Today, we break from tradition by presenting in its entirety the collection of articles from the Summer 2020 print edition of the Nonprofit Quarterly.
This particular edition was assembled during societal upheaval so massive it is like a rent in the universe. First of all, a pandemic that has overtaken the planet, bringing with it widespread unemployment and suffering that has occurred disproportionately among those already marginalized financially and socially. Those attending and counting the hospitalizations and deaths have observed that Black and Brown people are falling ill and dying in greater numbers; they are being laid off in greater numbers, too, even though they make up a strong contingent of those deemed “essential workers”—those putting themselves at greater medical risk than others.
Meanwhile, the country’s unemployment figures are higher than they have been since the Great Depression; and, even now, as those figures start to improve overall, Black unemployment continues to rise. Add together the slow grind of the effects of systemic racism— with the lens focused by the rapid spread and response to COVID-19—and the ongoing murders of Black people at the hands of the police, and a tipping point has been reached. The very structures undergirding the nation are wrong, say the people in the streets—an immense population spanning race, age, gender, and socioeconomic background demanding justice and change.
And, finally, George Floyd, among others, was murdered by police. It is not that the policing system is malfunctioning; it is doing what it was designed to do which is to forcibly control Black bodies. The new calls to defund the police are an acknowledgement of that design principle – a collective demand to completely deconstruct a framework that attempts at incremental adjustment over the years have barely dented.
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At the same time, over the last few years we have been hearing similar— and growing—criticisms of the nonprofit sector, describing it as a comfortable “protective layer for capitalism” and as the “nonprofit industrial complex,” obsessed with its own well-being even as the health of marginalized communities worsens. The nonprofit sector, including philanthropy, replicates the racial dynamics in the rest of society. It is time for a redesign.
The articles in this issue—only a small corner of the new “book” to be written—are all focused on shifting the lenses through which the sector must understand its work—starting with the organizations themselves. We open with an excerpt from a new book called Ideas Arrangements Effects: Systems Design and Social Justice by Lori Lobenstine, Kenneth Bailey, and Ayako Maruyama. This book proposes that we must pare our arrangements back to disclose their original assumptions and design intentions, so as to understand why they are not working for us all.
The rest of the edition follows from that proposal: Cyndi Suarez takes on nonprofits as white-curated spaces; Rashad Robinson urges the need to change narratives to help replace those that keep wrongheaded assumptions alive in the minds of communities; NPQ editors discuss root metanarratives that dominate the sector; Ruth McCambridge reflects on the concept of mutuality as core to an equitable and thriving economy; Rodney Foxworth describes the basic assumptions that undergird our current economic systems; David Renz looks at the absurd insistence that the important aspects of nonprofit governance happen at the organizational level; and Chris Cornforth, John Paul Hayes, and Siv Vangen delve into the equally absurd notion that to be effective, collaborations need to be permanent and stable. We conclude the issue with another article by Suarez, in which she makes the point that “Racism is an actively silent design principle for exclusion in Western democracy, and deepening democracy requires actively designing against it.” The articles are a mix of classic, updated, and new to illustrate how NPQ has been working to advance this critical conversation about the need to break old arrangements that exclude large portions of this country’s population from having voice and a share in the fruits of our collective labor, and how this must be addressed by the larger sector.
A common chant at the moment, directed at the police in full riot gear pointing guns at peaceful, unarmed protestors, is “Who are you protecting?” We must ask ourselves the same question while rigorously interrogating every design, arrangement, assumption, and effect of our work in the civil sector.