Here, we provide a collection of some of NPQ’s best 2019 articles on nonprofit management and governance. Most of the articles in this section were originally published in NPQ’s print magazine, the Nonprofit Quarterly, and are the result of close work between nonprofit leaders and researchers who together explore some of the most critical nonprofit management questions of our time.
As I look back across NPQ’s extensive coverage of management and governance in 2019, I am struck by a through line: a deeper clarity about what constitutes nonprofit capital and a host of implications of that constitution for management and governance practice. When most of us hear the word “capital,” we think of money, but our authors pushed us this year to recognize the myriad forms of capital—from human to social to political—and how critical they are to nonprofit effectiveness and sustainability. Moreover, they illuminated how interdependent diverse forms of capital are.
This is good news! It means that as we develop one form, we also increase our potential for others. The opportunity for executives and board members is to get more fluent in forms of capital; connect each of them to our organization’s effectiveness; and then actively nurture them for greater return.
I have chosen five pieces from 2019 that help us to expand our concept of capital specifically as it applies to nonprofits and to home in on what we can do as leaders in 2020 to nurture the full breadth of capital that drives our organization’s work.
As a framework for thinking about this realm we lead here with Nonprofit Capacity Building: A Multiple-Capitals Approach. In this unusual article, Elizabeth Castillo makes the argument that organizational, network, and community capacity building can and should all be viewed as capital development. She offers a useful typology of capital that includes financial, natural, human, relational, symbolic, and structural capital. She further assures us that approaching capacity building as capitals development will make it a clearer and more integrative effort: “Viewing capacity building—and nonprofit work in general—as the development and recirculation of multiple forms of capital can help overcome the perception that building capacity is an additional task.”
From there we look at the realm of human capital and the dynamics of how that plays out in nonprofit organizations. For this, please see Editor-in-Chief Ruth McCambridge’s Nurturing Renewable Human Capital in the Nonprofit Workplace. She defines, for instance, intellectual capital as “both knowledge and learning capacity” and lifts up its bi-directionality in arguing that “both the employer and the employee bring something to the relationship that is built upon in combination, and both keep what they initially bring to the table as well as whatever is built in the relationship with the other.” It’s exciting to see non-financial capital so explicitly defined and well understood as reciprocal between employee or volunteer and organization.
Indeed, I picked up on that theme with Developing Human Capital: Moving from Extraction to Reciprocity in Our Organizational Relationships. Here I go deeper into how a reciprocity frame on human capital can inform a host of organizational practices from staff hiring and development to board recruitment to budgeting and strategy formation. On the strategy front, I write, “Organizational strategies are often crafted in disembodied language that doesn’t conjure the web of relationships and competencies it will take to accomplish them. They read as though the “organization” is going to activate the strategy rather than a specific group of people in a specific time frame and operating context.” In other words, we can and should make explicit the forms of human, social, cultural, and political capital that fuel our strategies; in fact, doing so with some discipline is a good way to test strategies’ authenticity and viability.
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Senior Editor Cyndi Suarez wrote about the nuances of supporting women of color in leadership in her profile of political strategist Wilnelia Rivera, who guided the successful campaign of Representative Ayanna Pressley. In What Does It Look Like to Support Women of Color to Lead?, she and Rivera discuss the internalized and systemic dimensions of women of color not getting the support they need to thrive in positional leadership. Rivera framed it this way: “How you get a woman of color that’s in a position of leadership to realize that she doesn’t have to be everything to everyone, and that the people around her are actually responsible for building a culture and system around her that supports the fact that she is responsible for juggling multiple roles beyond being a candidate?”
So, how we think about developing and supporting human capital cannot be blind to race and gender and all forms of identity. Rather, our organizations must develop the capacity to consider historically generated barriers to human capital that exist in the sector and our own organizations and address each and every instance. For an example of the kind of consideration this takes we recommend Nonprofit Leadership at a Crossroads by Mistinguette Smith.
Turning to the unique contributions of capital that our boards of directors make, Fredrik Andersson and David Renz offer a provocative piece challenging the notion that board work and power are evenly distributed across the body. In Who Really Governs and How: Considering the Impact of the Dominant Coalition, they write: “True, the entire board is, in the end, legally accountable for actions taken. But, we must acknowledge, the ideal of everyone on a board playing an equally active and influential governance role is as much myth as reality.” They describe a common phenomenon of a smaller subset of members wielding greater influence when strategic decision points arise. While we may recruit individual members to our boards based on the unique forms of capital they bring, we also have to recognize, the authors argue, that informal and formal coalitions emerge and the will of the board may not reflect that diverse capital proportionally.
And lest we ignore money altogether, I will close by revisiting Editor-in-Chief Ruth McCambridge’s recent piece, Speculations on the Roots of the Loss of Small US Donors: What Nonprofits Can Do. She details our “dollars up, donors down” reality in the US, wherein the number of households giving dropped 13 percent, or 20 million households, between 2000 and 20016. “If we are seeing disengagement for reasons of a lack of optimism, that is more than a fundraising problem—it may be a problem of the frames within which nonprofits and philanthropy work. That is, are our programs aimed at building shared wealth and community sustainability founded on plural ownership of political and economic capital?” This, again, reinforces and highlights the necessary interconnections behind our unique collections of capital.
In general, it was a year where we reminded ourselves that where in the for-profit sector the bottom line is still the building of the wealth of individuals, in the nonprofit and civil sector our bottom line is our ability to make collectively longed for social change or impact. Making change of this kind requires the voluntary engagement of collective capital—intellectual, social, and financial. Thus, we find ourselves at an existential moment where we must engage with enthusiasm and with our stakeholders the centrality of notions of plural well-being, ownership and self-determination in the nonprofit sector. At a moment when we are coming to terms with the withholding of various types of capital from communities which are historically marginalized, this takes a renewed commitment to inclusionary practices that extend past any notions of a “race blind” type of diversity.
Other 2019 articles on expanding our concept of capital:
- Counting what Counts: Why Social Accounting MATTERS by Elizabeth A. Castillo
- The Hidden Capital of Nonprofit Collaboration Done Well by Ruth McCambridge
- The Gift of Fire: The Purpose of Capital as Freedom by Jed Emerson
And one from 2018…