Countless campaigns by social justice groups are weakened every year by poor organizational health: inattentive boards, lack of financial controls, antiquated technology, callous people management, poor internal communication. These failings erode performance across the social sector and degrade the experience of everyone working in such organizations. While each particular situation is different, maintaining organizational health over time generally depends on two things: good governance and a robust revenue model.
Both governance and revenue are challenging for human rights organizations, especially those operating on the frontlines of struggles for rights. Many donors to charitable causes and many potential board members do not want to be associated with organizations denouncing their governments for rights violations. They do not court controversy. And many organizations struggling against state authority try to avoid state interference in their governance, preferring informal organizational structures without legal boards. Finally, because of the risk aversion among many donors, human rights organizations can find it harder than most to diversify their revenue models.
The Symposium provides opportunities to look inside organizations that have overcome these barriers to organizational health. There are lessons to be learned from frontline organizations that voluntarily adopt rigorous governance structures even when not required. And we can learn similar lessons from organizations that have succeeded at expanding revenue from sources long ignored. Stronger governance and revenue models alone won’t guarantee organizational health, but they make it possible and help to sustain it.