I am President + Editor in Chief at Nonprofit Quarterly, the leading journal for civil society in the US. These are some of my articles.
Evaluation approaches and practices are contested sites
of power. This is not surprising, since they are the
processes by which we assign value to things.
The conception of Black funds is critically important to understand and learn from, in a context where,
according to ABFE, 1.8 percent of philanthropic dollars
go to Black-led organizations.
We all want power. The power to attract what we want, such as love. The power to avoid what we don’t want, like harm. The power to create what we want to see in the world, for example beauty. But what is power and how do we get it? https://nonprofitquarterly.org/introduction-to-power/
Women of color, many of whom are running formerly white-led nonprofits, are asking themselves what it means to be a liberatory leader. https://nonprofitquarterly.org/experiments-in-liberatory-leadership/
Pro-Black is an aspiration.If you look at the trajectory of the Black liberation movement throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, there are some clear indications that the movement is becoming more pro-Black.
What pro-Black means to me, individually, and then also organizationally, and then more broadly in terms of the sector and the movement, is: striving to consistently build power for Black people. https://nonprofitquarterly.org/moving-the-mountain-a-conversation-about-pro-blackness-with-cyndi-suarez-liz-derias-and-kad-smith/
Let’s just name and center this right here as pro-Black. It’s not just a place where Black folks can thrive and be. It’s a place where all folks can thrive and be. Because in my understanding, and how I have referenced and thought about history, whenever Blackness is centered, everybody wins. https://nonprofitquarterly.org/when-blackness-is-centered-everybody-wins-a-conversation-with-cyndi-suarez-and-dax-devlon-ross/
There is a shift afoot in the field, from critiquing white supremacist culture and calling out anti-Blackness to designing for pro-Blackness.
Who really creates wealth in our world? And how do we decide the value of what they do? https://nonprofitquarterly.org/response-to-the-leechers/
What kind of person is so removed from mutuality to understand when they are extracting, even when they purport to do racial justice work? Leechers. https://nonprofitquarterly.org/the-leechers/
The antidote to domination is a love ethic. https://nonprofitquarterly.org/a-love-ethic/
Leaders at the edge are exploring how to build liberatory organizations. But, many have not ever experienced it. https://nonprofitquarterly.org/leaders-of-color-at-the-forefront-of-the-nonprofit-sectors-challenges/
Stories by Black people about their experience of white
people flip the subject/object mirror to examine power
that prefers to stay hidden. https://nonprofitquarterly.org/examining-whiteness/
What is the edge of current racial justice work? Building pro-Black organizations.
Social movements are taking the lead in setting the frame for climate justice.
How can AI be used to advance justice? It is a critical and timely question.
For edge leaders creating viable futures, it is critical to not only understand but also know how to build personal sovereignty.
The next generation has liberation as the starting point.
Race and power work has accelerated over the last year. While those who are just starting on this developmental journey may think it is about tweaking what exists, those who have been in it for a while know that it is about rethinking everything.
It’s time to recognize magical thinking as a liberatory leadership style. https://nonprofitquarterly.org/do-you-believe-in-magic/
What makes a thought dangerous? And dangerous for whom?
To effect social change requires understanding the key forms through which power works, especially those that order space, time, status, and connectivity.
NPQ talked with Escovedo recently to learn what she is doing nowadays, and we are not surprised that social change is at the top of her agenda.
Our conversations with leaders of color in the field about what they need to create real social change has converged around a call to action for designing and building civic infrastructure that supports leaders of color.
Legibility is hard work that requires both the internal work of imagining/reimagining and the external work of relatively easy translation. Groups that are good at this stand a greater chance of success. The next phase of social change may even require it. https://nonprofitquarterly.org/the-legibility-challenge-of-building-power/
Many nonprofits follow “best practices” in conducting leadership succession. But what if “best practices” not only aren’t best, but embed structural racism? https://nonprofitquarterly.org/what-does-an-equitable-executive-leadership-transition-look-like/
One thing I learned as an organizer is to never use a narrative that you may have work against in the future. https://nonprofitquarterly.org/the-narrative-complications-of-the-wall-of-moms/
How do we create a viable future? It requires sustainment—the agency to design the world we want to bring into being. https://nonprofitquarterly.org/sustainment-moving-beyond-sustainability/
While the coronavirus pandemic is financially devastating for artists, the damage to the artistic community is also terrible for the country because what we need now more than ever is a big cultural shift. Many are looking back to the 1930’s WPA program as an example of what is possible. https://nonprofitquarterly.org/the-case-for-a-coherent-national-recovery-strategy/
Resilience can be deceptive because it is framed as a win-win for all, when it actually serves to hide inequities. https://nonprofitquarterly.org/the-problem-with-resilience/
At times like these, it’s important to pay attention to thinkers and doers who understand that solving big social challenges is about telling new, compelling stories that challenge prevailing narratives. https://nonprofitquarterly.org/solving-social-challenges-requires-understanding-value-creation/
Dramatic social change is the new norm. But to date, most social change efforts are prepared for slower change than what is happening at this point. As a result, the correlation between the rate that things are falling apart and the rate at which we are conceiving viable alternatives is way off. https://nonprofitquarterly.org/what-covid-is-teaching-us-about-social-change/
What would it look like to earnestly explore what excellence in our work looks like, regardless of race? https://nonprofitquarterly.org/what-black-excellence-can-teach-us-about-excellence/
Risk analysis is a sensemaking security practice of the West designed to protect the elite and distribute resources unevenly, in a way that amplifies inequities .https://nonprofitquarterly.org/the-coloring-of-risk/
How we go depends on our ability to design for the future we want. New ways of being and being together will be necessary for the scale of change needed. https://nonprofitquarterly.org/designing-for-climate-change-in-time-for-equity/
We, humans, are in a large-scale transition phase and how we orient as we design for social change is becoming ever more critical. https://nonprofitquarterly.org/changing-states-from-healing-to-sovereignty/
Mutu’s four women are cast in bronze and wrapped in coil, showing how form impacts us. She also sees the coils as protection that transform the women into truth soldiers. https://nonprofitquarterly.org/the-liberatory-force-of-the-imagination/
Apparently, the artists had never met before. Yet, without meetings, strategies, or theories of change, they were clear about their values—commonality, multiplicity, and solidarity. These may be the values of the future. https://nonprofitquarterly.org/artists-enact-the-values-of-the-future/
Many of us are familiar with platforms. We use them in everyday life, from ride shares, to home shares, to shopping on Amazon or eBay. It’s time to consider the affordances of this form in the nonprofit sector. https://nonprofitquarterly.org/platform-mastery-designing-for-interactions/
Platforms attract users—both producers and consumers—by structuring incentives for participation connected to the core interaction. https://nonprofitquarterly.org/launching-a-platform-solving-the-chicken-and-egg-question/
Whether big or small, platforms are not only labs for innovation, they are spaces to practice shared decision-making, which is central to democracy. https://nonprofitquarterly.org/platform-governance-practicing-democracy/
Platforms amplify value and allow for clear measurement. They sidestep some of the challenges of measuring social change with their simple focus on curating high-quality interactions, which is also a key metric for a good society. https://nonprofitquarterly.org/platform-life-cycle-and-metrics/
Not only are social movements growing and spreading, they are evolving, becoming transnational, and moving beyond individual grievances to make large-scale claims for the development of a more equitable civil society. https://nonprofitquarterly.org/global-protests-signal-the-need-for-new-political-identities/
When we talk about infrastructure for the sector, is the infrastructure there to support civic engagement, or nonprofit and philanthropic organizations? This tension has been there from the beginning. https://nonprofitquarterly.org/rethinking-nonprofit-infrastructure/
The practice of whiting out black excellence, of bending the rules so that black people don’t get to set the standard, goes hand in hand with the mediocrity, the unpreparedness, of white supremacy. https://nonprofitquarterly.org/playing-by-the-rules/
The driving question in Wilnelia Rivera’s work is “What makes women of color successful?”
It is this kind of focus that helped Ayanna Pressley win a Congressional seat with the slogan, “Change Can’t Wait.” https://nonprofitquarterly.org/what-does-it-look-like-to-support-women-of-color-to-lead/
In other words, today’s social change requires social production, the creation of new identities and ways of being. Politics, while important, keeps us at the surface. https://nonprofitquarterly.org/how-do-social-movements-mature/
By now, system thinking has become deracinated, devoid of its true power implications. This quick review reminds us of what system change actually requires. https://nonprofitquarterly.org/systems-change-is-all-about-shifting-power/
We will not make a dent in racial (or other kinds of) justice until we are able to imagine and develop more liberatory organizational forms. These forms must, above all, pay attention to voice. https://nonprofitquarterly.org/voice-under-domination/
“Change takes time.” How often do you hear this? But is it true? Some change does take time, like the building up of glaciers or the passing of seasons. But other change is a matter of shifts. https://nonprofitquarterly.org/change-can-wait-the-privilege-of-waiting/
It should come as no surprise then that the discourses for a more equitable future are coming not from leaders in these systems, but from artists. https://nonprofitquarterly.org/the-revolution-in-puerto-rico-discourse-as-a-battleground/
In the United States and globally, there is much concern about both the devolution of democracy and the resurgence of racism and xenophobia. There is a sense that things are breaking down and the world no longer makes sense. But these challenges are intertwined and what are actually dying are the dominant narratives undergirding them. https://nonprofitquarterly.org/a-cult-of-democracy-toward-a-pluralistic-politics/
The word “privilege” has been thrown around a lot lately. But does this kind of widespread use of privilege (and the call-out culture that rains shame on those accused) diminish the power of the word and negatively affect the causes of social justice? https://nonprofitquarterly.org/putting-privilege-in-perspective/
I have to come to a point, after years in the sector and movement work, that I strongly believe that there is very little on which we have to agree. It’s almost become a mantra for me, seeing how it squashes variance and creativity. https://nonprofitquarterly.org/the-fetish-of-agreement/
Sensemaking workers have a keen ability to perceive change and not proceed as if nothing has changed. Ultimately, they organize themselves for learning—identifying what they want to learn and creating learning environments. It is this thrust that propels their careers. https://nonprofitquarterly.org/the-sensemaking-organization-designing-for-complexity/
To be successful, the sensemaking organization must capture the learning from the past, but not be controlled by it, in order to meaningfully engage with generally unforeseen events.
The stance of individuals is more akin to improvisation than strategy... https://nonprofitquarterly.org/the-sensemaking-mindset-improvisation-over-strategy/
Sensemaking workers have a keen ability to perceive change and not proceed as if nothing has changed. Ultimately, they organize themselves for learning—identifying what they want to learn and creating learning environments. It is this thrust that propels their careers. https://nonprofitquarterly.org/the-sensemaking-worker-organizing-for-learning/
The sensemaking organization is in a constant state of iteration. Because of this, Weick asserts that “the main product of an organization is interpretations rather than decisions.” https://nonprofitquarterly.org/structuring-for-sensemaking-the-power-of-small-segments/
These are not random associations; they are carefully constructed power narratives, the management of which is highly political. These symbolic interactions impact physical bodies—from the anxiety of being black in a society with these potent images about you, to the physical violence that is increasingly directed at black people as a result of these images. https://nonprofitquarterly.org/why-blackface-keeps-popping-up/
Perhaps our sector should be more like Ocasio-Cortez and less like the Democratic Party. At least some of us should be blowing up the system. https://nonprofitquarterly.org/on-not-being-constrained-by-the-system-youre-in/
The worlds of fashion and speculative fiction had two very interesting stories recently of note to the nonprofit sector. Both deal with blackness and the imagination as the terrain of the human battle for the future. https://nonprofitquarterly.org/signifying-blackness-and-the-future-of-humanity/
Those of us who care about social justice and equity must engage the discursive terrain in ways that dismantle hierarchies of human value. https://nonprofitquarterly.org/ford-kavanaugh-moving-beyond-reversals-and-token-torturers/
A newly forming nonprofit, Caribbean Cultural Corridor, a network of local economies for local Black art, seeks to challenge anti-black narratives on the island, starting in Loíza. https://nonprofitquarterly.org/hidden-narrative-racial-inequity-puerto-rico/
If you are one of these white leaders, don’t be like Sarah Huckabee Sanders—don’t hide your power behind the pain of being held accountable. Time is short. The work is real. We need you to be bolder. The pain of giving up power is not the top priority right now. Others are suffering more. https://nonprofitquarterly.org/dont-be-like-sarah-huckabee-sanders/
Now more than ever, as the US dredges up submerged racial dominance narratives, with an attendant shift from implicit bias to explicit violence, it is critical for the nonprofit sector, which is caught in its own narrative loop around racial inequity, to look squarely at these underlying master narratives of white space and black space. https://nonprofitquarterly.org/nonprofit-sector-white-space/
Learning to live well with people who are different is the biggest challenge facing humans today, according to Richard Sennett, designer and scholar of the built-design world. https://nonprofitquarterly.org/designing-for-difference/
The failure to link nonprofit governance to democracy is reflected in the theory and practice of nonprofit governance, which is “strongly influenced by research on corporate governance.” https://nonprofitquarterly.org/nonprofit-teach-democracy/
We must call out and challenge the creation of and attacks against difference, the construction of Others, the unwillingness to accept change. As Mason concludes, this kind of identity politics, or disconnected stance, makes democracy hard because it precludes deliberation. https://nonprofitquarterly.org/need-proliferate-inclusive-narratives/
It’s almost whiplash-causing to witness the radically different responses to the Black Lives Matter and #NeverAgain movements. https://nonprofitquarterly.org/blm-neveragain-contrasting-responses-show-far-go/
These two approaches beg the question: From where does one start when trying to strengthen a nonprofit sector in response to a devastating storm that, as many people I spoke with said, “pulled the veil to reveal extreme poverty and inequality” on the island? https://nonprofitquarterly.org/strengthening-puerto-rico-nonprofits-two-philanthropic-approaches/
Many nonprofits in Puerto Rico and the US have jumped into the federal political vacuum to answer the call for help. But what does this moment make possible for Puerto Rico’s nonprofit sector? https://nonprofitquarterly.org/puerto-ricos-nonprofit-sector-at-a-crossroads/
The environmental movement has long been divided along race and class lines. Perhaps there is some momentum to change all of that... https://nonprofitquarterly.org/equity-core-principle-big-green-environmental-justice-nonprofits-try-align/
So, as is too ordinary for nonprofits, we have disaster heaped on top of injustice writ large in Puerto Rico. Maybe it’s time for the nonprofit sector and philanthropy to consider how to help make this a passing-gear moment. https://nonprofitquarterly.org/puerto-rico-must-recover-hurricane-maria-colonial-status/
The right to the public square is not absolute. It is mitigated by the rights of others to life and equality, including of the public square. This poses a challenge for democratic governments facing voluntary associations that are racist and destructive. https://nonprofitquarterly.org/white-supremacy-fight-public-square/
“One of the big problems in the nonprofit sector is that the leadership of nonprofit organizations doesn’t represent the racial/ethnic diversity of the country.” https://nonprofitquarterly.org/nonprofit-racial-leadership-gap-flipping-lens/
While larger, more institutional groups appear to feed off the momentum of the smaller, grassroots networks, the smaller, grassroots networks do not appear to be supported by the larger, institutional groups. https://nonprofitquarterly.org/black-institutions-and-movements-can-the-two-intersect/