So, what's the problem?
Scarcity and Undervaluation of Progressive Workforce
The nonprofit and political community struggles to recruit and retain the best and brightest over the long run. Oftentimes organizations recruit greenhorns just long enough for them to hone their program management skills and leave the sector for better paying positions and careers. We lack a focus on outside the box tactics like tuition reimbursement, sabbatical, unlimited time off and professional development that would extend young talent in our workforce. What's more we rarely invest in mid level management or executive coaching to ensure our own Executive Directors and CEOs are helping bring up the next generation of senior leaders. A 2015 Stanford Social Innovation Review article on the nonprofit leadership development deficit lays out the high dollar and program cost of losing top leaders from critical roles.
Working in social change politics is difficult. It requires gritty, resilient people who take risks and work irregular hours, often on the front lines of controversial and draining fights. The promise of shaping new norms and reclaiming justice is not enough to sustain agents of social change (particularly those with student debt and sky high rent). The most successful companies in the world rank success when they have an engaged workforce, a strong psychological contract between employees and managers and balancing a strong bottom line with meaningful, impactful work. Millennials and emerging Z generations are looking for meaningful and impactful work. We must be prepared to secure resources to invest in them as they invest their careers and social capital over time.
Funding streams have shifted in the post Citizens United world where unlimited spending on campaigns has shifted our focus away from workforce and into paid media and consultants. Just as incomes become bookended among American households so are funding streams in America’s nonprofits. There are fewer “haves” and far more “have nots.” Sustainability begins by investing in strong, visionary managers who can capture funding, weather difficult, disruptive politics and execute long-term plans through a robust workforce. We cannot expect to win all the time but we should budget for losing forward. Creative organizational charts and professional development plans are critical tools to improve retention rates.
Exponential spending in electoral politics and campaigns
Imagine if we withheld a 5% organizing and social change service fee on every dollar spent in partisan electoral politics? We might begin to move the needle on civic engagement and education. Over $6.5 billion was spent during the 2016 elections and $3.8 billion spent in the 2014 midterms nationally. With each subsequent election we see exponential spending, largely on paid media. Campaigns like to believe they are built overnight but imagine if we powered candidate campaigns from a bench of activist leaders and staff who were working in social change before, during and after general elections?
I’m not suggesting we stop funding our champion’s campaigns, but I am suggesting we diversify our political giving portfolios and diversify funding streams. Invest in high risk securities AND long term governmental bonds. Invest in hot ticket candidates and the ecosystem they must operate in as candidates and in office.
Reinvestment in progressive infrastructure
Thoughtful funding for long term change