2021 Washington State Nonprofits Conference: Tuesday

This is post 1 of 8 in the series “Washington State Nonprofit Conference Field Notes”

The Washington State Nonprofit Conference is the primary statewide conference for nonprofits in Washington State. I’ve attended many times, and publish notes about the sessions I attend.

Hot off the heels of the Nonprofit Technology Conference in March, I’m “attending” the Washington State Nonprofits Conference this week! I attended two of four sessions on the first full day, the key note and a large presentation about anti-racism targeted at white nonprofit staff.

As with my last set of “field notes”, these aren’t comprehensive summaries of sessions, but rather my recollections and key takeaways.

The Racist Roots of Nonprofits and Philanthropy

This was a live recording of The Ethical Rainmaker podcast and a followup to one of it’s most popular episodes of the same name as the session. The podcast is hosted by Michelle Shireen Muri (Community-Centric Fundraising, Co-Chair) and the returning guest was Christina Shimizu (Puget Sound Sage Full-time, Deputy Director).

I was admittedly distracted during this talk—online conferences are hard!—and so definitely struggled to summarize some key things that I heard but just couldn’t responsibly repeat in a way that was true to the presentation.

Some key early points about the racist roots of philanthropy:

  • Andrew Carnegie’s essay The Gospel of Wealth in 1889 could be considered the birth of modern philanthropy.
  • Philanthropy—as opposed to millennia-old collective community care—accepts and even embraces that generation of massively unequal wealth. Philanthropy was used as a means of reducing class conflict while maintaining the system that produces massive wealth disparity.
  • Donor Advised Funds (DAFs) are a current way in which we are seeing concentrated wealth go untaxed, distributed paternalistically, and rarely given to BIPOC-led organizations and as unrestricted funds. (Black-led organizations have 45% less funding than white-led organizations and 91% less unrestricted funds (source).)

Things we can do:

  • We must “begin in relationship with each other” in order to build an inclusive nonprofit sector (and society). This requires investing in connections.
  • We must recognize unpaid people fighting for their liberation (a good definition of “activism”).
  • We must avoid nonprofit’s “movement capturing” and sanitizing the work of grassroots campaigns.
  • We must ask “how are nonprofits complicit in maintaining the status quo?” This is especially true for large, white-led nonprofits that benefit from the status quo by controlling a disproportionate share of philanthropic funds.

Someone asked about the difficulty building community and not chasing wealthy usually white major donors. We are in a transitional period in a capitalist society that requires dealing with these tradeoffs. We must build power with organizations that don’t have it and not hoard resources. Participatory budgeting is one example of doing this in practice.

A thing that came up repeatedly in the closing was the need for written concrete policies that take equity into account, adopting frameworks for just transitions away from extractive capitalism, and finding ways to hold nonprofits accountable (as a whole, staff, and boards—boards made of wealthy donors are increasingly out-of-step with nonprofit staff advocating for structural changes).

In wrapping up, a final question was asked about the balance of rejecting the current system and reforming it. Many organizations are centering their communities and were truly founded with a commitment to caring for people. We must hold onto these values and ideals as we work to change the systems that hold us back from supporting one another fully and living in equitable community with everyone in our society.


Janis Avery and Nancy Woodland

This session was led by one of the two leaders of the anti-racist consultant cohort that began during NTC. You can read about our first meeting in my NTC Field Notes from that day.

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

Maya Angelou

First off: It can be tricky to have conversations centered on whiteness when centering whiteness is the problem we are trying to solve by becoming anti-racist. Why do it? Because white people created the problem and must be part of the solution without increasing the burdens on and causing harm to BIPOC folks.

  • An excellent acronym for responding to being called out: S.N.A.P (See, Name, Act, Proceed)
  • Approach discomfort with curiosity.
  • Being Anti-Racist requires working in community and building trust. That requires time (investment) and discussions about culture, norms, and values. “Fast” change can take one year or even five. This work is urgent, so start now!
  • There is a huge difference between feeling discomfort and unsafe. White people most often feel discomfort when being challenged while people of color can feel unsafe (physically, mentally, emotionally) when faced with microaggressions, bias, and outright racist actions.

Discussion question for breakout groups: Why is understanding and doing something about racism important to me and my work?

A challenging dynamic that arose during our discussion: It can be difficult to talk about real structural disadvantages faced by a demographic group of people while human, individual, unique members of that group are in the room. We must try to avoid speaking monolithically about a group and must embrace the humanity of every participant. This is hard.

The concept of “repair” came up toward the end of the discussion. That’s a word I haven’t reflected on much in this context. Lately, it has been in vogue to say white people need to not cause harm. I have certainly said this. But it’s even more critical to proactively repair unjust systems, whether or not we personally caused the the harm.

Two tools recommended by the two presenters:

On Wednesday, I’ll be doing a nonprofit website Ask Me Anything as part of the conference, so look for some excellent questions and answers in the next field notes!

3 thoughts on “2021 Washington State Nonprofits Conference: Tuesday”

  1. The topic of collective community care is intriguing to me. How did we talk about it in the past? Will a new rhetoric around collective community care get us where we need to go in understanding the topic (especially if it references self-care as a concept)?
    Thanks for linking to more info on Just Transition! I found a couple other websites that referenced the topic and this book: “Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution” by Peter Kropotkin. If you know of any other directions to explore (groups, academics or activists working in this space), I’d like to hear about them.

    1. Thanks for your comment, @kathyia! Chrissy, who spoke most about community care, pointed out that community care wasn’t called out specifically in the past but was often just a way of being and surviving. Before we had for-profit insurance and healthcare for instance, everyone was needed to help keep people healthy and safe.

      Movement Generation (https://movementgeneration.org/) seems like another org doing a lot of work on just transitions to a climate-friendly and equitable society.

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