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Giving Myself More Space to Speak

I have been noticing how quiet I am here. Yes, I am busy. But I also have a lot on my mind, a lot that would be helped by talking through it, writing through it, grappling intensely with all that is going on.

Yet I’m facing a lot of fear about not getting it “right” if I try to write things out here. Particularly around processing so much of the insights, epiphanies, and challenges brewing in me as a result of my participation in the Anne Braden Anti-Racist Training Program. I’m noting here how silence can be a detour in my struggle to be a white anti-racist. I catch myself thinking, “I’ll wait until I have it sorted out, then I’ll write about the insights, not the messy internal process that got me there.” I’m much more comfortable projecting an idealized image of myself as someone who has it together, a leader, the person to come to with questions and concerns because I’ve got it figured out.

But I don’t have it figured out. I moved to San Francisco this February because I had reached the limits of what I knew, and I wanted to learn from others. From my work in an anti-violence nonprofit organization, I had reached the capacity of what I could do within the organization.

As part of the Progressive Leaders Fellowship, I had time to think through what I most needed to experience next and create a plan for how I would develop that aspect of my leadership.

I hope for a future without racism, violence, gender bias, homophobia, and hatred. To create that future, we need to rebuild our social movements of the 1960s and 70s. These days in the US, we rely too heavily on social justice non-profits to do the work of ending oppression.

We need to rethink the roles that social justice non-profits play in creating or limiting social change:

  • How does a business model for non-profits take us away from building social movements?
  • How do narrow missions keep us from working across issues for social change?
  • How do current non-profit structures contribute to staff burnout that ultimately drains away our best people?

We need to reform social justice non-profits back toward their roots in social movements, while at the same time we seek other structures outside the non-profit realm that contribute to rebuilding our movements. The specifics of this vision aren’t yet clear to me, in part because they need to be built collaboratively, based on the experiences of many people working to end oppression. The immediate needs are spaces to build a larger vision for how nonprofits and other organizing structures support ending oppression.

In re-reading this vision, I am excited that my move to San Francisco has allowed for exactly this. The Anne Braden Program is helping me root deeply in the history of U.S. social justice movements, and see my work as part of this larger, longer-term vision.

Yet, I’m also experiencing some dissonance with my blog title being focused on “nonprofits” – as I think more and more about movements and not nonprofit organizations, I feel limited by this scope. So much so, that this morning I contemplated a blog name change – perhaps to “Rooting Movement” or something similar that would allude to the broader basis in social movements that I am shifting toward.

Yet as I contemplate this shift (which may or may not happen) – I also remember that I am speaking to people who are based in nonprofits, people who feel frustrated with the limits of their organizational structure, people seeking the broader container that social movements bring to our work. And that remaining with a nonprofit-centric name will continue to allow me to be connected with people seeking information about nonprofits.

For now, I make these two commitments:

1. I will write and press “publish” even when my thinking still feels messy and incomplete. As a mentor reminded me last week, “You might try worrying less about your coherence. Even when you think you aren’t speaking clearly, I am understanding you.”

2. I will allow myself latitude with what I publish here under the name “Rooting Nonprofits.” I will give myself more space to write at the intersection of personal and political, and more space to write about larger social movements and not only about work within the four walls of a nonprofit organization.


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Torn to Shreds in that Oh So Good Way

I’m surrounded by a pack of epiphanies. They won’t let me go unless I surrender to their deeper knowledge.

Things I learned today when I let the epiphanies tear me to shreds:

  1. My THING (or at least an important component of it): I love to work together with a fantabulous team to create a space where people feel like they finally BELONG. Like when we raised the visibility of rural queers or found ourselves a home in the dharma or made ourselves the safest space we could imagine to heal our own and others’ trauma.
  2. Since my THING is a team effort, what the hell am I doing trying to become a pro blogger? Yes I love writing and it needs to be a component of what I do. But when given the choice between writing and community organizing … if you’ve seen my schedule lately or my lack of blog posts, you know who wins this battle.

So what am I doing here, if I’m not trying to become a pro blogger? First, phew. What a load off my shoulders that I don’t have to learn about search engine optimization or feel guilty that I’m not building a mailing list. Now that we can dispense with that boringness, what fun do we I get to have here? I want this to be a space where I process what I’m doing out in the physical world, where I develop my thoughts so I can become more of a thought leader on nonprofit leadership, and put my fabulous self out there so I can connect with other fabulous people with whom I’d love to be building spaces together where we belong.


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Being Challenged

I’m still following Rosetta Thurman’s 31 Days to a Brand New Blog challenge. I knew I wouldn’t be able to dedicate the full of amount of time to this challenge this month, but I’ve been proud to at least keep up with a few of the challenges!

I’m getting over my fear of self-promotion and am starting to let folks know about my blog on Twitter (find me @dawnmarissa). I also updated my widgets & plugins (good) and my Arclite theme (bad). The color scheme is a bit wonky until I remember how to update the style sheet again to find my colors and not the blue that it defaults to.

In the meantime, it’s a joy to have you here and I hope you find something to help you think about how we root nonprofits!



A highlight to be highlighted!

Happy happy joy joy! I’m a featured highlight on Rosetta Thurman’s Week 1 Wrap-Up of the 31 Days to a Brand New Blog Challenge. It’s great encouragement to catch up on the challenges I missed during last week’s laser focus on work & projects. After rejuvenation from this weekend’s meditation retreat, I’m ready to be present here!


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Rooting Nonprofits: A Purpose Statement

Why do I blog?

Writing about my experiences in nonprofits helps me make better sense of what is working in nonprofits and what is not. I’m passionately committed to the kinds of social changes that nonprofits are trying to make in this world, and I can’t stand watching us squander our time and resources on anything that is not our best possible work.

What do I blog about?

I am most interested in how we structure nonprofit organizations – how does our organizational structure help us or hurt us from reaching our mission? I’m disappointed that the Executive Director leadership model is the best we’ve come up with, and I’m intrigued by other leadership models that spread leadership across a broader set of people.

I also love all things that help rejuvenate us as nonprofit workers, and all things that help us see the interconnections between our intertwined movements.

What do I want to become known for through my blog?

I would love to be a source for folks looking for new ideas and new energy about how we can be more effective in being the change we wish to see in the world.

Thanks to Rosetta Thurman’s 31 Days to a Brand New Blog challenge for the questions!


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Seeds: Dawn’s Story of Starting Rooting Nonprofits

Rooting Nonprofits grew out of the wreckage of my short-lived nonprofit career. In my five short years in the nonprofit sector, I’d burnt brightly, trying to make all the social justice changes I could make all at once. I was exhausted, and bailed just as the US economy tanked. I was so burnt that getting out was more important than being sure I could pay my bills.

I was just burnt out. My friends had it worse.

The Smile of Freedom

The Smile of Freedom

Despite being burnt out, I still cared about the work and left it on good terms. I had it good compared to my friends working in nonprofits.

  • One friend got 30 days notice that she was being evicted from her home where she took care of a developmentally disabled woman because her organization was selling the house.
  • Another was asked to “volunteer” to quit her job. This happened after putting in months of extra unpaid work in lieu of hiring another staff member.
  • A third worked 50 hours a week while “volunteering” an additional 20 hours of on call time. She only got paid for 30 hours of work.

These were all organizations who in theory seek “justice” for people who are marginalized because of disability, gender, and violence.

Trying to Reform Nonprofit Culture from the Inside

I struggled as I watched justice organizations treat our people so injustly. As director of an anti-sexual violence organization, I’d worked hard to try to make some structural changes. My co-workers and I worked together to build a strong team that recognized our different strengths as a team rather than relied on a hierarchy. We questioned our analysis of violence, and expanded our understanding that sexual violence was used as a tool of multiple oppressions. We raised money and expanded projects to build our community organizing base rather than be so focused on social services.

No matter how much we tried to change our structure, we constantly bumped into barriers to change. Our board and our funders were concerned about our changes to the status quo. And we worked so hard to make changes while maintaining services, we were quickly burning ourselves out with the amount of work we were doing with just a small staff of people.

Reform? Or Revolution?

After I left, I still thought about the changes we’d made and the struggles that remained. I read The Revolution Will Not Be Funded: Beyond the Non-Profit Industrial Complex and wondered whether it made any sense to reform nonprofits or if we needed to level the nonprofit structure as we know it and build something new. This is most true for nonprofits seeking social justice, seeking an end to racism, homophobia, gender bias, and the violence that perpetrates all these oppressions.

Rooting Nonprofits is a place to explore this question – if we seek social justice, do we reform nonprofits or do we need an entirely different structure for our movement building? As with most either/or questions, the answer is probably both/and. Here at Rooting Nonprofits, we explore both reformist and revolutionary ways to build social justice movements inside and outside nonprofits. While I love theory as much as the next geek, I most want tangible examples of how we’re trying out different models, analysis of what’s working and what’s not, and re-imaginings of how movements might be built and rebuilt. We’re going to have to do a lot better than we’ve been doing if we’re going to change the world.



On Rooting & Roots

Rooting Nonprofits? What exactly does that mean? What is this blog about?

At Rooting Nonprofits, we’re strengthening nonprofit roots, rooting for nonprofit success, and giving not so great nonprofit practices a root canal. Because root = radical, we’re most engaged in work that gets to the roots of inequality and injustice in our world.

If you are working toward a future without racism, violence, gender bias, homophobia, and hatred – you’ll find kindred spirits here. We aren’t quite sure whether nonprofits are a vehicle toward ending oppression, or just one more set of institutions that perpetuate inequality. We’d love for you to join us as we figure out why we want to stand up and root for some nonprofits, while we want to pull out others at the roots.

Creepers on Stupa Ruin
Creative Commons License photo credit: Mendhak

A Whole Mess of Roots

Rooting Nonprofits can take on all these meanings and more:

  • rooting out nonprofits
  • rooting for nonprofits
  • get to the root of how non-profits are working and not working
  • calculate root=radical
  • focus on non-profits who want to deal with root causes
  • give nonprofits stronger roots
  • look at the roots or history of non-profits
  • give non-profits a root canal
  • pull up the nonprofit weeds but accidentally leave the roots in the ground
  • tell non-profits they need a new dye job because their roots are showing
  • find the root note of your non-profit chord
  • find the root word
  • take the square root of a non-profit

What’s your thoughts on roots & nonprofits? What makes you want to give nonprofits a root canal? When do you want to stand up and root for nonprofits to make a difference?

We’ll be exploring all these connections between roots & nonprofits in future blog posts. If you’ve got a story or an idea on Rooting Nonprofits, contact us about writing a guest blog post at guestblog at rootingnonprofits dot com