Reconciling the Non-Profit “Post Industrial” Complex with Black Girls in Mind

5 Apr

Who is Anna Julia Cooper? Click here to learn more. Awesome FIRST wave Black Feminist.

On Monday, I went to visit the Score Small business mentoring office to learn about the benefits and limits of a 501 (c) (3) versus an LLC or a conventional corp. #planning. #wingsup.

I was REALLY surprised to learn that a 501 (c) (3) is seen as being owned by the public because of the tax exemptions that it receives.

I was really surprised to learn that there was an entire series of tax exempt classifications.

I also learned that,

To be tax-exempt under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, an organization must be organized and operated exclusively for exempt purposes set forth in section 501(c)(3), and none of its earnings may inure to any private shareholder or individual. In addition, it may not be an action organization, i.e., it may not attempt to influence legislation as a substantial part of its activities and it may not participate in any campaign activity for or against political candidates.

This has huge implications for Black girls, in that I know that 501 (c) (3)’s are relatively recent institutional creations charity wise. This also makes me I wonder what was the unstated rational for preventing 501 (c) (3)’s from being allowed to be involved in electoral politics.

Here is the exact language,

Under the Internal Revenue Code, all section 501(c)(3) organizations are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office. Contributions to political campaign funds or public statements of position (verbal or written) made on behalf of the organization in favor of or in opposition to any candidate for public office clearly violate the prohibition against political campaign activity.

Were 501 (c) (3)’s created, in part, to absorbed the progressive energies of women while also giving them a wage?


What happens to Black girls employed in 501 (c) (3)’s when the executive directors don’t know that they are magic, and attempt to relegate their duties to to administrative realm ?

Don’t get me wrong, I have been an admin before, and I enjoyed the work, because not only was I good at it, but I was also recognized as being a extremely good at it.  I can run your office. Trust. Without an awesome admin, you don’t have an office.

However, if you are a Black woman who is a policy expert, health expert or finance expert and you have to keep struggling to not have your position turned into one that is increasingly administrative and marginalized, and less focused on your expertise, it feels both racialized and gendered. Our mothers and fathers did not sacrifice and fight tooth and nail for us to go to school, only to be treated like administrative mammies in the workplace. #DamnthatwasaTangent. #HadsomeShittoSay.

Which leads me to the question of how does this rule impact the lives of women in general, women of color in particular?

How does the creation of 527’s impact the lives of women of color?

How different would community organizing look of 501(c)(3)’s could participate in electoral politics?

Black Girl 501 (c) (3) thoughts? I wonder what Latoya thinks…

13 Responses to “Reconciling the Non-Profit “Post Industrial” Complex with Black Girls in Mind”

  1. Lynwellyn Gudger April 5, 2012 at 8:30 AM #

    I want to say I find it revolutionary to look at how we structure “nonprofits” in light of how federal policy shapes corporate “activism” (lobbying, campaign contributions, superpacs) in the era of the SCOTUS ruling in Citizen’s United. Money is speech…or is it profit? Nonprofit organizations have no “money”-that is to say, profit- and therefore no speech. Considering the disproportionate numbers of people of color who are silenced, while actors, often with competing interests, flood politicians and candidates elected (or to be elected) by the people with nice cash bounties, I think taking a look at how we structure nonprofits in relation to activism is an important social justice question.

    • Girl Replanted April 5, 2012 at 11:55 AM #

      Completely agree. I read “The Revolution will Not Be Funded” when I was working for a 501c3. Leadership was not willing to address difficult questions of funding limitations- we had to make due with what we had. But I saw other organizations like ours (run by Black women, Latinas and Asian women, notably) that were cutting their federal funds, going private and having enormous success- not just in how much money they had to work with, but also their REACH. This notion of money as voice is horrific. “The masters tool will never dismantle the masters house…”

  2. ronwf April 5, 2012 at 11:57 AM #

    Were 501 (c) (3)’s created, in part, to absorbed the progressive energies of women while also giving them a wage?

    The tax code classificatoin 501(c)(3) was set up to provide a structure wherein organizations whose mission was to provide a particular social good that did not include providing profits for shareholders would not be taxed as heavily as for-profit-organizations, thus encouraging and support private provision of such social goods (being far preferable than leaving it up to the government). They’ve been around for decades. The “progressive energies of women” was not a matter of concern at the time – it wasn’t even a concept.

    Which leads me to the question of how does this rule impact the lives of women in general, women of color in particular?

    I would say that it gives you a chance to create an organization that furthers a set of goals – e.g., helping young women find educational opportunities – without having to pay heavy taxes or worrying about satisfying stockholders. Understand that a 501(c)(3) organization CAN earn a profit. Indeed, any organization must earn a profit or else it will go out of business. What the phrase “not-for-profit” means in this context is that there cannot be stockholders who get dividends (shares) of the company’s profits. Any profit that the company makes over and above what they need to meet payroll and other expenses must be spent on the mission of the organization. For example, a not-for-profit hospital makes a profit of $10 million one year after meeting expenses. It cannot distribute that money to the people who put up the money to build the hospital in the first place. But it can save some of it and invest it as a cushion against future unexepected expenses, or it can use it to build a new maternity center or buy an MRI machine.

    • crunktastic April 5, 2012 at 12:59 PM #

      I really hate mansplaining. It’s unproductive, not to mention that the use of rhetorical questions usually flies over the man’s head. Obviously.

  3. ronwf April 5, 2012 at 12:02 PM #

    Remember that if you take the government’s money you dance to the government’s tune. If you run a private concern (such as a 501(c)(3)) that operates based on private donations and the profits from services rendered, then you do not have to answer to the government. Consider that the odds are reasonable that in January of 2013 we will have a Republican House, Senate and White House. The odds of having a Republican House are excellent and a Republican Senate quite high in any case. Do you want to be in the position of being dependent on the government in such a case?

  4. Mistinguette April 5, 2012 at 3:15 PM #

    This black girl has worked in, led, sat on the board of, and been a grant-maker to nonprofit organizations for 35 years: I know my way around this block. By the time I was skilled enough to be an executive leader of a nonprofit, the idea that a 501(c)3 is a “charitable purpose” organization wasn’t news. Nor was it news that there are 28 kinds of 501(c) organizations, including 501(c)4s, which permit lobbying, issue advocacy and political endorsements – but individual donations to them are not tax exempt and they are not eligible for government or philanthropic grants. I am savvy enough to know that some 501(c)3 organizations should also set up a 501(c)4 related organization that does nothing but political advocacy related to their issue. I know how to set up, raise funds for, and govern both of them. I know the difference between a 527 and a 501(c)4.

    And I am not unique. There are plenty of black women leading nonprofits today who know this – if all this is news to you, then it means you owe them sistahs some props. Running an effective social change organization requires sophisticated knowledge of tax codes and intricate governance issues, not just the ability to do good organizing work or speak to the social/political issue at hand.

    It makes me happy to see folks think critically about the intentions of the charitable model (which I think is the fundamental issue here — charity vs social action — , not the IRS tax status). Please know you are not the first to have this : I read “The Revolution Will Not Be Funded: and though “But where’s the news? I could have told you this in 1976!”

    It makes me sad, though, that you seem not to know that there are at least two generations of black women like me who already know how to “werk” this nonprofit gig. We have spent a lifetime taking these means that were not set up to serve us, and used them to achieve radical and powerful ends – many of them ends that you share. We may note be as famous as Anna Julia Cooper (or Mary McLeod Bethune or Oprah or Johnetta Cole or…) but we are here. Walking right by your side.

    • crunktastic April 5, 2012 at 10:36 PM #

      You sound like a really wonderful resource for the author of this post and others similarly interested. And yet your indignant and chastising tone are off-putting, though I’m not sure that this was your intention. I find it unfortunate that you felt you had to defend your life’s work and the work of others. I didn’t get the sense from reading that the author intended to attack or gloss over the work that’s been done. Perhaps it is that generational feeling of being incensed/offended at the quickness with which young organizers seem to erase the past. But what was clear to me based upon the first two paragraphs of the post is that the author was just beginning her research. Moreover, from my reading, the questions she asks are still justified, though the articles you point to might certainly provide additional context. Additionally, whenever I hear young sisters talking about wanting to start an organization, they always start with a 501 (c)(3) as that is what is most usually well-known. Perhaps you might consider that the vast knowledge you have is a direct result of your many years of this experience. But that doesn’t mean that that info is general knowledge. And even if it is accessible, if a sister doesn’t know to even ask the questions, then she won’t have access to all the resources you point to. This post helped me to at least ask the questions, which I certainly have never done, and I consider myself pretty well-informed. Just know that we are very attuned in this community to the long history of sisters doing fierce organizing. Thanks for pointing to some specific places to go to enrich our collective knowledge base. And thanks for all the work you’ve done. Peace.

  5. Reninaj April 5, 2012 at 7:42 PM #

    I did not think I was being rhetorical, but now that you point it out……:)

    @Girl Replanted
    Why do you think that the organizations ran by women of color fared better as private institutions rather than public ones? More autonomy?

    @ Lynwellyn Gudger
    @ Girl Replanted
    The notion of money as speech is certainly significant, in a country where historically marginalized folks (Black men and women, Latino folks, Asian folks, White women, Sexual minorities across race) have struggled to be recognized as FULL Citizens.

    There are some connections between money as speech and the public sphere that deserve to be theorized.

    How does money as speech impact the lives of marginalized folks?

    Before you dismiss the progressive energies of women by saying that it was not a matter of concern at that time, I would like to know, what do you know about the history of women’s social movement work? If the answer is very little, you may want to click on the Anna Julia Cooper link I pasted on the top of this post. Because, Black women have a long history of organizing, since chattel slavery.

  6. Reninaj April 6, 2012 at 8:34 AM #

    @ Mistinguette

    By no means did I intend to erase the work of two generations of Black women, in fact my work is rooted in making the work that women do visible.

    In fact, I cut my teeth as a youth advocate in Oakland and San Francisco learning from Black, Asian and Latino men and women who did both grass roots work, AND state sanctioned/funded work.

    Because I am interested in women of color who are looking to do work at the intersection of electoral politics and non profit work, I would be happy to learn more about any women or institutions that are doing this kind of “hybrid” work in 2012, in the US.

    Lastly I know that Black women have historically figured out how to make institutional apparatuses work for them, even though they were not designed with them in mind. The first example that comes to mind are Black women in the 60’s/70’s? to receive not only “public assistance” benefits but argued to have their child rearing work be treated as valued labor.

    Which leads me to (paraphrase) Lorde who says that black women were never “meant” to survive.

  7. Sara Tansey April 7, 2012 at 9:24 AM #

    thank you for this post and for sparking this whole discussion. i think the point about creating the non profit “post industrial” complex in order to absorb the progressive energies of women while simultaneously placating us with salaries we think are making a difference is dead on. i radicalized in the world of southern non profit organizing where i worked for a sweet little outfit, dominated by incredible women. but as soon as a few of us started pushing to do more in your face environmental justice work and more self critical organizational culture restructuring, shit got real. we had to do work that didnt threaten our funders, that our funders were excited about. it was all numbers crunching and reform oriented activism. the world of non profit organizing gives us a very limited scope in which we’re told we can change this country and neutralizes the more “threatening” organizers by creating a box around them.

    i imagine that non profits that went private or that aggressively switched their funding sources from traditional foundation funding, etc. to grassroots fundraising were more successful because they did have more autonomy. when youre not cow towing to funders in the same way for profits are cow towing to their bottom line, then you can do the organizing work that scares people, that makes people uncomfortable but that actually has potential for shifting things.

    i would be interested to see a similarly critical article around the efficacy of political activism and reform based activism and how they also absorb the energies of more marginalized and radical voices.

  8. 7venharris April 9, 2012 at 9:33 AM #

    Yes. Explore obtaining a 501 (c) 4 and then do your thing!

  9. counterftnoire April 16, 2012 at 12:33 AM #

    Reblogged this on Nerd Noire Undercover.

  10. manish May 3, 2012 at 5:34 PM #

    Thanks for this. So many of my loved ones are burnt out on nonprofits…on that feeling of not having any real power, even if they’re an executive director or on the board…having to tap dance to try to get money for our folks from the white/male/straight/ableist/owning-class system…

    Maybe some of your readers would be into submitting something for this (totally shameless plug)?

    Agen(c)y: A QTPOC Cabaret on the Nonprofit Industrial Complex

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