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!
The US has the world's largest prison population at over 2,217,000 inmates. What would happen, though, if we began looking at worker cooperatives not only as an economic development tool but also as a tool for those incarcerated by the prison industrial complex? What transformational effects could this lead to? Are there examples of cooperatives made primarily of incarcerated or formerly incarcerated individuals and what can we learn from them? How can worker coops be an effective tool for those who were formerly incarcerated and how would it support re-entry?
For those seeking new, real solutions for our incarcerated or formerly incarcerated brothers and sisters, SELC hosted a discussion with Jessica Gordon Nembhard, professor at John Jay College, CUNY and author of Collective Courage: A History of African American Cooperative Economic Thought and Practice.
Listen below!Read more
Building an economy that is truly just and resilient means putting worker ownership at the forefront of economic development policies. Local governments can play a critical role in cultivating a friendly policy environment for worker cooperative development. The question for cooperative advocates is, where do we start? This page provides some helpful resources for jump starting local campaigns to promote and remove barriers to worker-owned businesses.
Below, you will find:
The free advocacy materials available throughout this page are intended to help you start your own campaign! All of the content created and published by the Law Center is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-SA 4.0).
If you know of other local and regional policy efforts supporting worker cooperative development and would like those resources to be included here, please contact Ricardo at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sample City Worker Cooperative Ordinance
In 2015, the Sustainable Economies Law Center started building a sample "City Ordinance for the Promotion of Worker Cooperatives" with the support and collaboration of cooperative allies across the country. We used Oakland, California as a case city, and tailored the ordinance to fit Oakland's municipal code. By going through this exercise, we had created an ordinance that would lead to our local campaign, and created a model for others to use in other cities. To discuss the ordinance in more detail, please contact Sara Stephens.
>> Click here for the sample city ordinance.
>> Click here for the sample city ordinance summary.
Informational Packet for Local Government Leaders
In collaboration with our partners, we have compiled an informational packet aimed at educating local legislators about worker cooperatives and their local economic development benefits. We offer this here for cooperative advocates who aim to introduce policies to promote cooperative economies.
Packet includes: What is worker cooperative, economic and social benefits, how local governments can support business conversions to worker ownership, and more!
>> Click here for the informational packet.
City Level Advocacy for Worker Cooperatives
The Sustainable Economies Law Center worked with Oakland City council members and a coalition of supporters to introduce a Resolution Supporting the Development of Worker Cooperatives on September 8th, 2015. This resolution was an important step toward adopting a more substantial policy in that it publicly recognized the positive impact of the local worker cooperative ecosystem, and built momentum for the ordinance, which will be introduced in 2017.
>> Click here for the press release for the resolution's passage.
>> Click here for the text of the Oakland City Council Resolution.
>> Click here to watch the resolution hearing (fast forward to minute 52)!
Following on the heels of the Oakland Resolution Supporting Worker Cooperative Development, the Sustainable Economies Law Center and our allies worked with Berkeley City Council member Jesse Arreguín to develop a Berkeley resolution to promote worker cooperatives.
On February 9th, after months of lobbying Berkeley City Council members, the resolution to was passed by a unanimous vote! Not merely a symbolic gesture, Berkeley's resolution directs City staff to develop a substantive ordinance that supports and incentivizes the growth of local worker cooperatives. The ordinance would add a worker cooperative preference to the existing Buy Local contracting preference, create business tax and land use incentives for worker cooperatives, and develop cooperative-specific educational materials to supplement the City’s business support services.
The Sustainable Economies Law Center is continuing to work with City of Berkeley staff to develop their ordinance, and we will publish relevant resources here as they are developed.
>> Click here for the Berkeley City Ordinance. Check out our two page summary of the Berkeley ordinance here.
>> Click here for the Berkeley City Council resolution and informational packet we provided to Berkeley City Council.
>> Click here for the press release for the 8-6-2018 City Council Small Business Subcommittee meeting.
>> Click here for the press release for the 2-9-2016 passage of the City Council resolution.
>> Click here for a Berkeleyside Op-Ed "Berkeley worker co-op resolution could usher in equitable economic development"
Allies' Local Level Resolutions and Ordinances Supporting Worker (and other) Cooperatives!
We also hear from our partners and allies across the country about efforts to build municipal level policies for the creation of economic democracy and community empowerment.While we may not actively work with these policy initiatives, we applaud their efforts and want to lift up their work. Find more information about those efforts below.
Santa Ana, California
On August 1st, 2017, Santa Ana became the first city in Orange County to adopt a resolution supporting worker cooperatives with the "Resolution Supporting Development and Growth of Worker Cooperatives". Santa Ana's median income in 2017 was $54,640 in comparison to Orange County's median income of $81,194. "A burgeoning worker cooperative movement in Santa Ana gained momentum in the form of a resolution" passed unanimously by city council, reported the OC Weekly. Find the adopted resolution here!
"On Thursday March 23rd, 2017 Austin City Council passed a resolution directing the City Manager to come up with a broad range of policies to support Austin's cooperative economy. The city manager will be working on these policies with input from the Economic Prosperity Commission, which passed a similar recommendation that also includes recommendations related to housing and consumer cooperatives. We hope that we can not only find ways to implement the above-listed policies, but convince the City that the Economic Prosperity Commission's recommendations should be included as well." Find more information about the Austin Cooperative Business Association here.
Another resource for communities working on policy initiatives is the Democracy at Work Institute, a national organization ensuring that the promise of cooperative business ownership reaches those communities most directly affected by social and economic inequality. Follow the links to find their resources on "Community Economic Development" and "Tools for Communities."
Join the movement of grassroots economic development advocates!
Do you want to stay up to date with our city policy work promoting resilient economies and worker cooperatives? Do you want to join the movement of worker coop policy activists pushing for an economy that is truly just? Sign up below to hear important updates and calls to action!Sign up
By: Malcolm Burnley
(Originally published September 22, 2015)
"[O]n September 8th, the City Council made good with a ceremonious resolution 'supporting the development of worker cooperatives in Oakland.'
Among other items, the move recognized that these sorts of businesses — estimated to number between 300 and 400 nationally — offer wages and benefits above industry averages. The resolution, too, was a tacit acknowledgement from Council that the city will look for ways to support co-ops down the road . . .
What that municipal support might look like is to be determined. But in a draft ordinance authored by the Sustainable Economies Law Center (SELC), one of the organizing forces behind the referendum, the wish list for worker co-ops includes: getting the city to offer low-interest loans for converting traditional businesses into worker co-ops; preferential status to co-ops in the city contract procurement process; and waiving taxes and permit fees in the initial year of existence."
OAKLAND, CA (September 8, 2015) — The day after Labor Day, Oakland City Council made a bold proclamation in support of democratic and equitable workplaces, passing the “Resolution Supporting the Development of Worker Cooperatives In Oakland.” The Sustainable Economies Law Center championed this resolution in partnership with District 4 Councilmember Annie Campbell Washington, Council President and District 3 Councilmember Lynette Gibson McElhaney, and many organizational partners and allies.Read more
(Oakland, CA) – Governor Brown announced today that he signed a bill into law to facilitate the creation of worker-owned cooperative businesses in California. The new law, Assembly Bill 816, will remove unnecessary barriers to the creation of new worker cooperatives in California and improve operations for some existing worker cooperatives.
After our month-long #PeoplePoweredEconomies campaign, the results are in: you rock! We continue to be motivated by a sense of both urgency and opportunity to create people powered economies everywhere, and YOU give us the inspiration and support we need to make that happen. This is what a People Powered SELC looks like:
- Over 150 donors during the month of May
- 50 new Community Members
- Over $20,000 pledged
- Hundreds of dollars raised for our allies Richmond Grows Seed Library (Richmond, CA), Cooperation Jackson (Jackson, MS), and Phat Beets Produce (Oakland, CA)
- Oh yeah, and this…
The deadline is approaching to apply for this year’s Worker Coop Academy (WCA)!
The Academy is an intensive 14 week course that provides entrepreneurs, business owners, and economic development organizations the tools they need to build, strengthen, or convert to a worker owned business. The Academy also provides participants one-on-one business and legal consultations. You can find more information at theselc.org/wca_apply and watch our recorded info session here.
We are accepting applications through June 14th, which is less than a week away! Applications are submitted through an online form and it is free to apply.
Would the Worker Coop Academy be a good fit for your business? Look here to learn more and hear what last year’s participants gained from the experience!Read more
At our favorite local worker-owned cafe, Alchemy Collective Cafe in Berkeley, we recently asked the question:
What do you get when you cross a worker cooperative with a 501(c)(3) nonprofit?
A worker self-directed nonprofit! We've started defining this as an organization in which all workers have the power to influence the realms and programs in which they work, the conditions of their workplace, their own career paths, and the direction of the organization as a whole.Read more
SACRAMENTO, CA—On May 22, the California State Assembly passed AB816, a major step toward making California the twelfth state to establish a legal form specifically for worker cooperatives. This campaign is building on the momentum of worker cooperative policy initiatives happening throughout the country—including a $1.2 million dollar funding initiative in New York City last summer—as the cooperative business form gains recognition as a powerful tool for economic revitalization.