Ken Goldstein, MPPA

Ken Goldstein has been working in nonprofits and local government agencies from Santa Cruz, to Sacramento, and back to Silicon Valley, since 1989. He's been staff, volunteer, board member, executive director, and, since 2003, a consultant to local nonprofit organizations. For more on Ken's background, click here. If you are interested in retaining Ken's services, you may contact him at ken at

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Nonprofits and the 99%

By now I'm guessing that you have all heard about the Occupy Wall Street protests and the 99% movement. The Wall Street protests started more than three weeks ago, and was at first largely absent from the domestic press, with coverage only getting to us through the European press until the story was just too big to ignore.

What surprises me is how little I'm still hearing from the nonprofit press about the movement. Perhaps they see the protests as happening outside of the nonprofit sector, being organized without the benefit of structured 501(c)(3)'s, boards of directors, strategic plans, or foundation funding. Perhaps many nonprofits themselves are wary of being seen as part of a protest movement, coveting their professional standing and reputation, thinking they are above the rabble.

But when you look at the protesters, listen to their grievances, and think about what they're looking for, it is inescapable that are us, and they are ours.

Those involved in Occupy Wall Street, and newer Occupy (fill in city name) movements across the country, are collectively the 99%. Not the owners of the banks or large corporations, but the rest of us, working to survive.

They are the middle-aged middle-managers who have found themselves laid off, retirement plans raided, homes foreclosed on, and health insurance canceled. They are the young, fresh college graduates with $50-$100,000 in student loan debt, fighting to get a part-time minimum wage job and holding no hope for the future. They are single parents struggling to keep a roof, any roof, over their children's heads. In short, they are the clients at all of our nonprofit human services organizations.

And, as workers in a traditionally low-wage industry, we in the nonprofit sector are also all in the 99%. We too watched as other industries got bailed out while we slashed our own budgets and laid off staff.

If you see your clients, your staff, and your organization's mission, reflected in the stories of those "occupying" Wall Street and elsewhere, what are you doing to support them? I know, you're afraid of jeopardizing your nonprofit status by "getting too political." But short of endorsing a particular candidate or ballot proposition, there's much you can do.

Begin by simply getting informed about local "Occupy (your city)" meetings, and sharing that information with your clients. Let them know how they can advocate for themselves, and empower them to fight for their future.

Perhaps your organization can't officially march in a protest, but off the clock you certainly can as a citizen. Invite a board member to come with you. Start a discussion and see where it goes.

Read the stories posted at "We are the 99 Percent."

Visit Occupy Together, and the "Events" pull-down menu find your region and search for your closest Occupy event. Follow them on Twitter and Facebook, and learn what's happening in your area.

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