gather for shared learning

The Network is not just this three-day gathering. Teams of participants will continue to meet over the coming months to support our continued connections, develop mutual aid and peer support structures, and help bring new organizations into this group of dedicated learners and teachers. Recent participants also join an existing network of 18 organizations who participated in the first Nonprofit Democracy Network gathering in Fall 2017.

We will be adding resources shared and developed by this network to a shared database. Sign up here if you want to receive updates and learn about future opportunities to get involved.

Tools for Collective Self-Governance was co-organized and facilitated by members of 350 Seattle, AORTA, Community Development Project, Harmonize, Re-Becoming Human, Reflex Design Collective, and Sustainable Economies Law Center.Shout out to our amazing and beautiful participating organizations: 350 Seattle, AWID, Center for Economic Democracy, Press On, CoFED, Community Development Project, Demos, Design Impact, Fellowship of Intentional Communities, Food Chain Workers Alliance, Full Circle Fund, Highlander Research and Education Center, Insight/Incite Consulting, Jewish Youth for Community Action, MESA, New Economy Coalition, ONE DC, Permaculture Action Network, Planting Justice, Poder in Action, Power Shift Network, Sol Collective, The Southeast Side Coaliton To Ban Petcoke, and the Watershed Center.

Thanks to our Partners and Collaborators: