A few weeks ago I attended the launch event for Co.act Detroit, a new space for non-profits to work and collaborate.
At the event I heard from two keynote speakers about their visions for the non-profit field. The first was Dr. Brandi Blessett. She discussed the importance of non-profits understanding that they work in a context of systemic, intersecting oppression. If non-profits are trying to help people but don't work for systemic change, they will end up reinforcing those systems of oppression instead of challenging them. Dr. Blessett also shared some examples of this kind of work, including Women With a Vision, a community based non-profit in New Orleans that works to improve the lives of marginalized women, and which is a great example of leadership by the people most impacted by an issue. Dr. Blessett also discussed her own work, which is setting up the first ever social justice-focused Masters in Public Administration program, at the University of Cincinnati. This is important because it will start to bring people who have a strong understanding of systemic oppression into positions of government power. These examples were inspiring, and it was validating to hear the emphasis on system change because that's something we focus on a lot in DJJ. It was a reminder that it's always important to think deeply about how we can focus our work on deep, structural change.
The second talk was by Jessamyn Shams-Lau. She discussed the stress and wasted resources that result from the dysfunctional relationships between non-profits and foundations. Most of the problems that come up between non-profits and their funders, including distrust, miscommunication, and damaged relationships are ultimately related to money. On the other hand, stronger partnerships between non-profits and foundations could make everyone more successful. Some of the suggestions Ms. Shams Lau made to strengthen these partnerships were to stop valuing money more than other necessary inputs into non-profit work, like time, expertise, and community trust; to prioritize the needs of whoever you serve; to work on increasing trust, respect, and empathy; and to think bigger and bolder. This talk was a really interesting opportunity to think about the way we relate to money as a non-profit. There's plenty for DJJ to think about around money and what it looks like to value all the inputs into our work.