Three Emergent Themes


Voice of the Poor, Trickle-Down Funding, Support for Leaders of Color

Written by Frances Kunreuther

Every six months, we spend four packed days with our Project Team to discuss the Building Movement Project work and direction, and to hear what our team members are seeing and thinking about in their everyday work. We always work hard in these meetings, but we also make time to go out into the community to learn something we didn’t know before and to enjoy some deep laughter and good food!

When we met with the team last week, we read a classic article on the difference between strategic planning and strategic thinking. We were taken with the idea of strategy being “emergent” and noticed that during our own conversation about our work and the wider nonprofit sector, there were three themes that kept coming up. I am not sure yet how we will address them, but they are fresh on my mind.

First, we talked about the importance of lifting the voices of people in this country with very low incomes. Our work on service and social change and our organizer partners continue to remind us how easy it is for this group to be made invisible, even in the communities where they live and work. The renewed focus on poverty by both service and organizing groups makes us hopeful that the agency and power of the millions struggling to make ends meet can be seen and supported by all of us.

Second, we were reminded how much harder it seems these days for local groups — especially those not affiliated with or connected to national organizations — to find funding, even when they have “proven” results of their good work. National groups often rely on the local ones to help them with their work by providing information, people and ideas. Local groups need national support and information to make connections to larger issues. Organizations working on controversial issues often have little hope of raising money from local funders but can deepen and extend their work with the support fof funds from outside of their immediate community. More and more though, these funds run through a national intermediary (ourselves included) and the money trickles down to the local. That trickle, which was never strong enough to begin with, has now turned into an occasional drip. We are not the first to note this, but what worries us is that the trend seems to be getting so much worse.

Third, we heard stories, especially in the social sector, about how nonprofits led by people of color have been folding or merging. At a time when POC-led groups should be increasing, there is concern that the trend may be headed in the opposite direction. It is something we would like to look at more closely and to ask again, why don’t POC-run groups get the support they need to succeed. Our report, Vision for Change began to address some of the barriers faced by younger leaders, especially younger leaders of color. It may be time to return to those initial findings.

We will be figuring out how to integrate these themes into our work. In the meantime, meet our staff and team.

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