Sustaining Organizing Study

Sustaining Organizing

Sustaining Organizing Study (SOS): A Strategic Social Justice Movement Assessment

Building the Social Justice Movement: Our Knowledge Will Not Be Televised…

For the first twenty years of its existence since 1977, DataCenter did research for the movement, by studying the “enemy” and ensuring Right to Know. For the next ten years, we also researched with the movement, helping communities research themselves. Now, we are poised, with other allies coming together to say, “Our Knowledge Will Not Be Televised!” The social justice movement is on level playing field with other institutions in society when we see research by the movement, for the movement, of the movement!

Sustaining Our Organizations

It’s a common thing these days when you come across someone working in the non-profit world to immediately ask how their organization and the work is faring in the current financial crisis.  Hearing stories both about the impact as well as interesting and innovating ways that groups have been sustaining themselves, the DataCenter, in partnership with the National Organizers Alliance, launched the Sustaining Organizing Study – an in-depth assessment of the impact of the economy on movement building and organizing work – in June, 2009.   The summer consisted of project design and a literature review that is now available on the project’s blog.  The next phase will include a survey of organizations and interviews with various stakeholders.   The SOS Project is guided by an Advisory Committee to ensure the inquiry is directed at the findings that will most benefit the organizing groups in honing their strategies for sustainability in organizing.

Project Advisor Sayo’:kla D. Kindness-Williams (Turtle Clan, Oneida Nation of WI) says that a “study of this nature is important to the sustainability of the organizations we have made long-term investments in. There is an ever-growing need for our work to continue and as this need increases we must be able to expand our services to meet the needs of our communities and we must also be able to plan for the future.”

The project’s literature review found over 60 reports and related articles that documented how deeply non-profits are hurt.  It is clear that organizations are struggling.  But it isn’t just about retelling the story of how hard groups have been hit, but as another Project Advisor Denise Perry, and Executive Director of Power U Center for Social Change in Miami, notes, “many organizations are struggling to figure out new ways to run their organizations with either less money or finding new sources of money.  It’s about any help we can provide for people to not feel isolated in this process, to not feel that they have just lost it all because they have not been able to maintain or increase their income but rather for helping folks expand and challenge their thinking.”  She referenced this era of hardship to the ‘special period’ when Cuba lost its support of the Soviet Union – “this is our ‘special period’,” she said; and it is now that we must capitalize on the moment (as surely did Cuba!), find opportunities for increased organizing in these challenging times, and be more thoughtful as movement builders.

The SOS Project will ask hundreds of organizers and base-building groups around the country through a recently launched online survey about the extent of the impact, and also innovative strategies they’re trying. The findings are sure to shed the light on the wealth of wisdom that exist among the day to day struggles of those on the forefront of building the social justice movement – and synthesize them with existing research to inform our priorities as a movement.

The Project includes a blog that hopes to promote dialog, exchanges of best practices and engage on strategies. The project will continue through Spring 2010, and findings will be released through convenings, webinars and the blog, culminating in a release event at the USSF in Detroit, MI. So stay tuned! And get involved today, by contacting me, at

Blog link:

SOS Advisory Committee:

Lian Cheun, Khmer Girls for Action
Marjorie Fine, The Linchpin Campaign
Priscilla Hung, Grassroots Institute for Fundraising Training (GIFT)
Sayòkla D. Kindness-Williams, Turtle Clan, Oneida Nation of WI
Arif Mamdani , Progressive Technology Project
Denise Perry, Power U Center for Social Change