Equipping nonprofits to advance social change

Tag: Sean Thomas-Breitfeld

Asking Powerful Questions

This report profiles two organizations that began asking new and powerful questions in their work with clients and volunteers. In the case of Crisis Assistance Ministry – an organization providing support to people and families experiencing financial emergencies in Charlotte, NC – the addition of a simple question about voter registration to their standard battery of questions to screen individuals’ eligibility for public benefits both increased the civic engagement of clients and launched an organization-wide shift towards greater advocacy. For reStart, Inc. in Kansas City, MO, the organization had always relied on volunteers to help serve homeless youth, families and adults, but when they began asking people to reflect on both their volunteer experience and perceptions of homelessness, it deepened volunteers’ motivation to support the organization and the people they help.

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Breakfast in Detroit

Sean Thomas-Breitfeld and Caitlin Endyke profile one of the case studies featured in our recent report, Building Community from the Inside Out, on how small organizational shifts can lead to large impacts.  This piece was originally featured in Transformation, a new online publication from Michael Edwards and openDemocracy.

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For Full Inclusion and Equality, Must Look Beyond Marriage

As the Supreme Court prepares to submit rulings on the two same-sex marriage cases awaiting decision right now, Sean Thomas-Bretifeld discusses the implications of these decisions and what they will mean for the LGBT movement moving forward.  A strike down of DOMA and California's Proposition 8 will mean a big win in the recent string of marriage equality victories. Yet Sean, citing the findings of our new report, argues that the legal changes represented in these marriage equality wins aren't enough to solve greater injustices or prevent other kinds of further discrimination, like housing and employment.  Instead, he argues that a movement based on a broader coalition that is focused on a more comprehensive social justice platform will do more to bring the LGBT community closer to full inclusion. 

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Learning How to ACT UP

Sean Thomas-Breitfeld reflects on what it was about the film United in Anger that motivated him to create an accompanying discussion guide for activists and organizers: I first saw the documentary United in Anger: A History of ACT UP a year ago. As I watched the film, I was engrossed in story of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power. I was inspired by the successes of this movement that made it possible for an HIV diagnosis to not be an immediate death sentence. But I was also moved to tears by the footage of activists scattering the ashes of those who lost their lives to the virus. When I reflected on the film though, what struck me the most was the willingness of the filmmaker, Jim Hubbard, to explore the internal divisions and debates that struggled to manage in the midst of its fight against widespread indifference by the government, researchers and healthcare industry. Although it would have been tempting to overlook the internal strife in service of a triumphant narrative about ACT UP, this complexity made the film both refreshing and instructive.

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United in Anger

United in Anger: A History of ACT UP is a moving and inspiring film, and a great resource for organizers and activists of all stripes. This packet of discussion guides is designed to help groups learn from the example of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power and apply the lessons of ACT UP’s organizing tactics and campaign strategies to their own movements today. The first guide in the packet is for a single viewing of the full film, with discussion questions and an activity. The second guide splits the film into four sections, for groups of activists who want to watch and reflect on the film over the course of a month of weekly meetings. No matter which discussion guide your organization uses, this film will help your members recommit to organizing and action on the pressing issues of today.

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Learning to Lead

Sean Thomas-Breitfeld denounces the popular view that some people are just "natural born leaders" by reflecting on how influential the church was in helping him develop leadership skills, and how two service organizations profiled in our recent Developing the Leadership of Recipients report put concrete systems and programs in place to help empower clients and youth involved with their agencies.

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Small Shifts, Big Change

Sean Thomas-Breitfeld kicks off our series of blog posts focusing on our slate of upcoming reports on the "5% shifts" in nonprofit work and social service provision that lead to organizations raising up constituent voice, fostering community cohesion and increasing engagement in advocacy efforts. In this post, Sean reflects on his own volunteer experiences growing up in Milwaukee, and how they compare to the work highlighted in Detroit.

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“Neoliberalism & Marketization” Revisited

Last month, the Building Movement staff and project team discussed two articles on the connections between neoliberalism, marketization and the current realities of the nonprofit sector. Co-Director Sean Thomas-Bretifeld reflects on what came out of that discussion, how these issues have impacted the nonprofit sector as a whole, and where we can go from here.

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What do “Neoliberalism & Marketization” have to do with the nonprofit sector?

Here at Building Movement, we often talk about the importance of devoting time for learning as the first step in the Transformation process of integrating social change values and activities into the work of service agencies. Our Staff and Project Team also focus on learning and reflection in our own work, especially at our semi-annual Project Team meetings. For our meeting later this month, we are reading two articles on Neoliberalism and the Marketization of the Nonprofit Sector. Co-Director Sean Thomas-Breitfeld reflects on the tough critiques and interesting questions raised by the articles. Read more for links and to join in on the discussion!more

Sequestration and the Need for Movement Building

Reflections from Sean Thomas-Breitfeld In my first few weeks at the Building Movement Project, I’ve been doing a lot of travel to get up to speed on the work that BMP’s nonprofit partners are doing around the country. Just last week, I was in Washington and spoke with many of our sector’s advocates about the “sequestration” – the mandatory across-the-board federal budget cuts that went into effect on March 1st. For months, advocacy groups and nonprofit associations have been warning nonprofit groups about the impact these harsh cuts will have on low-income people and organizations they go to for support. It’s true that the sign-on letters, human-interest stories, and op-eds were not enough to change the sequester policy and avoid the budget cuts and maybe it is unreasonable to expect the nonprofit sector can suddenly wield enough power to overcome the austerity framework that is limiting the policy discussion in the halls of Congress. The power imbalance that stacks the deck in favor of policies benefiting the rich is hard to overcome. But that is why social movements are so important, and why I believe in our sector’s potential as an engine for social change.

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