By Sue Bennett and Chris Tittle, Co-directors of the Law Center's 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.Read more
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
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.
Join the Network in 2020
In 2020, we are excited to invite new people and organizations to join our virtual peer network! Apply here.
What: Our growing peer network of workplace democracy practitioners includes staff, leaders, and consultants from organizations practicing distributed leadership at a variety of scales and at a variety of different stages of implementation. We’ve got larger organizations in the process of transitioning to shared leadership, start-up orgs building out more liberatory cultures and structures, and lots in between. Through our online platform, members create and share resources on equitable compensation, anti-oppressive cultural practices, participatory budgeting, and so much more. People also just connect informally with other practitioners for peer mentorship and support. And members are invited to participate in the co-governance of the Network itself through a number of internal working groups. Read more here.
How: Sound interesting? We are looking for folks within organizations that are committed to collective liberation, racial, economic, climate, gender, reproductive and all other forms of justice. We are looking for folks bringing both questions and insights about working in collective or shared leadership spaces. Does that sound like you? Apply here!
When: Applications will be accepted and reviewed on a rolling basis. A participant-led membership committee will review applications and invite applicants to join in small batches. That way we can continue to support relationship-building and maintain the relational nature of the Network.
How much: We’re offering membership to accepted organizations on a sliding scale of $10/month, $50/year, OR $100 one time. That’s right, you can pay a monthly fee, an annual fee, or a one-time fee. For low-resource grassroots organizations, we are also open to further conversation if paying anything is a barrier. We encourage two or more people per organization to participate, so for that fee your organization can create as many individual profiles as you want.
We are both heartened and humbled by the level of interest in this Network. As such, we’re doing our best to balance depth of relationships within the Network and accessibility to more organizations who can co-learn with us.
More about past 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.