Admission / Faculty & Staff

Nonprofit Advocacy: It’s Time to Change Our Losing Strategy


Tom Tresser is an educator, organizer, creativity champion, public defender and fighter of privatization, as well as an adjunct professor at Adler University. He has been doing civic engagement and grassroots democracy efforts for over 40 years. His first voter registration campaign was in 1972.

I’m teaching a new Nonprofit Advocacy class at Adler University this fall, as part of its online M.A. in Nonprofit Management program.

If you are in the nonprofit world – especially in any kind of leadership position – why should you take this class?

Because we are losing. That’s why. We’re losing badly.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say you care about other people. I’m going to hazard that you are compassionate, and perhaps even angry at injustice and inequality and seeing people who are in dire conditions.

There are millions of people just like you in America.

And America has given us a way to channel our inclinations to serve and repair. It’s called the nonprofit organization. I’m not too fond of that label for our sector – awkward to describe such a large part of America in the negative. We’ve also been called the Third Sector. The Independent Sector. The Helping Sector.

Well, we’ve had over 100 years of the Independent Sector. How’s that going for us?

Take a look at this handy graphic from the New York Times, which shows that for our all wealth, swagger and sense of self-importance, America is at the bottom of a number of key metrics that SHOULD matter very much to us.


If we are going to be brutally honest with one another – if we were going to give America’s Independent Sector a job review – we would have to say we suck. We’ve failed. And we should fire the Independent Sector and get some new blood on the job.

BUT – before we take that radical approach, let’s consider a NEW strategy for doing our compassionate work.


Let’s CHANGE the system that produces such metrics and such misery.

Let’s NOT accept that our job is to bail out a badly leaking boat. Or to chase the horses (or whatever barnyard critters you like) AFTER they’ve fled the stable.

If that sounds like a rational and desirable thing to do – then you need to be change agent. You need to ADVOCATE and EFFECT change.

That’s what this class is all about.

Sound tasty?

In my next post I’ll tell you a bit about myself and my approach to change making.

See you online :0