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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Redefining Success: Evaluating Decision-Making Structures and Metrics of Effectiveness inf Racial Justice-Oriented, Bay Area Nonprofits


In the wake of uprisings in response to the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in the summer of 2020, individuals and communities have turned to racial justice-centered nonprofit organizations to guide conversations and advocacy combating institutionalized racism. Simultaneously, historically white organizations and corporations, including some racial justice nonprofits, have been challenged to reevaluate the way they meet– or fail to meet– the needs of their Black, Indigenous, & Person of Color (BIPOC) staff and communities. The institutionalization of racial justice work into the familiar 501(c)(3) status in the last fifty years in particular, in what scholars have named the Nonprofit Industrial Complex (NPIC), can limit actual change-making into coping with symptoms, rather than addressing root causes, of racism in the United States. The cooptation of racial justice work into a nonprofit framework is marked by competition for limited external funding sources and often results in the exclusion of BIPOC in decision-making in favor of short-term solutions to perceived inequities. This study builds upon existing research exploring the structures that determine how organizational decisions are made.  I present a case study of three Bay Area-based, racial justice-oriented nonprofit organizations, in which I find that organizations that practice intentionality about centering impacted identities can overcome these traditional limitations of nonprofits and excel as effective advocates of structural change. Additionally, highly effective organizations understand ‘success’ in terms of narrative shift and building power, rather than numerically centered definitions that appeal to funders without affecting change.

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