Creating Human Capital: Transferring from Extraction to Reciprocity in Our Organizational Relationships


This text, first revealed on October 23, 2018, comes from the Fall 2018 version of the Nonprofit Quarterly. It’s the second of a three-part “Advancing Observe” collection on constructing a special paradigm for nonprofit human useful resource administration. You’ll be able to learn the primary installment right here.

Environmentalists and techniques thinkers underscore the basic distinction between extractive and interdependent modes of interacting with each other and the pure world. They warn us that the extractive financial system we are trying to maintain now could be, by very definition of its steady mining of pure and human sources, unsustainable. As the author and farmer Wendell Berry has written:

The knowledgeable assumption seems to be that the merchandise of the soil will not be included within the financial system till after they’ve been taken on the lowest potential price from those that did the precise work of manufacturing, at which period they enter the financial system as uncooked supplies for the meals, fiber, timber, and recently the gasoline industries. The result’s inevitable: the commercial system is disconnected from, is unconcerned about, and takes no duty for, its pure and human sources. The additional result’s that these sources will not be maintained however merely used and thus are made as exhaustible because the fossil fuels.1

This ecological framework ought to give us pause as we contemplate notions of “human useful resource” and “human capital” in nonprofit organizations. In conventional enterprise phrases, a “useful resource” could also be totally extractable, as Berry described, and “capital” could also be below the complete management of the company to broaden its useful resource extraction as a lot as potential. These phrases and their underlying perception techniques, if left unchallenged, can lead us into harmful waters if we’re dedicated to the social sector modeling inclusive and regenerative methods of being. In “Are people sources?,” Kerr Inkson writes: “In frequent utilization of the time period, subsequently, sources are passive objects to be utilized by superior brokers.”2 He counters by arguing, “It isn’t that people are sources, extra that they possess sources, which they could or could not select to share with the group and develop inside it.”three

In actual fact, many people within the nonprofit sector aspire to make our organizations extra human, extra personally sustainable, and extra acutely aware of the complete humanity of the folks with whom we work. For many people this implies revisiting, if not completely revising, our approaches to “human useful resource administration.” Furthermore, many nonprofit organizations are interrogating their legacy theories of change, together with programmatic assumptions and methodologies. That is taking a myriad of varieties: exploring the true and perceived boundaries between social service and social change work; confronting the intersectional forces at play in historically siloed areas of experience (e.g., environmentalism and racial justice); and unearthing the methods wherein inner administration practices do and don’t mirror the imaginative and prescient of fairness and justice we espouse externally, to call a number of.

These complementary aspirations—more-human organizations, and organizations whose work displays an acute and strategic collective intelligence coupled with a rigorous social change evaluation—ought to inform how we take into consideration creating social, mental, and cultural capital in our organizations. Relatively than conceiving of those types of capital as one thing our organizations extract, we must always consider them as treasured sources to be shared and amplified throughout the entire group’s relationships. We will consider this as shifting from an extraction to a reciprocity body.

From Extraction to Reciprocity in Hiring and Workers Growth

In hiring and workers growth, the beginning premise is that each one workers positions have capability to contribute to those types of capital growth, and that every potential candidate brings a singular current set of relationships and competencies. Furthermore, these relationships and competencies could derive from nicely past a workers member’s employment historical past to his or her lived expertise and previous and present volunteerism, board service, or activism. Additional, workers will proceed to nurture their types of capital whereas working with a given group and, clearly, past their tenure there, as nicely.


Within the recruitment part, don’t merely describe the work your group wants executed; as an alternative, emphasize its dedication to being a studying group, broadly outlined. Peter Senge described a studying group as one “the place folks frequently broaden their capability to create the outcomes they honestly want, the place new and expansive patterns of considering are nurtured, the place collective aspiration is about free, and the place persons are frequently studying to see the entire collectively.”four Regardless of the place being introduced, articulate the alternatives for engagement with friends within the growth of all types of capital. View your job announcement as sharing publicly a dedication to the continuing studying and profession growth of each workers individual in your group. Think about the well-qualified candidate selecting between two alternatives with the identical title and compensation, however one group successfully speaking that it honors and invests within the studying trajectory of each workers individual. The selection will likely be easy.

Choice and Contracting

Since many organizations are actively working to diversify their staffs and construct institutional information and credibility in communities new to them, the danger of tokenization may be very excessive within the choice and contracting course of. Because the lawyer, activist, and coach Helen Kim Ho lately wrote in “eight Methods Individuals of Colour are Tokenized in Nonprofits”:

When executed with out consciousness, these in energy will solely suppose to rent POC professionals when it’s about race and variety, whereas all different “non-racial” initiatives appear robotically higher suited in your White colleagues. Minority professionals not solely deliver distinctive views having lived and thrived in a rustic constructed on racism, however in addition they have distinctive abilities in fundraising, strategic planning, advertising, facilitation, authorized and extra. Now that you already know that POC professionals are doubly certified, it’s time to cease tokenizing and reassess your hiring practices.5

Leaders, particularly white leaders, must construct talent in speaking brazenly and with humility concerning the social, mental, and cultural capital that their organizations search to counterpoint via the hiring course of. There isn’t any solution to turn into the deeply various organizations we have to turn into if we don’t. We can’t be “colour blind” in our hiring; that vestigial notion is a strong hindrance to nonprofits turning into really inclusive workplaces. The notion of reciprocity is paramount right here. Our work will not be merely to recruit and choose various candidates, however to be all in for the work of turning into a corporation the place everybody’s full self is seen and valued.

As soon as a candidate is chosen, the reciprocity body on human capital is tailor-made to the distinctive particular person who’s becoming a member of forces with the group. We shift from a hypothetical relationship to a really particular contracting course of. Who is that this individual? What’s she already within the midst of studying? What relationships and networks does she deliver together with her? What communities and cultural competencies can she introduce the group to or deepen its understanding of? This body challenges the uniform, job-description-driven onboarding processes that human useful resource features have historically employed. On this body, we’re responding and adapting in every case to who the brand new rent is and the place the group is; we’re in search of to marry their respective types of capital with some intention, and, as Ruth McCambridge writes within the previous article, to take action such that each events “profit optimally.” Virtually talking, this reciprocity might take the type of the group’s supporting the brand new rent to proceed with “outdoors” commitments that the group had not anticipated throughout the recruitment part, reminiscent of participation in networks or collaborative initiatives. Or, the brand new rent could conform to accomplice with the event workforce to extend the group’s entry to donor relationships she maintains from different contexts.

Employment and Growth

Throughout employment, the secret’s to take care of the dynamism of each the worker’s and the group’s ongoing growth and deployment of social, mental, and cultural capital. This may be executed on the particular person, workforce, and organizational ranges. In a single-on-one supervision, the worker’s studying and relationship growth is nurtured in live performance with the group’s strategic path. However once more, we must always transfer previous the overly employer-centric body to a reciprocal one right here. As Inkson writes: “If I’m to contribute to the aggressive benefit of my using group, I wish to achieve this not as an asset invested in, however as an investor who actively chooses to take action for my very own revenue, intrinsic in addition to materials.”6

In workforce growth, workforce leaders can articulate the training edge for his or her group and assist workforce members in constructing mental capital collectively via studying and dialogue, outdoors coaching, and maybe most essential, intentional experimentation and debriefing of classes discovered. Crew conferences can alternate between an execution orientation and a studying orientation, to accommodate and prioritize group studying.

On the organizational stage, we will apply community and community management idea to nonfinancial capital growth. Community mapping is an instance of a sensible train that may assist all workers and board to know and thus higher contribute to the social capital important to the group’s relevance and influence. The train may also floor weaknesses to be addressed within the group’s community of relationships given its strategic path. For accessible examples of the way you may undertake community mapping along with your workforce or group, see Beth Kanter’s work, together with “How Networked Nonprofits Visualize Their Networks.”7


When an worker decides to go away the group, the target is a separation that acknowledges the stewardship of joint relationships, codeveloped content material, and different types of capital which have been intertwined throughout the worker’s tenure. If the connection has been a fruitful one, this may occasionally take appreciable time to plan, and encompasses way over what could possibly be addressed in a standard “exit interview.” There must be reciprocity even in separation, in that each events stay invested in one another’s success, and that success depends on the continued valuation of the capital they codeveloped.

This method to an worker and a corporation codeveloping social, mental, and cultural capital doesn’t solely pertain to senior positions, nor solely to programmatic ones. Youthful workers deliver these types of capital, too. Contemplate their participation in group organizations and up to date graduate work, for example, or their entry to or participation as youthful activists skilled in emergent types of protest, or their deep consolation with utilizing social media, simply to call three examples. And, particularly as we’re in an period of reimagining organizations to be extra human and extra reflective of a rigorous social change evaluation, the traditionally “inner” administration spheres reminiscent of finance and, definitely, “human sources” are additionally equally vital seats of innovation.

Lastly, this reciprocal type of worker–group human capital growth makes a corporation eminently extra succession-ready in any respect key positions, together with govt director. Maybe the commonest worry long-term executives have of leaving is that the extra intangible elements of the group’s success—competencies, views, relationships—won’t be nicely understood or sufficiently transferred of their transition. When these types of capital are explicitly and democratically developed throughout workers and board, the dangers related to govt transition are vastly lowered.

From Extraction to Reciprocity in Board Recruitment and Growth

Orienting recruitment and growth of board members round social, mental, and cultural capital growth provides us maybe probably the most highly effective reply but to the age-old query, “What are my board members presupposed to do moreover increase cash?” Simply as with workers, we must always not method board recruitment and growth as if board members are right here merely to present the group entry to whom and what they know; quite, the group ought to give board members entry to whom and what it is aware of, too, primarily based on their particular person pursuits and passions. To be clear, this isn’t about facilitating board-member involvement in any and all organizational initiatives and relationships. The best way ahead needs to be mentioned brazenly and strategically with every board member. Throughout recruitment conversations, we will use a line of inquiry like: “Our group’s prime three studying edges proper now are X, Y, and Z; do these points energize you, too? For those who have been to hitch the board, are there folks or networks or types of information you may introduce us to as we pursue these questions? And to whom and what may we introduce you?”

Simply as with workers choice, the danger of tokenization within the number of board candidates may be very excessive in mainstream and primarily white organizations. BoardSource, the nationwide board-focused, capacity-building group, has been surveying boards vis-à-vis their variety for over twenty years, and in its 2017 research, it discovered little to applaud:

The figures have improved little since BoardSource’s first survey on the problem in 1994, and whereas 65 p.c of CEOs and 41 p.c of board chairs expressed dissatisfaction with the racial/ethnic variety of their present boards, solely 24 p.c (CEOs) and 25 p.c (board chairs) stated demographics have been a excessive precedence in board recruitment.eight

These numbers inform us that too many nonprofit boards have homogenous types of social, mental, and cultural capital within the boardroom. This bodes terribly for the strategic relevance and influence of those boards in addition to the organizations they govern. Thus, as with recruiting workers of colour, organizations have to have interaction new board candidates brazenly and with humility about the place the group is in its work on racial fairness, and be ready to spend significant time within the boardroom partaking in trustworthy dialog and group studying.

From Extraction to Reciprocity in Technique Growth

Organizational methods are sometimes crafted in disembodied language that doesn’t conjure the net of relationships and competencies it can take to perform them. They learn as if the “group” goes to activate the technique quite than a particular group of individuals in a particular time-frame and working context. What if, as an alternative, we have been specific concerning the anticipated social, mental, and cultural capital necessities of every technique? This train would entail an trustworthy reflection on the group’s present, related, and out there capital in every of those areas in addition to those who must be developed for the technique to completely mature. Briefly, what can we imply by present, related, and out there?

Present: We’re being cautious to contemplate who and what information and networks are at the moment out there quite than counting on historic assumptions. This elements in key workers or board members who could have left the group lately, in addition to any shifts within the group’s repute or its standing in networks externally.Related: We’re being cautious to contemplate how up-to-date the group’s evaluation, methodology, and general idea of follow are.Out there: We’re being cautious to contemplate the true capability of the folks in and across the group. Fairly often, probably the most vanguard of our workers, board, and collaborators are in excessive demand and are overdeployed. This can be very true for folks of colour in excessive demand in traditionally white-dominated organizations and networks.


Pattern technique: The Neighborhood Performing Arts Group will strengthen our surrounding group by partaking low-income and sometimes marginalized native residents in artwork making.

Social capital necessities: Our senior workers have sturdy networks within the performing arts. They’ll construct new relationships with their counterparts at human service organizations in our group who have already got sturdy relationships with native residents. Our govt will be part of the neighborhood coalition addressing housing and gentrification points within the neighborhood.

Mental capital necessities: Our workers are extremely skilled in programming to “historically skilled” artists. All program workers will obtain coaching in working with all sorts of artists in group settings. We’ll type a studying and analysis workforce that focuses on new strategies and influence classes from our art-making work with residents.

Cultural capital necessities: Our workers and board don’t dwell within the rapid group, nor have they got lived experiences of poverty. We’ll focus our subsequent rounds of workers and board recruitment on candidates who dwell and work within the neighborhood and have a private connection to the historical past of the group. Additional, we’ll institute quarterly workers area journeys to native eating places, creative occasions, and different locations of curiosity locally.

As entire fields and their respective funders discover new strategies of contributing to constructive social change, leaders should train warning to not underestimate the true human capital necessities of those theoretically thrilling shifts in technique. An indicative instance is the push during the last decade by arts organizations and their funders to play lively roles in group growth. For a lot of arts organizations, this can be a profound growth of their founding objective and, as such, calls for a profound growth of their social, mental, and cultural capital. Contemplate the evaluative conclusions of ArtPlace America, a decade-long, extremely resourced initiative to gasoline the collaboration of the humanities sector with different sectors, reminiscent of housing and well being:

Investing greater than $100 million in native follow via the Nationwide Inventive Placemaking Fund and thru Group Growth Investments, we’ve got come to understand that there’s definitely information that may be gleaned on the nationwide stage and information that’s usually relevant when the humanities and tradition sector companions with different sectors. We’ve additionally discovered that lasting change—to have these kinds of partnerships be customary working follow and never only a grant-funded one-off—should occur on the native stage, inside an current ecosystem. And for that change to take root on the native stage, there have to be native possession of each the sources and the duty. To realize that future, we’re not persevering with the Nationwide Inventive Placemaking Fund and as an alternative we’ll switch funding in as much as six geographies to strengthen the native ecosystems of artistic placemaking.9

In different phrases, the human capital necessities of those largely unprecedented collaborations are essentially native and, as such, relational and idiosyncratic. They’ll’t be achieved in a “one-off” mind-set. It takes years and nice mental dedication for arts organizations to construct relationships with residents and companies and metropolis officers. It takes years to broaden the competencies of workers and board past a standard arts mannequin to incorporate human service program design, group growth, consideration to problems with gentrification, and authorities advocacy.

Lastly, throughout all organizations and fields, leaders want to make use of warning with respect to human capital as they pursue methods for progress. Development usually entails getting into one other geographic group, for example, the place the group’s workers and board could not have relationships or credibility. Investing the time to get to know the tradition, dynamics, and current management in a group earlier than bringing programming to it’s exercising reciprocity in technique. This similar concept applies if the expansion will not be geographic however quite growth to a brand new inhabitants. Leaders ought to ask themselves: Do we’ve got the social, mental, and cultural capital to work respectfully and successfully with this group? If not, how, particularly, will we make investments our time and sources to construct it with humility?

From Extraction to Reciprocity in Communications

A robust communications program is a pure lever for constructing and amplifying a corporation’s social and mental capital. We all know from current analysis that nonprofits are extra probably than ever to have devoted communications workers, which implies that establishing a constant, reciprocal method to communications technique is extra potential at this time. In line with analysis by Kivi Leroux Miller in 2016:

In every measurement class the variety of folks dedicated to communication is bigger than was the case a number of years again. In actual fact, in earlier years having a full-time communications individual for a charity with a million or much less in annual price range can be thought of a luxurious. Now it’s commonplace, as indicated within the report.10

Your workers and board members can share what they’re studying via running a blog, social media, and long-form stories and publications. As essential, you may apply ideas of reciprocity by lifting up the work of different organizations with which you collaborate or that you just admire. This method has the additional advantage that your workforce doesn’t should generate all of its personal content material to have a constant communications presence—and you might be serving to to construct the social and mental capital of organizational allies. Construct specific assumptions and targets round sharing the work and views of allies into your annual communications calendar and your method to social media. These ally organizations are additionally now extra more likely to do the identical for you when you’ve one thing essential to share with the sector. Social media, whether it is certainly used socially quite than self-promotionally, is an immensely highly effective platform for reciprocity.

From Extraction to Reciprocity within the Annual Budgeting Course of

Whereas social, mental, and cultural capital could also be much less quantifiable than monetary capital, they do, in fact, price cash to develop. As with so many organizational endeavors, the biggest and most hidden price is time. If we wish to assist a program director in being a nationally acknowledged thought chief in our area, for example, then we’ve got to contemplate the times—if not weeks—out of the workplace this can require of her annually. That’s, creating and amplifying nonfinancial capital turns into a visual a part of her job and a proportion of her time allocation that needs to be paid for within the annual price range. This implies work that she may in any other case have executed with that point—supervision of workers or facilitation of workforce conferences, for example—needs to be picked up and paid for elsewhere.

The underside line is that studying organizations, as Senge described them, have to take a position severely in studying. That is far, far past the uniform skilled growth stipends for each worker so usually employed within the annual budgeting course of. That minimal technique could also be a part of a a lot bigger funding in studying and human capital growth, however it hardly stands in as one. In workforce or departmental budgeting processes, for example, ask administrators to not simply plug in a quantity—i.e., we want $5,000 for this work—however to articulate in phrases their anticipated approaches to social, mental, and cultural growth for the workforce within the coming yr. Assume, too, about journey, conferences, and research journeys—all bills which are important to workers and board members constructing and sustaining relationships and mental forex. A word of warning right here: these investments in human capital growth, if they’re the final to be included and the primary to be minimize within the annual price range, are nonetheless merely symbolic of aspiration quite than elementary to a corporation’s approach of being.

In Reinventing Organizations, Frederic Laloux writes:

Most organizations at this time really feel that they’re in enterprise to get stuff executed, to not assist folks work out their calling (and in these soulless organizations, many individuals can be reluctant to discover topics as intimate as one’s private calling). But particular person and organizational objective go hand in hand. It’s on the juncture the place organizational objective and particular person calling begin to resonate with and reinforce one another that really extraordinary issues occur.11

If we will shift from considering of our organizational relationships as “human sources” to be managed—their capital to be extracted over the lifetime of the connection—and shift to a body of deep reciprocity, we’ll discover as nonprofit leaders that it’s certainly these relationships above all else that enable our organizations to perform probably the most extraordinary issues.

Creator’s word: I’m grateful to my former colleagues at CompassPoint, particularly Lupe Poblano, Asha Mehta, and Shannon Ellis, for instructing me a lot about how white dominant tradition extracts sources from folks and communities. Our experiences working collectively to adapt our inner administration practices at CompassPoint knowledgeable a lot of this piece.


Wendell Berry, “Inverting the Financial Order,” Communio: Worldwide Catholic Overview 36, no. three (Fall 2009): 478.Kerr Inkson, “Are people sources?,” Profession Growth Worldwide 13, no. three (2008): 270.Ibid., 274.Mark Okay. Smith, “Peter Senge and the training group,” infed, 2001, accessed August 21, 2018.Helen Kim Ho, “eight Methods Individuals of Colour are Tokenized in Nonprofits,” Nonprofit Revolution, September 18, 2017.Inkson, “Are people sources?,” 272.Beth’s Weblog; “How Networked Nonprofits Visualize Their Networks,” weblog entry by Beth Kanter, January 25, 2011.BoardSource, “Nonprofit Boards Nonetheless Not Numerous, Report Finds,” Within the Information, September 7, 2017.ArtPlace, “Our Work: Introduction,” accessed August 20, 2018.Bloomerang; “5 Takeaways From The 2016 Nonprofit Communications Tendencies Report,” weblog entry by Jay Love, March 21, 2016.Frederic Laloux, Reinventing Organizations: A Information to Creating Organizations Impressed by the Subsequent Stage of Human Consciousness (Brussels, Belgium: Nelson Parker, 2014).

Photograph credit score: “Abacus” by Sami.

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