What would it take for the nonprofit sector to live up to its potential to advance systemic social change?

In the 30 years I’ve been part of this sector, that question has been a constant. Critics often focus on the sector’s size—a huge asset that could be leveraged for more significant change. In the US alone, the nonprofit sector raised $471 billion in donor revenues last year for 1.3 million organizations employing 12 million people. Changemakers themselves often feel like Sisyphus, pushing a boulder uphill, only to see it roll back down.

Everyone seems to have their pet answer. More diverse boards. More equitable funding. Reforming human resources. Or evaluation. Or leadership.

It’s time to acknowledge that there is not one silver bullet that will lead to our potential. What is needed is structural change in every aspect of nonprofit work. And the time for that change is right now.

Progressive social change happens when people make decisions and take collective action about the issues in their own lives. The following explores what some nonprofit systems might look like if they were rooted in values of equity, relationship, trust, enoughness, and possibility.

  • Organizational structure and leadership: If social change organizations reflected the world we want to see, relationships within organizations would resemble communities and natural ecosystems—networks of mutual support committed to a shared vision and shared values.
  • Planning and program design: To create a more equitable, humane future, community members would determine goals and plans for their communities. The planning process itself would be mindful of privilege, patriarchy, colonialism, and racism that are often present in planning processes.
  • Evaluation as learning: If evaluation aligned with the world we want to see, those reflections would be shared across the community and throughout whole fields of work—learnings from one food bank shared with all food banks everywhere, for example.

Read the full article about nonprofits driving change by Hildy Gottlieb at Nonprofit Quarterly.