“The nonprofit system has tamed a generation of activists. They’ve traded in grand visions of social change for salaries and stationery; given up recruiting people to the cause in favor of writing grant proposals and wooing foundations; and ceded control of their movements to business executives in boardrooms.”
The Revolution Will Not Be Funded is a collection of cutting essays published by INCITE! about the Non-Profit Industrial Complex. It outlines some of the ways in which governments and foundations co-opt and compromise groups working for social change. The essays are solidly based in grassroots experience and provide examples from ongoing struggles to end violence against women, Latin American solidarity, Palestinian liberation and US indigenous peoples’ struggles, which brings a much needed tangible and emotional aspect to the intellectual and political arguments presented. Other themes deal with the ‘professionalisation of activism’, solidarity and the states’ role in violence and oppression.
Refreshingly, the views presented do not have a ‘more radical than thou’ tone, but keep strategic aims at the centre of analysis. The authors don’t propose that we do away with non-profits altogether, but that we keep in mind what they are good for and use them to compliment grassroots movement building, not replace it.
I think this collection is essential reading for activists working in or with non-profit organisations like ASEN.
So how do foundations work anyway?
Foundations are the non-profit organisations of the rich. Rich people and corporations ‘donate’ tax-free money to foundations, which manage and reinvest it. These foundations are obliged to donate 5% of their capital per year (minus administrative expenses) to non-profit organisations and charities (like ASEN), usually through grant programs. So it’s a great choice for rich individuals and corporations — for minimum cost they can avoid tax, continue to invest in their fortunes and gain a green image while doing so.
The other half of the story is that foundation money is controlled by the rich individuals and corporations that own them. Their funding priorities all too often reflect ideologies of professionalism, collaborating with the state and businesses, charity, and favor short term results. This comes at the expense of grass roots movement building, long term community projects and social change work.Both of these insights point to the troubled waters social change agents will encounter if they rely too heavily on foundations for their income. Perhaps the most troubling aspect is how subtly and slowly the changes occur as we learn to tailor projects to what funding is available. INCITE! argues it is essential that change agents learn how to make change with little or no cash and develop funding sources that reflect and support the kind of changes we want to see in society.
One of the scariest manifestations of current day Capitalism is the system’s ability to coopt experiences, practices and even culture, and to then recreate and repackage them within a careerist, profit-driven (even in “non-profits”) and competitive logic. The non-profit system, as other essays in this volume demonstrate, supports the professionalization of activism rather than a model of everyday activism.” – Paula X. Rojas in ‘Are the Cops in Our Heads and Hearts?’
Will ASEN be funded?
So how does ASEN stack up against the yardsticks of corporate funding? How much danger are we in of ceding control of our movement to businessmen in boardrooms? (gendered language intentional)
Well, currently and in the past ASEN has received grants from some dodgy sources. The Myer Foundation, Fosters, state and federal governments and the Foundation of Young Australians have given us some of our bigger grants. Two of those foundations’ doners are directly involved in things we are campaigning against – Myer with the NT Intervention, and Fosters with the Packaging Stewardship Foundation which opposes container deposit recycling systems. And obviously, governments are involved in many atrocities across this continent. Perhaps ASEN needs a more rigorous internal approval process. When applying for grants, we should analyse how our participation in these programs legitimises our opponents. Perhaps we need to ask ourselves: What changes are we making to ourselves and to our organising because of these funding sources?
Just how reliant on foundation funding is ASEN? Well, about one quarter of our income comes from fundraising, membership and events like SoS. Another quarter comes from donations and Friends of ASEN. And around half of our income comes from grants.
A lot of emphasis is being put on Friends of ASEN, for many reasons, which until now haven’t included the explicit political arguments like those presented by INCITE!. Friends of ASEN is a much more grass-roots and ongoing source of money, both in terms of who is donating and how accessible it is for members of ASEN to get involved in. (get involved in Friends of ASEN by emailing your nearest convener or Grace – grace@localhost/asen.org.au_inital_hacked_version_2014-05-02)
When fund raising in ASEN we seriously need to ask ourselves these questions:
Could we run the project without this funding?
What will the consequences be if we rely on this money and it is pulled?
Who is benefiting from giving us money?
What conditions are placed on this money?
Are we compromising our values or beliefs to receive this money?
Can this source of funding sustain long term social change or is it for a short term project?
INCITE! is a national (US) activist organization of radical feminists of color advancing a movement to end violence against women of color and our communities through direct action, critical dialogue, and grassroots organizing.
Find more insightful material on one of the best web resources around: www.incite-national.org