Member Leadership in RG: Where We’ve Been and Where We’re Going

Where We’ve Been
From Iimay Ho, Resource Generation Executive Director

Resource Generation was founded as a peer to peer donor organizing network back in 1998. From its very beginnings, co-founders Tracy Hewatt and Lynne Gerber were looking for peers to connect with – other young people with access to wealth and class privilege who wanted to align their social justice values with their philanthropy. National gatherings that centered story-telling and peer-to-peer support were the first major activities that Resource Generation (then Comfort Zone) organized. So being a “by us, for us” organization is part of our organizational DNA, as is the deep cross-class organizing and strength of the social justice philanthropy infrastructure that made RG possible. 

Although we did not launch an official dues-paying membership program until 2011, RGers connected through national conferences and informal gatherings in cities and hubs, and created many giving circles and projects, such as Funding Queerly (hosted by Astraea) and the Hummingbird Collective. We launched our membership program as a response to financial crises that made it clear that our reliance on foundation funding was unsustainable, and that we needed to ask the RG community to invest in RG. We are proud that today we are over 90% member funded, which has allowed us to scale our work in sustainable ways without pulling from the limited philanthropic funding for grassroots, poor and working class-led organizing. 

The shift to a membership model also coincided with our mission change process from 2012-2013 and the increasing clarity that RG is a movement-building organization that is about building power with poor and working class-led organizations. We use community organizing strategies long-practiced by poor and working class people and people of color, but apply them to our base of people with wealth and class privilege. This is complicated and often confusing and messy. And our strategies of organizing young people with wealth, developing transformative leaders, and taking collective action have been deeply shaped and implemented by poor and working class board members, staff, and movement partners over time. As our chapters have grown in size and scale, we have also had incredible RG constituent members who have led volunteer work for many years who have expertise from the on-the-ground work and want to inform our national priorities. 

So, given all of the above, what does member leadership that is accountable across class look like in RG? One major way we tried this out recently was through the creation of a National Member Council (NMC) in 2017

The first NMC was a cross-class group of 12-15 member leaders who worked together for 2 years until summer 2019, when we decided to pause and reassess. There were many successes from the first NMC, including shaping and creating critical organizing strategies like our giving pledge, resource survey, national campaign partner selection and launch, and leadership trajectory. There were also challenges, especially the difficulty we had in fully including the NMC in organizational strategy and decision-making. In order to create a structure that would meet all our goals, the National Member “Phoenix” was created “from the ashes” of the old NMC.

I’m deeply grateful for the leadership of the NMC Phoenix and the time, energy, and labor they are contributing. There are many tensions and contradictions inherent in being a national organization with local chapters and a membership base. When we layer class and privileged identities on top of that, it can feel even more difficult to navigate. But it’s critical that we take this major step in figuring it out. Our members are the lifeblood of the organization and are our collective power. We as a national organization are accountable to our members, and also accountable to our campaign partners and broader poor and working class-led movements for racial and economic justice. 

I firmly believe that we will be a more powerful and effective organization when members can participate meaningfully in setting RG’s national strategy, vision, and goals. I’m looking forward to doing the work together to turn this vision into a reality. These are increasingly high stakes and uncertain times. We need each other and the wisdom of our member leaders to make RG the most responsive, impactful, and transformative organization it can be.

Where We’re Going
From National Member Phoenix

After seven months of meetings, we’re excited to introduce ourselves to RG at large as the National Member Phoenix team! The five of us–Hyatt Hasegawa Bailey, Elizabeth Baldwin, Ila Duncan, Lane Fury, and Julia Ho–are past National Member Council (NMC) members with roughly 20 years of RG experience between us.

We’ve been tasked with crafting a proposal–with board, staff, and member-leader consultation and approval–to develop a new representative member-leader body that will participate in strategic decision-making with staff and board. The goal is to be ready to participate meaningfully in RG’s 5 year strategic planning process beginning in 2021. We want to ensure that the voices and perspectives of members are part of the strategic planning process, and that new structures and spaces are being created to encourage ongoing participation and leadership from members. Additionally, we feel that it is important to begin to document the experiences and knowledge of our member base.

As Iimay noted, member-leadership in an organization with a privileged member base is complicated, so we’re trying to be very intentional about what that means while operating from the belief that member-leadership is key to RG’s growth. We believe accountability means taking responsibility for organizing and leading our own community of wealth and class privileged young people while following the leadership of–and being in accountable relationship with–poor and working class organizers who are also in accountable relationship with their own communities.To reach collective liberation we need to own our stake in the organization and the work. That’s why we want to create a structure for members to step into their power and build power with staff, board, and partners rather than exercising their privilege in an unaccountable way. Building trust across class and race is key for building authentic relationships and making sure members operate from a place of solidarity and not guilt or shame. We believe that sharing power between staff, board and member-leaders will result in better strategy and buy-in, which will help our movement grow.

In order to be accountable to the member-base, we are kicking off a Listening Project Survey to gather your thoughts on leadership, accountability, shared power, and what it means to organize our community together. The timing feels both strange and opportune as this crisis shows us the importance of connecting with each other and learning from the work RGers are doing all across the country. We will use this information to propose a structure for a representative member-leader body to be rolled-out starting this summer in preparation for RG’s next strategic planning process starting at the beginning of 2021. In the coming weeks we will be hosting two national calls to learn more. Please let us know if you’re interested in helping us do this exciting and important work! 

Register here for calls: 
Sunday April 26th 5pm ET/ 2pm PT (Registration URL for 4/26)
April 30th 6pm ET/3pm PT (Registration URL for 4/30)