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.


DJ said...


Your remarks resonate greatly with me. Our work with the larger banks has shown what we spiritually aware professionals already know, and that is that the systems are working against the intentions of the people and more for profit, stock holders and investors. The purpose of any business is to make a profit, and proliferate to sustain and grow. The health and wellness of the individual is oftentimes overlooked completely as you'd notice the pollution of advertising and messages to spend based on fear and the promise of efficiency and status.
When fear based systems, focused on profit as it's only measure of success or failure in the market become dominating, robo-capitalism takes over and the spirit of service is forced to the back of the bus. We're seeing the karma of that only beginning now.

Michael Bischoff said...

Well said, DJ!

The movement from a single bottom line (profit) to a triple bottom line (profit, people, planet) is a bit part of the movement I'm interested in.

Liz Opp said...

In addition to the "triple bottom line" concept, I too have thought that we need a new paradigm-- a move away from strict capitalism to a more humanitarian one. Partnering captures that element, too.

Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up