The Revolution Will Not Be Funded: Non-Profit Complicity

Off and on, I’ve been reading wonderful, radical, and humbling writings put together by INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence, entitled The Revolution Will Not Be Funded: Beyond the Non-Profit Industrial Complex.  I found some resources on their site which help simplify their argument: non-profit/non-governmental organizations often enable the systems they claim to disable.


The non-profit industrial complex (or the NPIC) is a system of relationships between:

  • the State (or local and federal governments)

  • the owning classes

  • foundations

  • and non-profit/NGO social service & social justice organizations

that results in the surveillance, control, derailment, and everyday management of political movements. The state uses non-profits to:

  • Monitor and control social justice movements;

  • Divert public monies into private hands through foundations;

  • Manage and control dissent in order to make the world safe for capitalism;

  • Redirect activist energies into career-based modes of organizing instead of mass-based organizing capable of actually transforming society;

  • Allow corporations to mask their exploitative and colonial work practices through “philanthropic” work;

  • Encourage social movements to model themselves after capitalist structures rather than to challenge them

Read further.

Keep in mind, non-profit job growth often outpaces private sector growth.  This is a growing industry.

Anyone involved in this type of work will consider the system’s good intentions, but may find an alienation from executive/donor-level management which can really muck up an organization’s on-the-ground staff.  If you understand systems, often this conflict with management reflects the state of a system and the roles assigned within.

Working directly with folks an organization may label “clients”, it can be aggravating when important directives are passed from the top down.  This frustration personally led me on a journey of understanding what executive non-profit staff are concerned with.  Most often, they are concerned with the proper functioning and budgeting of their organization.  As the size of the organization grows, the gap between the community and the executive-level staff increases.  This is not due to a lack of care, it tends to be the price one pays when they enroll themselves in high-stakes fundraising, board meetings, budgets, and other operational concerns.

After working in both small and large non-profits with varying budgets, I can report this effect is par for the course.  There is very little accountability for community engagement, and I have sadly encountered an “us” vs. “them” mentality that is pervasive in corporately-organized NGO’s.  To me, these organizations represent the anti-grassroots, and will never achieve the type of community investment a sustainable movement for human rights requires.