We Don’t Want Your Money: A Review of “The Revolution Will Not Be Funded”

Irina Ivanova May 21, 2007

The Revolution Will Not Be Funded: Moving Beyond the Non-Profit Industrial Complex
INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence (ed).
South End Press (2007)

The Revolution Will Not Be Funded will strike a chord with many activists coming of political age after the 1990s. Notable as the first comprehensive book on the so-called Non-Profit Industrial Complex (NPIC) and its relationship to organizing movements, The Revolution articulates a protest against to the dominant do-gooder ideology many of us feel but can’t analyze.

Loosely organized into three parts — the history and definition of the NPIC, its effects on global organizing and suggestions for organizers on working with and beyond it — and attempts to strike a balance between academic analysis and the wordfrom-your-fellow-activist.

The first part is in many ways the weakest: The collection has a conspicuous lack of a continuous historical narrative to explain the NPIC. Instead, a loose tie is established between Gilded/Industrial-age fortunes that eschewed taxation and modern-day charitable foundations, before a headfirst plunge into detailed case-by-case analysis of encounters with the NPIC. It does contain several key historical pieces, including an excerpt of Robert Allen’s Black Awakening in Capitalist America.

The fundamental logic of The Revolution couldn’t be simpler: since foundation funding is a baby of the capitalist system, relying on it as primary support for counter-systemic movements is a losing proposition. Essay after essay documents grassroots movements co-opted by foundation money, then downsized or disbanded after the money was pulled. The latter half looks to alternative organizing strategies, with nods to the Zapatistas’ particular method of dealing with non-governmental (NGOs) and the Landless Workers’ movement in Brazil.

The U.S. non-profit sector is the world’s seventh-largest economy and employs a full tenth of the U.S. workforce; that it has by and large escaped harsh criticism makes this book long overdue. NGOs claiming to lean left, in particular, enjoy the generalized admonishment that they are too “soft,” a criticism couched in general gratitude that they exist at all in this political climate — any concession, no matter how small, is good, the logic goes. The Revolution tears apart any such notion of the non-profit sector as harmless or insipid, as it demonstrates how NGOs have frequently rendered ineffective or destroyed grassroots movements with which they claim sympathy. The writers, most of them organizers, speak with conviction and authority. Halfway through the essays, I wondered why the third section, Working with non-profits, even existed — a call to burn it all down would not be out of place here.

Key elements of the book suffer from an excess of academese, which is regrettable, since much of the content criticizes the over-professionalization of grassroots movements (and presumably the readers it addresses). Nonetheless, the compilation’s flaws are ultimately minor, and its attempt to elucidate a complex and oft-hidden subject largely successful. References within the essays and a list of related titles will provide rich further reading.

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