Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Stories of Faith and Organizational Life, Dec. 3

I'm helping organize and moderate this event. I think it will be a fascinating combination of stories and people from many sectors of work and faith traditions. Join us if you can.

You are invited:

Stories of Faith and
Organizational Life

  • Explore the tensions between one's faith journey and the pressures of organizational leadership.
  • How do these tensions change you as an individual?
  • How do these tensions change the organization?

December 3, 2009
6:00 - 9:00 pm

The program includes a light supper, a panel of organizational
leaders reflecting on their personal experience with the topic,
and group discussion.

Introduction: Michael Naughton, Director, John A. Ryan Institute for Catholic Social Thought


  • John Wheeler, Former General Manger, Mall of America; Currently Director of Business Incubators for the Neighborhood Development Center
  • Lori Tapani, Co-President, Wyoming Machine, Inc.
  • Damon Drake, Community Connections Manager, St. Paul Youth Services; Former Outreach Director, Council on American-Islamic Relations-MN
  • Patty Diamond, Ethics Teacher, Former Family Attractions Business Developer

Location: Reell Precision Manufacturing, 1259 Willow Lake Blvd, St Paul, MN)

Free registration. Please RSVP: or or 612-234-1122.
Donations accepted at the event, for dinner and to support Seeing Things Whole.

Organized by Seeing Things Whole

Co-sponsored by:

  • John A. Ryan Institute for Catholic Social Thought,University of St. Thomas\
  • The Islamic Center of Minnesota
  • St. Paul Interfaith Network
  • Center for Faith and Learning, Augsburg College
  • Faith and Work Program, St. Olaf Catholic Church
  • Jay Phillips Center for Interfaith Learning
  • Jewish Community Relations Council
  • Magis Ventures
  • Clarity Facilitation

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

What does it mean to be a nonprofit in a declining empire? Part 2

In my last post, I made some sweeping statements about what it means to be a nonprofit organization within a declining empire. So what might it look like if nonprofits were taking "proactive and transformative steps from domination systems to partnership systems"?

1. We might start building alternative forms of community and ways of meeting needs that will survive after the "phantom wealth economy" economy collapses, after oil is not affordable, and after the effects of climate change have increased. These initiatives might rely less on government or foundation funding. These ways of working might organize volunteers and communities for mutual support,relying less on professionals providing services to clients and more on participants serving each other. Local barter networks, like Hour Dollars, are one encouraging example of this to me.

2. Initiatives might be very locally-based, but also globally interconnected.
I imagine small, local, and decentralized work that is also highly networked. Local Community Supported Agriculture farms and the networks that tie them together are one form of this. Through the Internet, sites like Caring Bridge help develop and strengthen very personal networks, so people can support each other. How can these type of networks, that have small, local bases, and that are also globally connected develop to meet many needs?

3. New cross-sector collaborations will be developed. The resources and strategies from nonprofit, business, government, education, and other sectors will all be needed in this shift from domination systems to partnership systems. The capacity for this cross-sector collaboration can be built in any type of work. At the nonprofit/foundation conference that I went to recently, I was happy to hear Steve Gunderson's call for increased public/philanthropic/private partnerships. The urban/suburban and nonprofit/government partnerships at the Peace Foundation in Minneapolis is an encouraging local example to me.

4. New forms of organizational structures and management are developing, that reflect adaptive and decentralized collaboration. The book, the Starfish and the Spider, talks about many "leaderless" companies, that are not based on central control and hierarchy, but on wide-spread collaboration. Wikipedia, for example, has millions of volunteers writing and editing encyclopedias. How might this broad, "open source" type of collaboration apply to other types of businesses?

5. We might start sharing more of what we have and learning to live on less. We have enough food and shelter for everyone. We just need to get better at sharing it. I'm encouraged by groups that distribute the excesses of society, for the benefit of those who are in need. In the Twin Cities, Sisters' Camelot shares organic produce for free.

6. We might cultivate purpose and meaning from things other than material and career acquisition. For example, MetLife Insurance's Mature Market Institute studies and education emphasize the importance of having purpose in one's life as an essential part of satisfaction as we age.

7. We might fit more naturally into ecosystems we are a part of and learn from processes in nature. In addition to reducing the environmental impact of our organizations, we might learn from the biomimicry that many science organizations are learning from. For instance, this group is learning from termites about how to heat and cool homes.

8. And, some of us are called to help the current domination systems crumble. There are many innovations being developed in nonviolent action, to withdraw support from broken banking systems, corrupt governments, harmful environmental practices, and much more.
Most of us in the nonprofit sector aren't ready for this active, large-scale confrontation. However, we can still build alternative ways of meeting needs and being community for each other--developing now what will work after domination systems fade or fall away.

The nonprofit field has a reputation of being a couple decades behind for-profit management in cutting edge developments, but nonprofit management has the ability to lead the way through the shift from domination systems to partnership systems that we are in the midst of.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

What does it mean to be a nonprofit in a declining empire? Part 1

We, in the United States, live in an empire that is not sustainable--ecologically, economically, or ethically. Despite the current recession, we are still one of the richest countries in history, with as broad of global influence and control as any other empire in history. The extreme gaps in wealth, between countries and between individuals within this country, are maintained by military and economic force. I think that this current economic downturn is a small movement compared to the eventual collapse of current economic systems. Behind most existing economic and political systems is a worldview that some call the "domination system," which assumes that society works by having groups control and dominate others. I think that the worldview of the domination system is slowly and painfully failing. I see an essential role of mission-driven organizations as being a bridge from societies based on domination systems to societies based on partnership systems. (1)

Last week I was at a conference put on by the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits and Minnesota Council on Foundations called "Transforming our Work." At the conference, I didn't hear us talking like I just did in the last paragraph. I heard us talk about ways to adjust our fundraising and management methods so we can survive these lean times. We hope and wait for the economy to come back, but I largely heard us leave the domination system in place.
We were looking for ways to get big enough pieces of the pie of current systems (from corporations, wealthy individuals, government, etc.) so that we survive organizationally and individually, and so we can continue to serve our clients.

I liked the conference, and found it useful. It also left me longing for ways that I and the broader fields of nonprofits and foundations could take proactive and transformative steps from domination systems to partnership systems. Of the conference speakers that I heard, Steve Gunderson's call for increased public/philanthropic/private partnerships came the closest to what I was longing for.

I'm going to continue writing about this topic in future posts. In the meantime, please challenge and respond to the many assumptions in this post.


(1) This paragraph contains oodles of assumptions and jargon. These books by Walter Wink and David Korten spell out much more about the idea of a "domination system" and alternative systems.