Have you ever read a book that makes you shake your head in astonishment as if to say, “Why didn’t I know that?” This is that kind of book.
In a series of essays, the various authors demonstrate how the reliance on the Non-Profit Industrial Complex (NPIC) often not only undermines the kind of social justice work various groups seek to do but also supports the structure (i.e., capitalism) that makes the work necessary.
By dictating the terms of the grants, by shifting the focus from social justice to social services, by causing bureaucracy burnout, by professionalizing the work, non-profits co-opt the movement in order to keep better track of its leaders and to minimize its impact.
I appreciated that while there were some who advocated working outside the NPIC, others (including some of the non-profits themselves) are re-thinking their roles. Can non-profits be created for a mission and dissolve if and when the mission is complete? Can non-profits be supporting actors rather than stars? The whole idea of modeling your organization to reflect your vision of the world is essential and groundbreaking. Freire is all over this book. Our actions need to reflect our beliefs.
There is, not surprisingly, some overlap in these essays, but just when I thought, “Okay, I’ve got this,” along came “we were never meant to survive” by Ana Clarissa Rojas Durazo. Perhaps because the groundwork for the book’s thesis had already been laid, I was able to appreciate the details of Durazo’s presentation of how the NPIC worked to the detriment of anti-violence against women organizations. I went from shaking my head to dropping my jaw.
Working for social justice? Working at a non-profit / NGO? Thinking about applying for 501(c)(3) status? Thinking about donating money? Read this first.