Dani Robbins

Posts Tagged ‘social justice’

Does Your Agency Aspire to Social Justice or Charity?

In Advocacy, Leadership, Non Profit Boards, Organizational Development, Strategic Plans on May 23, 2017 at 11:40 am

The two questions I repeat the most, in both my classes and in my practice, are these: What’s the goal?  Who decides?

What’s the goal?

Is your agency’s goal to be the best food pantry (or any other service providing/safety net charity)? Or is it to address the underlying issues related to food scarcity (or any other complicated, multi-layered critical issue)?  If it’s the former, that’s charity.  If it’s the latter, that’s social justice.

Social Justice is working to change systemic issues. Charity is responding to immediate needs.  As anyone who has ever taken my class or worked in our field will tell you, we need both.  We’re not going to ignore the hungry child in front of us to work for social justice. Yet, we can’t only get food for those who are hungry, because the root causes are what’s causing food scarcity.

Every person who serves a nonprofit has to decide where to plug in. Every staff member. Every researcher. Every leader. Every volunteer. Every donor.

What’s the goal?

Do we keep fishing cats out of the river, or look upstream and deal with whatever or whoever is causing the cats to be in the river? What’s the goal? (It’s a handy question.)

Nonprofit Boards, in concert with their CEO, set the goal. The goal sets the path. (This could be a great generative conversation for a future Board meeting.)

If the goal is to be the best food pantry, and there’s nothing wrong with aspiring to be the best food pantry –  unless your goal is social justice, and then you’re on the wrong path. The path supports the work toward the goal.

Maybe you want both?  I always did. I wanted to run the best agency I could, doing good work, meeting our mission, with a well trained, dedicated and talented Board and staff, serving our clients with dignity AND I want to work with my community partners to eliminate the need for my agency.

That means dual goals with dual paths. You can be the best food pantry and also work with community partners to eliminate food scarcity.  Food scarcity, and all systemic issues, is a big scary multi layered bucket of issues that include privilege, implicit bias, legal and policy challenges, poverty elimination, racism, sexism, classism, housing, school funding imbalances, and lots of other things that are hard to tease out and even harder to solve.

Being the best is a go it alone, we have the answers, and we’ll get it done model. It’s a bit more territorial and a lot less collaborative, but it’s not ineffective and sometimes the circumstances call for it.

Am I competing against my partner agencies for funding?  Sometimes I am. Does that mean I can’t also work with them to address the underlying issues in our community. Some will tell you it does.  I’m here to tell you it doesn’t.  Where you sit always determines where you stand.

It’s why your values have to match your agency’s policies and its aspirations?  As I mentioned in Reflecting on my Pursuit of Social Justice “saying you value one thing but actually doing another sends a very inconsistent and confusing message. If we want our teams to live our values, then we have to live them and our policies and systems have to reflect them.”

Who Decides?

You do, collectively and individually. You decide at the agency level.  You decide at the community level. You decide at your leadership level- on your team, in your neighborhood.  Every day.  With every decision. Every donation. Every allocation. Every choice.

There was a great piece on NPR this morning  In Some Rural Counties, Hunger Is Rising, But Food Donations Aren’t looking at just this issue. It’s not just SW Virginia.  There are communities across the country that are discussing systemic issues and setting goals for change in their community.  I’m proud to tell you that several of those cities are in Ohio; Cleveland, Cincinnati and Columbus have been and continue to have these conversations.

I’m hoping it’s a national trend. Even if it’s not yet a trend that has come to your community, you can still move toward social justice.

We each get to decide if we run our agencies to be the best organization alone or if we work together to eliminate the need for all of our agencies, because we addressed the systemic issue requiring our agencies.  How?

By deciding to be less territorial and more collaborative. Call your partners and other leaders in your community who work on like issues and invite them to discuss the options. Are you ready to set a Theory of Change for your community?  If so, the Annie E. Casey Foundation has a great manual on how.

Before you do, you might have to stop being afraid of scarcity and start embracing abundance.  If you’re currently looking at the world and your ability to impact change as a zero sum game –  and it’s how many of us have been trained to think –  I invite you to read Agreements, Vibrancy and Abundance.

We can change our corner of the world alone at our desks or we can do it together.  If our goal is social justice, together will get us farther, faster.

What’s your experience standing in the breech between social justice and charity.  Where did you elect to stand? As always, I welcome your insight, feedback and experience. Please offer your ideas or suggestions for blog topics and consider hitting the follow button to enter your email. A rising tide raises all boats.

Wishes for 2016 for the Nonprofit Field

In Leadership, Non Profit Boards, Organizational Development on December 31, 2015 at 12:49 pm

If you’ve been reading for a while – and if you have, thank you – you know that there are a few things that I find continually, unnecessarily, and routinely crazy making. As such, here are my wishes for our field for this New Year, in the hopes that next year, we can stop doing this stuff and dedicate more time to moving forward our missions and improving our communities.

  1. I wish people would have higher expectations of us. There is an underlying sentiment, usually accompanied by a shrug, of “It’s just a nonprofit.” “Just nonprofits” serve the most disadvantaged among us. I wish, want and need the community to have higher expectations. Not silly jump through hoops expectations that make us crazy but don’t make us stronger. I want real and serious high expectations that our leaders will rise to meet and our field will be stronger for their doing so.
  1. I wish people would stop professing that businesses are better run. Jim Collins said “Social sector leaders are not less decisive than business leaders; they only appear that way to those who fail to grasp the complex governance and diffuse power structure.” In a business the leader can make a unilateral decision and everyone gets in line. Nonprofit leaders don’t have that luxury. In the nonprofit world we have to create buy in and take our Boards, senior staff and sometimes funders along with us on our journey toward greatness. As such, it’s harder. Please, the next time you find yourself about to tell a nonprofit leader why businesses are better run, resist the temptation and remember: different isn’t necessarily better and, more accurately, it’s likely not true.
  1. I wish agencies would spend more time and resources developing their people and their organizations. It’s critical to address our communities’ issues, yet it’s much easier when you have the right people in the right jobs with the right infrastructure, and the right plans under the right leadership. Imagine what you could accomplish if you had clear goals. Imagine if you had Human Resource systems that supported your organizational values, which were set in your strategic plan and are upheld at every level of your organization. Imagine if that plan was supported by a Board Development plan, another plan for raising contributed income and one for developing each member of your team, all of which is coupled with excellent operational policies and processes that protect your agency, serve your clients and impact your community. The combination of each will help you accomplish your true potential. The absence of most or all may mean you’re not only not meeting that potential you may be hurting the people you exist to help.
  1. I wish the people that start a new organization would learn everything they need to know about running one, before they introduce it. I wish they would learn the law as it pertains to their agency, our field and the requirements of both. I wish they would learn everything they can about the issue they hope to impact, the community and its leaders. I wish they would learn how to build a board and attract and keep donors and staff. We all learn as we go, yet and still, I wish the founders of new nonprofits would learn enough to start strong.
  1. I wish each nonprofit executive could see the benefits of collaboration and also the cost of territorialism. If my goal is to make our communities stronger – and it is – then you not sharing information or best practices is at cross purposes with that goal. Now your goal may not be aligned with my goal, but it should be, because your mission certainly is. I believe any process that is in conflict with our goal is a bad process. I once modeled in a vintage fashion show for the local Goodwill. You wouldn’t believe the number of people who said to me some version of “Why are you helping another agency?!” I also routinely took (and still take) phone calls from the leadership of sister agencies who needed capacity building assistance and other leaders took my calls when I needed it. My agency will be stronger when yours is stronger, and we, together, will be that much closer to impacting our collective issues. The opposite is also true, if I only serve to move forward my agency, I am negatively impacting the field I purport to serve.

This list is just a start. I have many more aspirations for our field and the important work we each do to make our world a better place. If we were more strategic, if our goals were better formulated and our systems were better developed, our field would be stronger, and in turn, our communities and our world would be as well.

I believe that anytime you present a problem it is also imperative to present a solution. Since every New Year provides the opportunity to make resolutions, I resolve to continue to work to make our field stronger. I will also – and this is new for me and has the added benefit of making my husband happy to no longer have to listen to how much I miss social justice work – stop turning down interviews and consider going back in the field so I can practice what I have been preaching. Until then (then being defined as the perfect job for me), I will continue to speak, write, teach, train and coach and join with colleagues around the nation and the world to make our field stronger and our reach farther.

What are your wishes for our field and also your resolutions to make them happen? As always, I welcome your insight, feedback and experience. Please share your ideas or suggestions for blog topics and consider hitting the follow button to enter your email. A rising tide raises all boats.

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