3 options for nonprofit cultural change

Recent conversations spurred on this short take on how to change a nonprofit’s organization’s culture, whether someone should stick around to change over time, or to start something new from scratch. Oh, let’s say the topic was diversity and they’d like to see the nonprofit organization become a safe place that values diverse people of color to contribute their insights and perspectives, and not just have mere visual representation where microaggressions still occur on a regular, even daily, basis.

To oversimplify and in hopes of bringing clarity to what someone can do realistically:

1) stay within the nonprofit with a long-term strategy. A team internally and externally has to learn how to navigate its internal structures, introduce changes where & when opportunities, working up the ranks, and most significantly, appointing race-conscious board members with diverse insights as well as cultivating diverse donor base. This is probably a 3-generation project, being translated, 60 years or so. Meaning, over the course of time, race-conscious leaders has to have a long-term commitment and political will to invest their influence at the board level, senior staff, and bring other race-conscious leaders along, up through the ranks, for several generations of successions. IMHO, this lengthy time-frame is required to make the DEIB maturation process stick and sustain.

2) start a new nonprofit from the ground up. To quote the words of Jesus Christ, “new wine must be poured into new wineskins.” (Luke 5:38)

3) spark a grassroots initaitive by innovating with $0 budget and no staff. Not everything we do has to be a full-time job or last for a more than a lifetime. There’s a place in our fast-changing world to do important, valuable, and worthwhile things without building up all kinds of organizational structures. Granted, most of us, myself included, have bills to pay and need to make a living, and in today’s world, there are thousands, even millions, with cognitive surplus, who can be moblized to do something. Case in point: open source software. Similarly, Wikipedia runs because it has over 120,000 volunteers every month, with a lean support staff and budget.

Am I qualified or credible to suggest these options?

Who am I to say these things? I’m just an average person without years of experience in nonprofit leadership roles in senior management, C-level, and only 1 year as a board member in a very small nonprofit that just hired its first paid staff 6 months ago.

And, I have done numerous grassroots efforts for 25+ years thru blogging, podcasting, self-publishing, and innovating with $0 budget (cf. thirty.network).

So I’m just sharing some things I’ve learned over the years, having worked all my life in the nonprofit world, including 10 years in philanthropy. I know the real world is much more complicated, sophisticated, and there’s graduate degrees in organizational development and leadership. I do hope this is helpful; your feedback is most welcomed. Let’s have a conversation.

Photo by Jason Goodman on Unsplash