Workers in the Non-Profit Sector

At Dan Nickerson's Working Class workshop this past November, several of us got together to talk about the role of workers in the non-profit sector in bringing about the transformation of society.


We are people who give our lives to social change. We know that we are in this struggle together, and a special camaraderie develops among co-workers that is harder to achieve in other work settings. By committing our work lives to social change, we get a lot of time to practice useful skills and gain experience. In particular, community organizing skills and the skills we have gained in RC are quickly and easily transferable into the work we do.

We have the opportunity to fully dedicate ourselves to something we believe in.

Our grassroots organizations are laying the groundwork for surviving the collapse of capitalism. We're working on the alternative structures, the infrastructure for a new society.


We are financially vulnerable and usually dependent on the goodwill of wealthy people to keep our organizations functioning. We are forced to court middle- and owning-class people for our projects to survive. We find ourselves pretending that we aren't planning to completely transform society in order not to lose their support. We deal with the classism between boards of directors and workers and are often treated paternalistically by board members.

We tend to feel that "if I don't swim, I'll sink": the survival of our project appears to be at stake if we are not consumed with it at every moment. We worry a lot about money.

We are overworked and are paid too little. Therefore, staff turns over quickly. When we lose staff, we experience setbacks in our organizing work since it's all based on building relationships.


We need to become experts at counseling middle- and owning-class people. This is key for raising money in order to operate, as well as for reminding our board members how they yearn to dedicate themselves to truly human, liberationist goals. We need to treat our board members and other donors like the human beings they are, rather than as authority figures from our past.

We need to make a commitment to an organization and stay with it, modeling how to hang in there for the long run with people and goals.

We need to organize for better working conditions and sector-wide policies on salary, compensatory time, etc. We need to fight for policies that equalize the power of staff and boards.


Love and appreciate us for what we do, then take us by the hand and help us find the time to enjoy our lives.

Our middle- and owning-class allies can take on the distresses of members of the boards of nonprofits and offer them the highest vision of what society can be like.

Remind us that we are full members of the working class. We would appreciate being able to consult with our sisters and brothers who are union activists about organizing workers.

Jenny Helbraun Abramson, David Franklin, and Carolyn White
Berkeley and Sonora, California, USA

Last modified: 2022-12-25 10:17:04+00