By Hannah Garcia and Josh Lee

During the fall of 2023, EBCF co-hosted a first-of-its-kind gathering that brought together over 75 attendees across a diverse group of organizers, organizational directors, regional community foundations, and public and private funders to address the crisis the movement-building ecosystem is facing in the Bay Area: How do we sustain organizing and power building for long-term change? 

Public and private philanthropic attendees included San Francisco Foundation; Marin Community Foundation; Akonadi Foundation; Evelyn & Walter Haas, Jr. Fund; Sobrato Philanthropies; The California Endowment; Walter & Elise Haas Fund; Y&H Soda Foundation; and California Donor Table.

The convening was co-hosted with RYSE Youth Center and the Bay Area Power Building Funders Table (BAPBT) to share a new report issued by All Due Respect (ADR) on the working conditions of youth organizers (ages 16-26) in the Bay Area. This report covered topics related to recruitment and retention of young organizers, advantages and challenges of organizing in the Bay Area, and job satisfaction within the youth and intergenerational organizing sector. The report revealed that financial instability for youth organizers was the foremost concern. Their compensation was currently below the median income needed to live comfortably in the region where they were organizing and supporting community members. Youth organizers often had to participate in the gig economy with multiple jobs to piece together a living wage in order to meet the high cost of living in the Bay Area.

One youth organizer in the report remarked, “It feels impossible to think about fixing any other problems when our low wages is the one that overshadows everything else anyway.”

The latest ADR report builds upon their previous research finding from April 2022 that nine out of ten organizers reported being burned out, and that 79% of youth organizers considered leaving the field. Meanwhile, the National Council of Nonprofits in April 2023 found that three out of four nonprofits are facing job vacancies.

The Tipping Point

The latest ADR report provided an urgent call to action and direction for philanthropy to mobilize on solutions. It also found recurring themes around improving staff compensation for financial stability, strengthening  training and leadership development in movement building, and supporting the sustainability of organizations in the Bay Area organizing ecosystem. Following the event in October, EBCF gathered recommended next steps from young frontline community organizers, executive directors of power-building organizations, and philanthropic funders. Two focused interventions for Bay Area philanthropy emerged:  1. Develop guidelines for the recruitment and retention of organizers, and 2. Build the capacity of organizations to achieve cost-of-living increases. These interventions will be important considerations for EBCF and BAPBT, and they offer opportunities for collaborative solutions between organizations and funders.  

With a commitment to being deeply informed and guided by our community partners, EBCF and BAPBT will pursue additional key priorities in 2024. We will be developing a shared landscape analysis and identifying new opportunities to strengthen investment in movement building region-wide. Additionally, we will be supporting the design of a long-term fellowship and job placement program for new and emerging BIPOC organizers, including training, network building, and healing and sustainability practices, which will also be a necessary component to retain and build the talent pipeline.

A Crisis Decades in the Making

Sustaining a talent pipeline and retaining organizers long-term is essential to community-led power building and movement building (a long-term process where community members are mobilized to advocate for policies and other shared goals that will improve their lives in the East Bay and beyond). Organizers are often the first responders to the harsh challenges impacted communities face, and as a result, burnout and high turnover are persistent across the field. With the rising costs of living in the Bay Area, especially with the influence of the tech sector, the nonprofit sector as a whole is faced with new challenges to retain skilled staff, adjust to living wages, and address staff burnout — all while responding to increased demands for services due to growing inequities. Organizations at the forefront of our most critical social justice movements are particularly impacted by these challenges due to historically high workloads, low wages, inconsistent funding, and constant pressure for results. Organizer burnout and difficulty with hiring were further exacerbated during the pandemic. Lack of funding and resources over the decades has made grassroots organizing a difficult career pathway and has led to this current crisis in the organizing sector. 

“Young people want to know, is this path going to bring me any stability? How can I grow in this? We can’t meet the standards of corporations and foundations, so how do we address these gaps, and what are the stepping stones for young people in this field? New standards won’t fix everything, but can become the basis of a conversation this field needs to have.”

— Kimberly Aceves Iñiguez, RYSE Center

How to Get Involved

Addressing low wages and lack of consistent and adequate funding for frontline organizations is key to building the kind of long-term strength and sustainability we know is needed to achieve A Just East Bay. We know these barriers cannot be overcome without an increase in philanthropic giving, so we call on our peer institutions and committed donors throughout the region to invest more deeply in organizations leading long-term social change. There are a number of ways you can play a critical role in sustaining local social movements and community power-building efforts: