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August Must-Reads 2019

Here's what we've been reading this summer. What caught your attention?

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This summer, we’ve been thinking about power – the power of political engagement in pushing forward nonprofits’ efforts and how power shows up in evaluating social change. We learned about the power of an Atlanta-based collaborative driving change in the city. We explored a timeline of how laws and practices have led philanthropy to accumulate and privatize wealth. And we read about how financial struggles led to the closure of the social impact-focused publication BRIGHT Magazine.

What would you add to this list? Tweet us your recommendations @WeDreamForward.

1. Getting Political Is Good for Everyone

STRATEGY | Stanford Social Innovation Review | 6-minute read

It’s a myth that nonprofits can’t get political. In fact, to tackle challenges like childhood hunger at a systems level, nonprofits must engage in political activity. In this article, Billy Shore – the founder of Share Our Strength and Community Wealth Partners – writes about how fostering political support can help nonprofits scale their efforts, garner more resources, and engage executive leadership to help bring about long-term impact. He also shares five lessons learned in Share Our Strength’s political engagement:

  1. Getting political is often about educating, not necessarily lobbying or campaigning.
  2. Nonprofits need to build their internal political capacity.
  3. Building capacity sometimes means buying it.
  4. Political success requires that nonprofits take the long view.
  5. Nonprofits are not alone.

2. Six things we’ve learned about power – and their implications for evaluation

EVALUATION | Medium| 11-minute read

Though building and shifting power is critical in making social change, conversations about power don’t often happen when we talk about funding and evaluating that change. In this blog post, the Innovation Network shares what they’ve learned about power-building efforts of organizations, networks, and movements. Alongside each lesson learned, they share some implications for evaluating social change efforts.

  • Lesson 1: Concepts of power are contested.
  • Lesson 2: Power is dynamic and multidimensional.
  • Lesson 3: Examining power can help us understand the structural forces that enable or constrain change efforts.
  • Lesson 4: Power building is at the heart of grassroots-led change efforts and can help us understand the progress and success of change initiatives.
  • Lesson 5: Power to, power with, and power within are three expressions of power building that provide us with a starter framework for assessing power.
  • Lesson 6: Governing, people, and narrative power are three common types of power building that advance structural change.


3. A BRIGHT Farewell


In this farewell letter, the editor of BRIGHT Magazine Sarika Bansal shares why the small, independent, social impact-focused magazine closed. In short: funding dwindled. The magazine turned down some foundation funding when the funders sought to highlight issues that mattered most to them – an emphasis that deviated from the magazine’s mission. Outside of philanthropy, the magazine found that its revenue-generating experiments required heavy effort and upfront money and didn’t bring in enough revenue. The magazine’s closure offers lessons for funders and independent media alike.

“Something can be worthwhile AND difficult to fund. That’s okay. The latter does not negate the former,” said Bansal.

4. Equity, Health, Resilience, and Jobs: Lessons from the Just Growth Circle

COLLABORATIVES | Nonprofit Quarterly | 15-minute read

The Atlanta-based Just Growth Circle – an initiative that grew out of a collaboration between Partnership for Southern Equity and Climate Interactive – is shifting the city’s urban planning conversation to focus on issues like racial equity, economic justice, and climate change. The circle, which is made up of businesses, politicians, nonprofits, academics, and community members, strives to help Atlantans understand the complex systems they live in and put power in their hands to identify opportunities for change. As a result of this, say the writers, the circle has helped shape a watershed restoration plan that includes commitments to protect against displacement and benefit marginalized neighborhoods. In this article, the authors write about the circle’s shared values and how they’ve designed their work.

5. Stifled Generosity: How philanthropy has fueled the accumulation and privatization of wealth

HISTORY OF PHILANTHROPY | Justice Funders | 8-minute read

Although the original definition of philanthropy is “love of humanity,” the field has fueled the accumulation and privatization of wealth. In order to reclaim that original definition and move toward a just future, we must understand the past, according to Justice Funders, a partner and guide to funders. To help better understand this history, Justice Funders developed a timeline that walks through the development of laws and practices in philanthropy over the last 100 years.


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