nonprofit provocateur

A blog is born…

Posted on: September 1, 2009

Not too long ago, a couple of friends and I were having coffee when discussion invariably turned to current affairs – healthcare reform, the economy, etcetera. Me being me, I naturally got a bit… uh, passionate about things like the destruction of the middle class and the rising numbers of those living in poverty and those who are homeless. My friends are used to such passionate outbursts from me – I’ve always been something of a social activist (according to them). Indeed, one friend said to me that day, “You know, since you’re so passionate, you might think about going into advocacy.” The other agreed.

It wasn’t such a far out suggestion. Yet, something about it bugged me.

Later, when I got home and found my friend’s harmless suggestion still tugging at me, I posed the following question to myself:

Since I am so passionate, would I really be better suited for advocacy? Is advocacy only for those whose job title is that of Advocate?

And I got it. As soon as I framed the question in that way, I instantly understood why my friend’s suggestion bothered me so. You see, both of my friends work in the same area as I do: development and communications. And they both work for direct providers of social services to low income people in need. And yet, they thought someone with my passion about the issues should become an Advocate. Implying that advocacy was really something to be done only by those who bear that job title.

Which struck me as odd. Perhaps I am overly idealistic, but I—like my friends—got into this work because I was idealistic and I wanted my career to Have Meaning, I wanted to be involved in something Bigger Than Myself and I wanted to Make A Difference. Dare I say, I—and my friends—wanted to Change The World, or at the very least Make The World A Better Place. You know, the BIG IDEAS that are best expressed with capital letters.

But I understand why idealism and passion very often get put aside: social service is hard work, what with grueling hours and low pay and not enough staff to do all that needs to be done and not enough or adequate supplies with which to do it and ever increasing competition amongst organizations for less and less money to deliver solutions to problems that seem unsolvable. When an organization is trying its hardest just to stay financially solvent, and its employees are trying to maintain under that pressure, who has time to get passionate and think about—let alone pursue—something as vast and complicated as social change? Who has time to advocate when there’s already someone whose job it is to do just that?

As understandable as it is, that mindset won’t bring about change. Obviously, as it hasn’t done so yet. I propose that the only real way to create change is for you and I—emerging nonprofit leaders, next gen, whatever—to become passionate advocates for our causes and organizations, regardless of our job titles. Advocacy shouldn’t be a job solely for Advocates—we should think of everyone in an organization as an advocate, and we should see our organizations as movements. Maybe a smaller part of a larger one, but a movement all the same.

Which is the point of this blog: to explore both ideas and tangible ways in which nonprofit work can be approached from the perspective of movement building, the nonprofit itself viewed as a force for social change rather than stand alone organization. Maybe, perhaps, to help expand the beliefs of what a nonprofit is capable of, and of what we, as the individual motors who power the nonprofit sector, are capable of.

Ultimately, I refuse to give up on my ideals; social change IS possible. Not only that, but it’s inevitable. And we cannot wait for the recession to end or for our organizations to be fully funded or even fully staffed before we take action. Nor do we need others around us to “get it” — whether you work in communications or as a volunteer organizer or as an assistant—in whatever capacity—you can absolutely view yourself as a change agent who is part of a larger movement, whether your Executive Director does or not. Together, we as individuals must work to create change, and the time to do so is now. It is my hope that this space will be a place for those of a like mind to share and be inspired to do just that.


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nonprofit provocateur :: instigating social change, one agent at a time

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