Nonprofit Democracy Network
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.
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. We launched the network at our inaugural gathering in fall of 2017. At our second gathering, March 27-29, 2019, we dove further into the nuts and bolts of co-creating forms of collective self-governance, taking on topics like compensation, inclusive decision-making, the impact of identity and culture on participation, coordination and accountability, and collective budgeting of time and money. Read a summary and reflection on the 2019 Network gathering here.
In 2020, we plan to expand the Network to additional organizations. Sign up here to get more information about upcoming Network activities when they are announced.
More about Nonprofit Democracy Network gatherings
In Fall 2017 and Spring 2019, we convened a cohort of people from organizations committed to implementing or deepening decentralized and participatory organizational practices.
These convenings 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 began 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 taught each about how to design systems, implement specific practices, solve sticky problems, and strategize for long-term resilience and effectiveness. We supported each other in making specific plans about how to take learning back into our organizations.
We learned 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 curated and organized 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) were taught through direct presentation.
Participants dove 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 paid specific attention to these issues to ensure that groups walked away more empowered to design systems that work for them.
Participants will supported to see the forest through the trees. In addition to learning specific policies and practices, participants explored how those parts hang together to create a coherent whole organization.
We are building connections for an intersectional movement for social, economic, racial, gender, and ecological justice, rooted in a shared commitment to deep democracy. Sign up here to get more information about upcoming Network activities when they are announced.
What do you get when you cross a worker cooperative with a 501(c)(3) nonprofit? A worker self-directed nonprofit!
As the movement for economic and workplace democracy continues to grow, we think it is vitally important that nonprofit organizations also internalize and practice workplace democracy. We've put a fair bit of thought into our own organizational structure and culture, and now we are working to provide resources, advice, research, and a peer network to support worker self-direction in nonprofits everywhere.
So what's a worker self-directed nonprofit? We are defining this as a nonprofit organization in which all workers have the power to influence the programs in which they work, the conditions of their workplace, their own career paths, and the direction of the organization as a whole. Our own experience practicing worker self-direction and an emerging body of research both show that distributing leadership throughout an organization 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! Read more here.
There are lots of reasons to be critical of the nonprofit industry, but by their very nature, nonprofit organizations provide a structure that resists the strong pull toward private wealth accumulation. We should not abandon nonprofits. We should just democratize them!
Nonprofit Democracy Network
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. Learn more and apply here!
Bite-Sized Legal Guide to Becoming a Worker Self-Directed Nonprofit
Click here to view this Bite-Sized Legal Guide, we explore how worker self-direction can help nonprofits better achieve their missions, as well as the legal considerations for becoming a worker self-directed nonprofit. This bite-sized guide also includes a sample board resolution for worker self-direction.
Model documents and other resources:
Click here to see all of the Law Center's internal policies and processes for worker self-direction. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International license for easy sharing! This public Google Folder also has an ever-growing collection of handouts, slides, model documents, and more.
Topics and Videos:
- Who Sets Priorities at a Worker Self-Directed Nonprofit?
- The Role of The Board
- Meeting Processes
- Tour the Office of a WSDN!
- Onboarding New Staff
- Dividing Labor and Assigning Responsibilities
- Fiscal Sponsorship Versus Independent 501(c)(3)
- Bringing our Whole Selves to Work
- Alignment and Resiliency
- Setting Staff Compensation
- Peer Accountability and Performance Reviews
Periodically, we run in-person trainings on how to implement worker self-direction at our Resilient Communities Legal Cafe. Check our event calendar for upcoming events or email Chris@theselc.org to discuss a team-specific training.
If you need help forming or transitioning to a worker self-directed nonprofit, we are now offering phone consultations on a sliding scale of $50 to $300 per hour. These fees support our work in developing resources and workshops for nonprofits and in growing a movement of democratic workplaces in the nonprofit sector. We are able to provide both strategy and governance advice, and, depending on where you are located, legal advice. If you are interested in scheduling a consultation, please fill out this short survey and give us a little information about what you are looking for. We can’t guarantee that we can provide consultations in all cases, since our capacity is limited.
Networking: Join our Google Group and our Facebook Group to participate in an informal peer network for active and aspiring worker self-directed nonprofit practitioners. Connect with others, ask questions, and share resources about workplace democracy in nonprofit organizations.
Share your ideas and feedback: Take this short survey to help guide the direction of this project and let us know if you'd like to collaborate!