Reviewed by Niels Strandskov
It is hard to imagine the United States without its non-profit sector. Many of the essential functions of society, from pre-natal care to cemetery maintenance, fall within the purview of non-profit organizations. Americans expect non-profits to heal the sick, feed the poor, create art, foster learning, rehabilitate the lapsed, and applaud the heroic. Even those who are not dependent on non-profits for our livelihood can hardly go a day without interacting with this class of organizations.
For all the social good that non-profits promote, there remains an ideological paradox surrounding their existence: How do organizations which seek to change society for the better reconcile their aims with the very social forces which create the problems they are trying to alleviate? A recent collection of essays, The Revolution Will Not Be Funded: Beyond the Non-Profit Industrial Complex, argues forcefully that this paradox is only solvable by abandoning the non-profit model, at least as far as social justice organizations are concerned.
Edited by the activist group INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence, the collection was inspired by that organization's demoralizing experience as the sometime recipient of grants from large foundations. Specifically, INCITE! lost a major grant because it refused to toe the mainstream liberal line on the issue of solidarity with Palestinian resistance. When INCITE!'s members started organizing and educating themselves about their place in the non-profit world, they found the results disquieting. A 2004 conference on the question of taking money from large funders was the result, and that in turn led to the publication of this book.
Always unabashedly polemical, the essays here are mostly the result of similar disillusionments suffered by the members of other activist groups. A Seattle anti-rape group found itself marginalized for advancing a critique of sexual violence that encompassed class and race, finding fault with the organs of the state in addition to individual offenders. A group of Native women in the early 1970s became increasingly skeptical of the wave of professionalization and state accommodation that followed the flowering of radical action around peace and civil rights. And several academics chart the machinations by some of the largest foundations to steer African-American civil rights organizations away from protest and into non-threatening programs like job creation.
The Revolution Will Not Be Funded has already made quite a splash in radical circles. Although its critique is firmly rooted in a certain segment of the activist milieu, its broader message bears considering by all activists, and many non-activists as well. Can we really expect to see positive change when the salaries of most organizers depend on the approval of grant-making bodies that are governed by corporate executives and others close to the centers of power? These essays make a persuasive case that the answer is "No," and that the sooner activists separate themselves from grant-makers, the better it will be for everyone who wants to see a new world open up before us.
Books mentioned in this post