Equipping nonprofits to advance social change

BMP Hits The Road: Alliance for Nonprofit Management Conference

Written by Sean Thomas-Breitfeld

Earlier this month, Frances and I went to the Alliance for Nonprofit Management’s annual conference, held at Portland State University. We’re partnering with the Alliance on the Nonprofits Integrating Community Engagement project, which focuses on helping organizational development consultants work with nonprofits – especially social service organizations – to integrate the voice of community members and constituents into their every-day work. We released the NICE guide at the conference with a workshop on the tool and our overall service and social change framework, but it was great to lift up BMP’s two other focus areas  – leadership and movement building – at the conference too.

Not surprisingly, nonprofit leadership is a big focus for the Alliance’s members. As capacity builders and consultants, they are often working with organizational leaders who are taking on big challenges – both inside of their organizations and in the wider society. Frances was part of the conference’s kickoff, serving as a respondent to a keynote about the need to invest in nonprofit talent and the research coming out of the Talent Philanthropy Project . I co-led a workshop on “shared leadership” during the last day of the conference. The session was part of the “research to practice” series, so we reviewed the growing body of research on alternatives to traditional models of top-down staff structures and shared some case examples – you can view the slide deck from the 4-hour workshop here.

Supporting movements for social change is an emerging area of focus for consultants and capacity builders, but in today’s political moment, it was really great to have discussions of race and justice be featured so prominently at the conference. In addition to several great workshops on racial equity and how consultants can integrate a racial lens into their work with organizations, I had the privilege to interview Patrisse Cullors, one of the co-founders of #BlackLivesMatter, during a lunchtime keynote. We talked about the evolution of Black Lives Matter from an online hashtag to an international network with 26 chapters in North America and Africa in only a few short years. That is the kind of organizational growth that requires a lot of capacity and support, and it was really interesting to hear about the consultants and capacity builders that the movement has turned to for help.

Patrisse and I also talked about how even though “disruptive innovation” has become a much buzzed about phrase in the sector, people seem much less comfortable with organizations embracing “disruptive politics.” This past summer local Black Lives Matter chapters had dominated the media with disruptions at presidential candidates’ events. Our keynote was also marked by disruptive innovation during the Q&A when students in the audience decided not to ask Patrisse a question and instead asked the audience of capacity builders and consultants from around the country to support their campaign to disarm PSU’s campus security and address issues of biased policing against the school’s black students. The students provided an important reminder that the work of building capacity for organizations and movements to achieve social change is about more than theory, research and case studies. Sometimes consultants have to take on the role of being advocates too.

Service and Social Change #BlackLivesMatter leadership nonprofit sector