How Nonprofits Stifle Meaningful Change, and Why
A review & discussion of the book The Revolution Will Not Be Funded
Initially, I picked up a copy of The Revolution Will Not Be Funded: Beyond the Non-Profit Industrial Complex expecting to read about how nonprofit organizations exploit the passion of their employees and volunteers, and push them to work far harder than is healthy or sustainable for them.
In my own writing, I am obsessed with how organizations feed off our culture’s hatred of “laziness” and manipulate workers’ emotions in order to keep them grinding to the point of exhaustion. And as an academic with a partner who has worked for numerous nonprofits, I know that labor exploitation doesn’t begin or end in the for-profit world. I have witnessed in my own activist work how compassion can be used against you, to erode your boundaries and keep you agreeable and compliant even when the group loses sight of its original cause.
I did not find the validation I was seeking in The Revolution Will Not Be Funded. Instead, I found something far more important: a multidisciplinary, well-researched explanation of how nonprofits and the foundations that fund them often ground political progress to a halt, stifle revolutionary movements, and warp compassion from a lifelong cause, into a self-serving career.
Throughout the 20th century, a variety of changes to tax law and cuts to social welfare programs in the U.S. gradually pushed nonprofits away from empowering disenfranchised groups from the ground up, and toward dispensing temporary “services" to marginalized “customers" instead, typically under the financial support (and control) of foundation and government grants.
If you hold a lot of capital, it makes sense to start your own foundation, and use it to pick and choose which kinds of social causes you want to support. The tax breaks you get on money filtered through a foundation are enormous. It can reduce your income tax, and lower or eliminate your estate tax. Money put into a foundation can still be invested and compounded over time. And as The Revolution Will Not Be Funded explains, only a small percentage of a foundation’s money actually needs to go toward nonprofits or programs. As government funding for welfare, disability benefits, food…