It isn’t easy to be a nonprofit organization. The state and the federal government have many layers of administrative requirements, deadlines, and qualifications. It is all with good intentions, but the bureaucratic maze is a challenge for many well-intentioned people who want only to do good in the world. During my time at United for a Fair Economy, I saw this dynamic play out and witnessed practices crucial to making the nonprofit structure workable.
United for a Fair Economy is a nonprofit organization with a pretty large staff capacity and a broad range of things that they do. While I was there, I experienced an audit, preparation for a 25th anniversary celebration, a fundraising push at the end of the fiscal year, and social media publicity to keep supporters informed of the work that was being accomplished. While this work is what took up most of my time, it was second to the economic and racial justice work that is the core of UFE.
At the same time that I was entering donation records into the database and asking Massachusetts businesses to sponsor our upcoming event, UFE was also hosting popular economics education trainings for movement organizers, fighting for $15 minimum wage in North Carolina, and mobilizing wealthy people to support just economic practices. In many nonprofits and as nonprofits grow, these two tracks become siloed into departments or individual staff positions that seem to be lightyears apart. At UFE, we incorporated three practices that prevented that siloing from happening.
Firstly, UFE values collaboration. No project proposal, organizing graphic, or appeal letter will make it out the doors without the input of multiple people in the office. From the conceptualization to the final edit, ideas are bounced around the room during lunch conversations or over Zoom meetings with the staff who work in multiple different regions of the US. It is crucial that throughout this process the folks that work in development are aware of and feel part of the community work that is at the heart of the organization’s mission. Equally important is that the education team knows how their work is being presented to donors and is part of the vision in keeping their work sustainable.
Secondly, it is important that all aspects of the work is framed in a way that values its equal importance to the organization. An example of this is demonstrated in the term, “wealth reclamation” this term is used to think about fundraising and donor relations which can be a very large component of nonprofit organizations. It helps us think about fundraising as returning wealth to the communities where it belongs which is a curtail aspect in an organization with a mission of economic justice.
Lastly, the mission of the organization must be reflected internally. At UFE, this means including healing justice in the nonprofit work environment, and respecting the lives and wellbeing of the people who make UFE’s work possible on a daily basis. It also means holding themselves accountable to their value of language justice.
During my time at UFE I worked as a development intern, but at no time did I feel like I was doing less interesting or important work. By integrating these aspects into more organizations, maybe we can make my experience a reality in the taxing nonprofit world. I know that my experience was unique, but it doesn’t need to be.
Madeline Bisgyer ’20