283 Comments
Jun 21, 2022·edited Jun 21, 2022

The most important point in Grim's piece about why internal strife is so rampant in the nonprofit world is that the only incentive nonprofits has is to get donations, not to actually accomplish anything.

Expand full comment

Depends on the nonprofit. My friends work at a refugee legal clinic, and if they didn't win cases, they'd all quit, because it's soul-crushing to watch your clients get deported.

But not every nonprofit has a goal as tangible as "get visas for asylum-seekers."

Expand full comment

It seems like a lot of us (I'm guilty too) are using "nonprofit" and "advocacy organization" interchangeably. I'm not aware of any crisis of internal strife and meltdowns at, say, my local animal shelter.

Expand full comment

I'd be curious to see some reporting on that, actually. One sees occasional reports about hobby groups and other non-advocacy sorts of organizations undergoing meltdowns similar to what Grim documents, but how common is that actually?

Expand full comment
founding

I have an uninformed sense that this was a huge thing a decade or so ago but might have calmed down a bit?

Expand full comment

Depends on the hobby I think. YA Fiction seems a bit of a disaster area.

Expand full comment
founding

I heard about that a bunch a few years ago. I had assumed it had died down a bit because I was hearing about it less but maybe it’s just that it stopped being reported in places I see. (I was especially thinking of “racefail” in sci-fi/fantasy fandom, which is old enough that it was partly conducted on Livejournal rather than modern social media.)

Expand full comment

Is that example stretching the definition of "hobby groups" to include Twitter brainworms, or were local book clubs torn asunder?

I have no idea--actual question.

Expand full comment

My purely anecdotal impression from media coverage was that 2017-20 was the peak, first due to Trump, then BLM. The anti-Trump knitting thing, for example, came to a head in 2019: https://www.vox.com/2019/6/27/18744347/ravelry-trump-ban-backlash-community-reaction

Expand full comment

I love this Subreddit for exactly that reason.

https://www.reddit.com/r/HobbyDrama/

Expand full comment

right but that sorta goes to my point -- the pressure this refugee clinic faces, as you describe it, is employee retention, not actual win/loss record. If the donations keep coming in and the employees remain happy, then the organization faces no existential threat even if they continue to lose. This is different than something that has to be disciplined by the market.

Expand full comment
Jun 21, 2022·edited Jun 21, 2022

That sort of refugee clinic is still disciplined by the hiring market though: they've selected for employees who want to win cases and would quit if they weren't accomplishing anything. So even though the win-loss record isn't the direct pressuring factor it basically is.

Expand full comment

No one's forcing the refugee to come to the clinic. If there's a more effective way for them to get a visa, they'll go there instead. And organizations that don't help many refugees don't get many donations either.

Expand full comment

Yes. I work at a nonprofit with revenue in low to mid single digit $millions, and we receive almost no private donations. Most work we do is local and state government contracts (with varying degrees of results required), and foundations that each have their own qualifications and it helps to have results from previous work.

Expand full comment

See this recent Noahpinion post about a recent Oxfam post, where he finds they basically pull numbers out of thin air to prove 'everything is going wrong and only Oxfam can fix it'. I think somebody on Twitter joked that people should just cut out the middleman and donate money to Toyota, since Oxfam seem to blow all their funds on high spec Landcruisers.

https://noahpinion.substack.com/p/oxfam-serves-up-a-lot-of-dodgy-statistics

Expand full comment

This is sort of similar to one of the issues in political campaign fundraising where people love giving money to relatively hopeless causes (see the hundreds of millions spent trying to unseat McConnell).

Separately, on the timescale of one political cycle people are much more inspired by "oh no everything is going wrong and we need more money or else we'll fail!!!" than they are by a message of "your support has helped us accomplish XYZ and with more support we can do ABC".

Expand full comment

Right. I am not a free-market-solves-everything kind of a guy, but what is the failure condition for, say, the ACLU? If my company's product lags sufficiently behind our competitors', we'll lose our customers and go out of business.

I think there's a subset of liberals who could be persuaded to give the ACLU money if the ACLU said "if you don't give us money, we'll be forced to shut down." That is, the mere existence of the ACLU could be treated as a perpetual goal in and of itself.

Which makes a certain amount of blob-brain sense for the ACLU as a living organization, but for the actual deliverable external causes...

Expand full comment

ACLU is already failing, people are beginning to see that, and that’s why FIRE is expanding so much to do what the ACLU used to. Sure, it may not yet be reflected in ACLU donations , but that’s because they get a huge increase due to the Trump anomaly. But I bet you that of the old hard core of old school liberals that used to be their donor base, a large share left, not a few switching to FIRE.

Expand full comment

Agreed. Now that FIRE has expanded, I’m donating there instead of the ACLU.

Expand full comment

Is it legal to shout FIRE in a crowded Comments section?

Expand full comment

So am I!

Expand full comment

*Raises hand*

Expand full comment

I certainly get the impression that this is the direction of the dispassionate Popehat class. I still wonder if the ACLU can lumber onward indefinitely, zombie style.

Expand full comment
Jun 21, 2022·edited Jun 21, 2022

I think the ACLU can keep going as you describe. It seems to be moving towards being a general-purpose, left-wing advocacy organization, and I'm sure there's money in that; there are many people who support stuff like this pic.twitter.com/jIGhCSEAbZ (tweet by a lawyer at the ACLU) --- quite possibly more than the number of people who think that Nazis should be able to hold rallies (a la National Socialist Party of America v. Village of Skokie).

That said, becoming a general-purpose, left-wing advocacy organization means competition with other, overlapping left-wing advocacy organizations. Maybe there's still more money for them that way. Maybe there's less.

Expand full comment
Comment removed
Expand full comment

I think it's the most egregious break between the old an new ACLU. (Or, at least I hope it is. Please tell me there hasn't been a worse one.)

Expand full comment

Very excited to see his Twitter name changed to “DispassionatePopehatClassHat”

Expand full comment
Jun 21, 2022·edited Jun 21, 2022

Probably for several more decades just based on name recognition and past reputation. Based on numbers of appearances and quotes in news stories in recent years, I think they clearly are still the first name in the Rolodex for mainstream media outlets when looking for comments on constitutional/non-racial civil rights issues. FIRE and IJ are probably a distant second and very distant third.

Expand full comment
Jun 21, 2022·edited Jun 21, 2022

It will surely take time. Very few of their donor base are directly in the know or substack/Twitter obsessed enough to catch on a few years ago. But this year finally NYT started reporting on it. Now the reality of the situation will start to slowly trickle in. It will take time, but maybe not as much as you think. I’m not saying aclu will disappear in a decade but if they don’t clean house they may well become marginalized with eg FIRE becoming similar to what they used to be 20 years ago (as opposed to the overblown but largely worthless leviathan aclu is right now).

Expand full comment

But shouldn’t differentiating yourself from other issue orgs help with donations? Seems like there is something deeper if the fundraising incentives force all these orgs to chase the same public profile. Shouldn’t folks who are down the line leftists run out of money to give and there be some people who are just really into more left-libertarian stuff for the aclu to go after?

Expand full comment

This is an interesting question. My guess is that the reason for this is the same reason why Biden's administration is staffed full of people who voted for Warren over him. There basically aren't any people who want to work to further a specific progressive cause who also don't believe in every other progressive cause.

Expand full comment

"There basically aren't any people who want to work to further a specific progressive cause who also don't believe in every other progressive cause."

I think you could find a lot of environmental/conservationist who are conservative on other issues. I think you could find a lot of pro-life free speech advocates. Seems to me that this is more that partisanship is a powerful drug when combined with educational realignment.

Expand full comment

I think your second paragraph used to be more true even seven years ago than it is today. I believe there's polling data showing the level of ideological conformity on both right and left has significantly increased in the Age of Trump.

Expand full comment
founding

I suspect the relevant trends start a couple years earlier. Lots of things seem to get going in the 2012-2014 era, when social media is taking off and Obama derangement syndrome is a thing.

Expand full comment

I know this is said a lot, but is it actually true? It would be great to have documentation on who the upper level staffers of the Biden administration supported in the primaries.

(And let's not forget that Warren got barely *any* votes, finishing third in Iowa, fourth in New Hampshire and getting wiped out in her own state before dropping out. So some staffers might have supported her but they probably never got the chance to *vote* for her.)

Expand full comment

This sounds reasonable enough until you realize it totally fails to explain both why some non profits accomplish so much (while others don’t) and why the melt down is happening now and not before.

Expand full comment

1. What nonprofits in the progressive space are accomplishing a lot right now? (I'm not asking this in jest -- I'm genuinely curious here)

2. My working theory is that education polarization getting more pronounced has pushed these organizations left on any and all fronts in recent years (though I admit that this theory feels slightly incomplete)

Expand full comment
Jun 21, 2022·edited Jun 21, 2022

Why limit to “progressive space” and right now ? the model above applies far more widely . Why assume any non profit ever accomplished anything if op is correct? Yet that’s palpably false. Even the victims of current meltdown planned parenthood or aclu did so much a generation ago. Not to mention non profits in tons of sectors and political leanings. The idea that the basic non profit model , or at least non profit based on donors model, necessitates total inaction, would appear to me to go way too far in light of the facts.

Expand full comment

Pre-pandemic, I was pretty happy with what many of the hands-on city-specific refugee resettlement organizations were accomplishing. I don't know how they weathered the crazy swings in [gestures all around wildly].

Expand full comment

A good number of think tanks actually play a large role on the Hill with consulting staff and informing legislation on key issues. You're not wrong to point to non-profit incentives and issue focus, but to write this off as just a non-profit matter in this particular town is a mistake. If you got rid of policy non-profits and rapidly expanded the research staff of each congressman, you'd have many of the same problems Grim described because they are a function of ideas, not rhetoric.

Expand full comment

Oh that's true -- I think nonprofits are particularly susceptible to this because they don't face market pressure but it's not only nonprofits that deal with this (see the Washington Post meltdown over the last couple weeks). You don't see this happening in highly competitive, nonconcentrated markets though, so this suggests that this kind or nonsense is indicative of economic rents -- i.e. Google could have the whole James Damore fiasco because Google is at no risk of going out of business if a large number of their employees do nothing but argue politics all day.

Expand full comment

Here we are in a new age of oligarchy where, literally, as few as three or so international conglomerates or finance conglomerates per sector, control almost all of the most important productive and economic sectors nationally and internationally — and you are insisting that market incentives are the only possibly legitimate model for either public or private sector behavior. That’s rich! Delusional, but rich!

See, e.g.: https://washingtonmonthly.com/2022/06/20/its-the-monopoly-stupid/

Expand full comment

But the people who work at nonprofits care deeply about accomplishing the things they are there to accomplish. If they only cared about donations (money), they would all quit and go work elsewhere, where they could work less and make more money. Source: I am a professional nonprofit fundraiser.

Expand full comment

Having worked for nonprofits, this is not true. However it is true that donors often prioritize fads and buzz words over result’s

Expand full comment

It’s definitely #1. There are so many white collar office jobs that are no more “skilled” than any fast food place, in the sense of requiring skills that you can’t pick up on the job, that arbitrarily require a college degree.

Just as an example, I worked for a state senator who walked the walk on this issue and made a point to hire people to work in her office who were from her district and were often reentering ex-prisoners. They’d do normal legislative office stuff like answering phones, data entry, constituent casework, scheduling, and so forth, and most of them did fine. They were doing the same work straight out of prison that I, a Stanford graduate, was responsible for when I worked in other offices, and that most other offices were demanding a college degree for. It’s just snobbery, frankly. They don’t want someone with the wrong accent answering their phones.

Expand full comment
Jun 21, 2022·edited Jun 21, 2022

Also, I think that people genuinely misunderstand / overrate the relative difficulty of training new folks to do white collar analytical work. At the upper end of some knowledge domains (thinking here of things like high-level quantitative statistical analysis), some of those jobs really do require a highly specialized knowledge base where it helps to have taken classes. But most jobs are fundamentally skills-based, and you learn skills through practice, rather than through theory.

Writing is a great example; the most straightforward way to become a good writer is to do a lot of writing for audiences that will give you feedback. I teach undergrads, and I think that they learn to become better writers in my class. But the way I teach them is to have them do a bunch of writing on deadline (an essay a week) under the guarantee / threat that an audience (me and the other students in the class) will / must read the essay and generate feedback. The truth is that any organization with significant in-house talent could hire a person with no college degree and employ basically the same methodology to train that person as a writer.

I hold this view in part because I actually worked for a payroll / HR company in the past that used this precise methodology to reduce labor costs. They hired people without college degrees and did in-house training on stuff like data entry and payroll / tax / HR. Clerks in those jobs made lower wages, but the company had a pretty robust internal promotion system. A lot of folks got white collar jobs who otherwise could not have done so, and they either worked their way up through the ranks or used the stability of an office job as a base from which to go get a college degree and move into more lucrative positions in the white-collar workforce.

Organizations interested in making the world a better place need to start seeing themselves as part of the success ladder, instead of as the pinnacle that people reach at the end. It's unrealistic and significantly limits your talent pool.

Expand full comment

Thanks for teaching writing as a skill rather than an art!

Expand full comment

Honestly, I stole this approach from one of my own undergrad professors, Gordon Grant, now at Catawba College in NC. I think I figured more stuff out in his essay-a-week writing / rhetoric class than I had in the four prior semesters combined.

Expand full comment

On the Monk Debates podcast, Bryan Caplan recently debated a former Cal-Berkeley President on some of the issues you touch on here. Caplan thinks we have unnecessary (and unproductive) education inflation. Relevant in the student debt relief conversation.

Expand full comment

I'm aware of Caplan's work; I used to be a big fan of his GM colleagues Tyler Cowan and Alex Tabarrok's Marginal Revolution blog (I still like TC and AT, but I have soured a bit on MR). In a general sense I agree directionally with Caplan, but he always seems to me to take it in impractical directions, in the way that ideological thinkers tend to do.

I have never heard him able to give a really compelling vision for how to move forward on the critique, because a lot of the strategies you might adopt are either at odds with his libertarian priors or are, in some sense, too "nice" to the higher ed system. He would sort of rather burn it down than save it, but also he has tenure and has not quit his job because he rather likes the system that he despises? Or something? It's a weird kind of double-minded position to hold. (Which leads me to suspect that his positioning is mostly the academic equivalent of click-bait.)

Like, go be the change you want to see in the world, dude. I teach my classes differently, and I'm about to take a break for a few years to work as an RN, and I get it. Both of those things have made my life noticeably harder (grading weekly essays is a b!tch). He's got a sweet gig. But the tenured professor doth protest too much.

Expand full comment

I was going to come in and make almost this same post. Matt linked to his piece on the validity of SAT results as a measure of a student’s intelligence and potential performance, but there’s a huge gap between the effectiveness of the SAT test to tell if a student is smart and the effectiveness of an institution’s average student SAT score and the quality of graduates that institution will produce.

The reason for this should be extremely obvious: people go to schools to learn. A person who graduates from a non-selective college is going to be smarter and more educated than they were when they were admitted. Also, the person who graduated from a place like a community college made it through a system that had less support for completing their education.

Having worked with both people who were fresh out of community colleges and people who had just graduated from Ivy League schools; I can say that the former were hands-down *more* effective employees than the later. The difference between folks who graduated from these different types of institutions only tends to become clear much later, when each has a few years of work under their belts and the Ivy League grad is more likely to have been selected into a more elite job.

This isn’t to say that every community college grad is better than every Harvard grad. But I guarantee that in the class of 2022 there are more community college grads who are better than the average Harvard grad than there are *total* Harvard graduates. There’s a real chance for institutions who care about diversity to play a sort-of moneyball. Recruit hard from non-selective institutions, recruit people with associated degrees, and get the best pieces of this other pie instead of being stuck with what’s left over from the one everybody’s grabbing.

Expand full comment

I think we have a tendency to collapse all job skills into a single dimension of intelligence, when clearly other dimensions like organizational and interpersonal skills matter. Ivy League credentials really do make a difference if your job requires a lot of intelligence and ability to assimilate complex information. But most jobs actually depend more on organizational and interpersonal skills, and lots of people who are left out of the elite college/job pipeline have those skills. I think those skills are systematically undervalued because they are hard to measure.

Expand full comment

Also, even if you want to be a stickler about needing good SAT scores, there are plenty of people who had great scores who still ended up at non-selective institutions. Sometimes there are things like unexpected pregnancies or other emergency life events that prevented going to a regular college. Even if a school’s average student SAT score is low, there will be outliers who did much better than that average.

Expand full comment

Many high-SAT score, low-income kids do not even apply to selective colleges. But as Caroline Hoxby shows, this group of students - what she calls low-income and "income-typical" in terms of their application behavior, are an even more white group than the high-income students, and they're also disproportionately rural or from small towns. That might be a good group to recruit from for all kinds of reasons, but if your concern is racial diversity specifically, that group is not where it's at.

(Tables 7 and 9.) https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/2013a_hoxby.pdf

Expand full comment

That hits awfully close to home.

Expand full comment
founding

Credentialism is getting worse and worse and it’s not a great sign that even when only hiring overly credentialed people, folks in charge of hiring STILL mostly default to candidates within first or second orders of their organizations’ professional / personal friend network...and they will often default to hiring someone that someone (anyone! even subpar employees!) can vouch for...

Expand full comment
Comment deleted
Expand full comment

"They don’t want someone with the wrong accent answering their phones."

Oh! Black people. I thought he meant Stanford grads. That affected Bay Area sound really grates.

Expand full comment

I'm hella offended

Expand full comment

The accent thing was a synecdoche but yes

Expand full comment

I know this is a generalization but can you actually recount an occasion when someone actually said this?

Expand full comment
Comment deleted
Expand full comment
Comment deleted
Expand full comment

I think this has been covered before, but can we confirm that there are two Dan S users with the same user photo?

Expand full comment

It's the same commenter here -- identical bios and subscriptions.

Expand full comment

From the title of this article I was expecting a more general consideration of the issues plaguing progressive activist institutes. While I’m certain poor strategy and tactics towards addressing diversity and representation goals is a source of issues, I get the impression that there are additional sources. E.g., the coalition-brain problem in which every left-leaning organization feels compelled to incorporate all other liberal/progressive causes into its mission, which can give rise to that ACLU tweet in which pro-choice activism needs to incporporate LGBT+ advocacy.

In thinking through a more general understanding of the challenges of these institutions, I immediately recalled FrigidWind’s comment from Friday’s mailbox that also addressed these issues. [1]

> I think that Matt is either blind or papering over an important part in what makes leftist organizations so vulnerable to the phenomenon described in the Grim article: the types of people who work there. They tend to be low conscientiousness (remember how they said the best way to honor George Floyd was to...loosen deadlines?), high neuroticism and high openness (which is why they follow dumb fads). This is what I call "protest disorder" or the "protestor personality". Building an organization out of these types is like trying to build using jello bricks. This is why I keep saying that the best organizations are the ones that attract normies.

There is some harsh truth in that statement which has captivated my thinking on the issues plaguing progressive activists institutes. And that explanation seems to address some of the common themes of the Ryan Grim article; just numerous cases where the mission of an activist group was derailed by counterproductive and divisive diversions.

In any other organization, I would expect coworkers to pull the focus back to the work at hand. If necessary, I’d expect managers to intervene to explicitly tell someone to get back on task. Yet that may not be possible when a team is disproportionately composed of people with personality traits that make them susceptible to these diversions. Coworkers would not be nudging each other back on task but instead fanning the flames of obstruction. Managers too may even feel compelled to put work aside when such a distraction arises.

[1] https://www.slowboring.com/p/juneteenth-mailbag/comment/7191140

Expand full comment

It feels like left leaning orgs must always have attracted a lot of protest types … I mean it’s pretty clear why. And of course the left eats it’s own / in disarray is a meme for a reason. stuff like this has happened before. But I wonder if the difference between high and low water marks is more about the managers and funders than the lowly protest-brained semi volunteers. It just seems to me like there are a lot of successful left of center people who are afraid of getting reply guyed with the principal skinner ‘it’s the children that are wrong’ pic. But often children are in fact wrong. Ultimately it’s the funders and the top managers that need to have that attitude and enforce it.

Expand full comment

“ Ultimately it’s the funders and the top managers that need to have that attitude and enforce it.”

The degree to which the young “left” has become accustomed to having management roll over and bare belly really came out in response to the SpaceX firings.

There *might* be ten mid-sized, privately-held firms in the United States which wouldn’t clean house of a sizable fraction of staff after they do something like that. I highly doubt there’s an eleventh.

And even the large, public opinion-obsessed conglomerates are starting to swing ponderously into action to crush that sort of behavior pour encourager les autres a lot more brutally than they did between 2015 and 2020.

The fact is, when you’re loud, obnoxious, and your views are deeply unpopular among 70+% of the public, you’re living on borrowed time.

Expand full comment

I should have read this comment before writing mine.

Expand full comment

Between this and things like the recent WaPo drama, are we witnessing a crisis of competence in the managerial class more generally?

I am a newly-ish minted member and I have *no* idea what I'm doing. I don't think my colleagues generally do either.

Expand full comment

My father used to be a management consultant who designed pay and promotion systems (in the 1980s-2000s) and he consistently said that UK (junior) management was bad and US management was worse. His problem was that management was not a profession. You didn't need a "management" qualification to become a manager, or any sense that you already knew something about managing to get there. So everyone learned on the job, but there was no alternative promotion path for non-managers (a few companies would have an "expert scientist / engineer / lawyer / accountant" path, but most force technical experts into management) and if you found you were a bad manager by learning on the job, it was really difficult to get back to a job that you are actually good at.

The MBA changes that at senior levels of management - upper mid-level and senior managers tend to have an MBA or similar and to have real management skills. But junior and lower mid-level managers have usually learned on the job with maybe an occasional one day training course (or a one week one at best).

His argument was that junior managers need to understand the technicalities of the jobs of the people they are managing, but they also need to understand management, so that has to be understood as a career change, not a promotion. And the lack of training in management for junior managers is a deep structural problem in Anglosphere companies. Senior management is different; you don't get to be a board-level director of a substantial company without formal education (ie an MBA) or experience, and usually both. For all the problems with the MBA, the change of senior management jobs to effectively require one has made a big difference in the competency of senior managers.

What he encouraged companies to do was to set up an "expert" track separate from their "management" track, to reward them both equally, to use experts as the final decision-maker on technical decisions (rather than managers, ie when the team disagrees, the expert has the final say, not the manager) and to create a training program for people wanting to go into junior management and expect people to complete it before taking the job. Also to make it easy to switch between the expert and manager tracks. There weren't many examples of a company adopting it in full, but there are quite a lot of "expert" positions around (often called "architect" or "guru" or something).

His really pithy summary: "we overvalue managers and undervalue management".

Expand full comment

One of the reasons veterans are often highly desirable to companies is because the US military focuses a hell of a lot on training junior and mid-level managers, be they officers (say at the lieutenant and captain levels) or non-commissioned officers (your sergeants). The training isn't always compatible with company culture and needs, but just learning how to manage and lead people has an intrinsic value of its own.

Expand full comment

"What obstacles are in your way?" "Let's establish a common understanding of how tasking and evaluation works." "What are you hoping to get out of this experience?"

Basic stuff that makes obvious sense once you hear it, but that I needed to be keyed into explicitly.

Expand full comment
founding

This is the Peter Principle - corporate culture is that if you do well at your job you are promoted, but it’s rare to get demoted for being mediocre at the job. So anyone who is good at a job gets promoted out of it, while people stabilize in a job they are mediocre at.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_principle

Expand full comment

I had a long, thoughtful conversation with a grad school colleague of mine who is also active-duty USAF. It was immensely valuable.

Expand full comment

I was just about to say roughly the same so let me add that this manager/management problem is pretty glaring throughout the civil service and the police.

Expand full comment
founding

On the other hand, impostor syndrome is real.

Expand full comment

This is tangential to the discussion, but I'm curious whether you *wanted* to become a manager, or whether that's simply the best/only option to advance in your organization. I actively don't want to manage, never have, and that's a significant reason I've been a serial job switcher/career changer.

Expand full comment

It used to be the case (and likely still is, though I haven’t seen recent data) that the majority of people with engineering degrees are in management rather than working as engineers.

Expand full comment

Definitely a next-engineer-up sort of deal. Boss left, nobody else on the team wanted the position.

Expand full comment

Interesting, thanks! Do you like it so far despite the learning curve?

Expand full comment

I'm glad I did it--my team are my friends, and the organization is small enough that there weren't really any other good options.

I don't know if I'd say I "like" it.

Expand full comment

My father managed engineers at Ford (after starting in a factory and then becoming a draftsman because he was great at detailed drawing). He didn't have a degree, but he was a kind, down-to-earth, sensible guy and beloved by his co-workers.

Based on this, I used to think managing was just common sense. But having encountered many, many terrible managers (along with a few great ones) in my peripatetic work life, I no longer think that. I do, however, think that actually caring about management and trying to actually manage are key, and these qualities have been surprisingly rare among many of the "managers" I've seen in action.

It sounds like you're thinking about how to do it, and therefore doing a good job!

Expand full comment

while I agree this characterization of protest brain is plausible, do we actually know it to be true empirically? It's a reasonable hypothesis but if we're making causal claims there's a higher standard of evidence than "check twitter".

Expand full comment

This may be true overall, but as Matt points out, this problem has increased over time. They could deal with it at least somewhat well beforehand.

Expand full comment
Comment removed
Expand full comment

In that framing, the equivalent modern private sector disfunction seems to be "agree and decommit"--enthusiastically agree with whatever management dictates, and then proceed to fuck around anyway.

See: WaPo

Expand full comment

TL;DR: The following two statements cannot both be true:

(a) The US educational system is systemically racist and produces deeply unequal outcomes.

(b) The "pipeline problem" is a myth, and management is just using it as an excuse.

Progressive orgs affirm their commitment to both (a) and (b), run into problems, and are at a complete loss for how to respond.

Expand full comment
Jun 21, 2022·edited Jun 21, 2022

I’m being nitpicky, but both can be *partially* true. The world is big and complicated, and I’m sure there do exist managers whose biases have prevented people of different ethnic backgrounds from being hired.

I’d phrase it as “we’d expect there to be pipeline problems if the US education is structurally racist.”

Expand full comment

Sure, if (a) is true, then that certainly does not preclude the possibility that there exist bad actors who blame pipeline problems. My inclusion of the second part of (b) made the logical binary less clear, perhaps.

Expand full comment

Everything that Matt says about the pipeline problem is accurate, but this isn’t why progressive organizations are paralyzed.

There is a certain sort of personality that thrives on drama and victimhood. They are toxic people that in the past would be fired or not hired. These types of people are disproportionately progressive. Eventually they will turn on the organization that they work for because nothing will ever satisfy them.

Look at that one chick in the Washington Post. The one who got mad at some dude retweeting a joke. She couldn’t let it go, even after she won.

As my dad used to say. You can’t hide crazy forever.

The issue is simply an HR one. They are hiring wackos. And then not firing them as soon as the crazy comes out.

Expand full comment

"There is a certain sort of personality that thrives on drama and victimhood.... These types of people are disproportionately progressive."

Oh, I'd say the MAGA world has its share of aggrieved resentful drama-martyrs.

Expand full comment

100%. The alt right gets the natural contrarian who want to argue with everything. Same sort of toxic personalities that seek attention.

Expand full comment

The Christian Right has been running this playbook for years!

Expand full comment

Why do you hate us godly people, Brian? Why must you persecute us, as our brethren were persecuted in the Coliseum? Why must we be faced with intolerance, when we only come with the loving message that anyone who disagrees with us will burn for all eternity in a fiery pit?

Expand full comment

There's definitely truth to this, but then it just raises the question: why are they hiring so many more wackos than before? Progressive organizations have always hired exclusively progressive staff people so it can't just be that they're hiring too many progressives as such. Are they using pro-wacko hiring criteria now? Has the incidence of wackoness *among progressives* increased? If so, why?

Expand full comment

Twitter. For real. It’s not the personality type, it’s how they get attention and can leverage it to get the management to respond.

Expand full comment

That plus an awful lot of self-enbubbleation/patting each other on the back so badly their shoulders give out.

Expand full comment

The bubble problem is worse than it was before, not just in orgs but in society at large. NYC, LA, SF, DC, Chicago, etc... are mostly left-voting and John Oliver-watching to an extent that they were not 20 years ago.

Expand full comment

There aren’t more of them, they’re more aware that they have fellow travelers and it emboldens them to do and say stupid things 100% of the time.

Let’s not forget how profoundly *new* it is for everyone to be able to directly, cheaply, instantly communicate with everyone else and to publicize (to an extent) everything they think for all to see.

The sheer novelty seems to have paralyzed private sector management for a time. They’re now rallying. So are all but the nuttiest among younger folks, paring down politics in social media in favor of the aspects of those tools that enhance their lives. The analogy I favor is an immune reaction.

There is *no* way I can see that people with permanent protestor-type personalities will be driving forces in any but a tiny handful of organizations in another decade.

In fact, I’d posit that the pendulum is going to swing so far in favor of “fire the nutjobs preemptively” that the survivors will hopefully sit the fuck down and shut up lest they starve (at worst) or genuinely reform (at best).

Expand full comment

I think there might of been a slight increase in the numbers. Sort of a concentration

Expand full comment

I used to do this work and it’s pretty simple: we fired the wackos.

You could either set your drama aside in pursuit of saving the entire world, or you could go do something else. Seems like no one in management still has the nerve to say that.

Expand full comment

1. Media has increased and breed the victim mentality.

2. Media has made it so that these types strive for this industry (they used to be spread around more evenly.

3. Organizations are less likely to get rid of these types then before.

4. Twitter has amplified their voices.

Expand full comment

5. Also, bullet points. They lead to polarization.

Expand full comment

I was in the military for 22 years. Bullet points is all I know

Expand full comment

Too wordy, soldier. Cut it down.

I'm a big fan of BLUF myself.

I blather and bullshit on here, but when I send email out to people who have to listen to me, it's bottom line up front and I don't waste their time with any excess prose.

Expand full comment
Comment removed
Expand full comment

Sorry about that. I didn’t read the comments before I posted.

Expand full comment

I wonder if we need some more clarity about what low-level hires at progressive activist groups actually do all day. Is it cutting-edge policy research that requires a BA from a selective college?

I have a BA from a selective college and I don't think I'd have been qualified to do that in my early twenties. But I was qualified to fix the copier and the coffee machine and to learn from exposure to older activists, which is what I actually did as an NGO intern when I was twenty-three.

So I lean more towards Matt's option 1. Organizations should try hiring community college graduates from disadvantaged backgrounds: preferably *so* disadvantaged that just getting through community college proves they're smart and hardworking. As a bonus, those people are probably a lot less likely than entitled Ivy Leaguers to try and destroy the organizations that have given them a break.

Expand full comment

If you hire just based on "can someone do the first-rung job", will you get people with the skills to promote and move into leadership? I don't know the answer to this. But the reason you bring someone in with, say, writing skills even if the entry-level job doesn't require them is because you want to grow those people. Plus, the other problem you have if you're systemically hiring people and then they don't advance is they notice and don't like it, which is legitimate, and the end result might look like 'trying to destroy your organization.'

I think any skill you could want you can certainly find in abundance outside of the 20 most competitive schools, but hiring criteria should not just focus on whether someone can do the work required of that first job, but whether they are likely to succeed more generally.

Expand full comment

You shouldn’t expect to get more leadership skills or potential out of top schools:

“A look at the education of each CEO in the top 100 of the Fortune 500 companies this year shows a variety of backgrounds. From their days as college students to their ascent to the top of corporate leadership and management, these executives have traveled various paths to reach the same corporate heights. Their resumes include recognizable athletic powerhouses and small liberal arts schools alike.

“These alma maters are a mix of public and private, with Ivy League and international schools also appearing on the list. Of the CEOs at the top 10 companies on the Fortune 500 list, one attended an Ivy League school and eight were educated as undergraduates at public colleges, including three internationally.”

https://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/articles/where-the-top-fortune-500-ceos-attended-college

Expand full comment

Not necessarily saying your first sentence is wrong, but the quote isn't really evidence. Only a tiny percentage of the population went to Ivy League schools.

Expand full comment

That’s true and I guess my point was that it’s easy to find evidence against the idea that top schools impart a higher level of leadership skills, but not much evidence supporting the idea.

Expand full comment

While I don't think the cause is necessarily the schools imparting unbeatable leadership skills, I think top schools are highly overrepresented in leadership roles.

Expand full comment

That's fine. Where's the evidence?

Expand full comment

Most of the time, the purpose of the high end degree is to get someone in who exists in social circles that likely have more donors and can therefore help the organization get more funding.

Expand full comment

Nonprofits don't have to do anything to survive other than get donations.

Expand full comment

My understanding is that their role relates largely to accumulating stickers on their macbook.

Expand full comment
founding

My dentist is Black, and his father was a dentist also. His kids attend private school; they live in a 4700 sq ft house in a neighborhood of similarly-sized homes. He is a terrific guy and a really good dentist. His kids will likely attend one of the selective colleges referenced in this essay, along with a large number of other kids-of-dentists from similar upbringing. They will add a different skin color and their unique value as individuals - the same as any other person - but "diversity" won't be much changed.

Expand full comment
Jun 21, 2022·edited Jun 21, 2022

The efficiency with which elite organisations "diversity-wash" their activities is really horrifying. People of all colours and creeds, all 50 states, and even most countries in the world...and almost exclusively of upper-middle income family backgrounds (or above).

Expand full comment

As someone who didn’t grow up in this “elite” world, the point you raise has been jarring to me. I grew up middle class but we never went on ski trips or traveled internationally. I didn’t get on an airplane until I joined the Army. We just weren’t living this upper-middle class lifestyle.

I’ve managed to go to some great schools and how have a job at a very prestigious consulting firm. We’re focused on all the right DEI stuff, but it is absolutely shocking how every single person here grew up rich. Ski trips multiple times every winter, boating, summer trips to Europe, everything. 22 year olds talk about their favorite ski trips and are genuinely shocked when I (a 30 year old) say I’ve never been skiing before. It’s like you told them you grew up on Mars. Sure, there are plenty of women or Black people and whatnot--but many of them are from this upper-middle class background too.

They’re all nice people and I love my job here, but the socioeconomic diversity is shockingly poor and is frequently “diversity-washed” away. That’s not to say that convention diversity doesn’t matter (it does!), but it seems like there’s a huge issue that these elite orgs willfully ignore.

Expand full comment

Another comment here referring to grads of top 50 schools as “disadvantaged ethnicities,” many (or most?) of whom are not at all disadvantaged individuals.

Expand full comment

They are, though - the black Harvard professor who almost got arrested for trying to get into his own house, for example. They have money and status and access in many ways, but they also face baseline discrimination that others of us with less money but the right skin color do not.

Expand full comment

He wasn’t almost arrested, he was arrested. For disorderly conduct. That doesn’t make him disadvantaged.

Expand full comment

The real problem in my opinion is that the funders aren't doing their job. Under-performance happens. When it does, the funders' job is to ensure the organisation either gets back on track, or loses funding.

There seems a consensus that the funders are pretty much completely failing to perform this role.

Once the accountability mechanism fails, there's nothing to stop an industry going off the rails. For example, many of the problems of 2008 financial crash reflected this.

Expand full comment

You miss the point: if the funders cut funding for underperformance, do you think they would be hailed for preserving resources for better organisations, or decried as upholders of white supremacy? According to some activists, believing in competence is itself white supremacy. The reason bad organisations get funded (cough BLM cough) is because nobody wants that awkward conversation about 'what are you doing with the money'.

Expand full comment
founding

Funders are mainly small dollar donors from the upper middle class, right? Political campaigns went through this transition a couple decades ago because campaign finance laws made it hard to fund with just billionaires. Obama was the first successful primarily small-dollar candidate (though I think Howard Dean paved the way) and now it’s the only viable strategy for everyone from Marjorie Taylor Greene to AOC.

Expand full comment
Comment removed
Expand full comment
founding

Yeah that’s what I mean. Going for small dollar donations is the only viable strategy now, and people who can’t do that no longer have a pathway. It’s the same for advocacy groups, though they presumably still have the opportunity to get billionaire donors that moderate them in a way that political candidates can’t.

Expand full comment

Maybe the funders goals are pretty far from those of the median voter and, because they live in coastal bubbles, the funders don’t understand many of their ambitions are politically toxic.

Expand full comment
Jun 21, 2022·edited Jun 21, 2022

Here’s a heterodox view “ When I was a kid there were already tons of political columnists who looked like me, and that made it easier for me to take the path I’ve taken.” This is a central creed of American diversity advocacy. While I don’t doubt MY’s honesty, respectfully I call bullshit on this as a real social mechanism. Jews in the early 20th century broke into science in hugely disproportionate numbers, coming from very poor and uneducated backgrounds, and having exactly no one “who looks like them” to inspire to be like (and moreover overcoming overt institutional and personal bigotry and antisemitism way beyond anything acceptable today). Asians in the second half of the 20th century do the same, also with classical music, and again without “someone who looks like them” being a factor. Their parents don’t force them to practice the piano or violin every day because they have a poster of Yo Yo Ma on the wall… By contrast, Britain had its first Jewish PM in the 19th century (sort of), France in the 30s, and neither had any follow up since . Thatcher broke the glass ceiling in uk politics in 1979 yet female PMs remain exceedingly rare despite being 50% of the population. Having the first x in a central role is a landmark for society as a whole , but I doubt it’s a central factor in advancing the average prospects of the average person from x minority. In reality people don’t “choose” career paths based on whether they can or cannot think of an admired figure “who looked like me”.

Expand full comment

I agree up to a point. I think it's often vastly overblown, but on the other hand the "someone who looks like me" idea can't be totally dismissed. To dismiss it entirely you'd have to argue that

#1 Role Models are meaningless

#2 Skin color, race, ethnicity never shape choices of role model

#3 Networking and mentoring never happen along racial or ethnic lines.

Clearly all of the above statements are not 100% accurate. Happily, while role models are not meaningless, they aren't the only thing or the most important thing, and ethnicity is not the only thing that influences choices of mentors or role models.

Expand full comment
Jun 21, 2022·edited Jun 21, 2022

Sure, but when it’s vastly overblown and prioritized to the point of overlooking other, likely more important factors, it can do more harm than good to obsess over it. Also there is something reductive and dehumanizing in reducing the greatest and most admirable people in our history to “looks like me”

Expand full comment

”By the same token, it is easier to have a diverse cabinet...."

And people accuse *me* of going for the cheap joke.

Expand full comment

Most of these organizations exists to perpetuate themselves. The purpose of bringing in people from high end schools is because being from a prestigious university is a nice proxy for access to old money wealth. They are Amway, but instead of selling mediocre products, they sell indulgences for white guilt.

Expand full comment

Caveat: currently.

Most of the ones that existed more than a decade ago stood for something at some point.

Now… just more grifting, mostly.

Expand full comment

This post seems a bit off to me but maybe Matt has more insight than I am giving credit for. But big picture, these orgs have a lot of folks in them who express ‘left radical’ ideas that justify accelerationism, claim hierarchy serves no practical purpose, and think it’s worthwhile to have a lot of new taboos in public discussion.

Is that the pipeline problem? Like such a high % of candidates have these crappy beliefs and so it’s impossible not to hire them?

It seems to me that what’s missing is stuff like: ‘to make effective decisions people need to feel free to say stuff that may hurt feelings’ or ‘having some more qualified people be in charge and issue orders is good actually’

And these are insights about your professional advocacy org that you can really learn from and apply more broadly to society and even to your own political views!

Expand full comment

I agree. Matt describes one of the issues facing these organizations very well. But on top of that is the ethos among young progressives that all issues *are* interconnected, along with an intolerance of dissent, etc.

Expand full comment
founding

I think they completely agree with “to make effective decisions people need to feel free to say stuff that may hurt feelings”. They just disagree about whose feelings need to get hurt.

Expand full comment

Yes, the balance just isn’t right though. Too many of what’s newly allowed is ‘you are a bad person’ and too much of what’s newly forbidden is ‘this idea won’t work (will backfire)’

Expand full comment

Thank you for this thoughtful take on something that has been driving me nuts. Is racism is structural and about power and resources, then fixing it is going to require structural change and shifting resources, not navel gazing and magic words. I do think #1 has more wiggle room than you give it credit for, and that many organizations could be smarter in where they look for hires, but at the end of the day it’s about changing the structure not the words.

Expand full comment

I think selective-college worship is bullshit, and that you can find tons of worthy applicants who've never set foot on a private campus. That being said, the most obvious evidence that the pipeline problem is real is that Yale's class of 1980 had 2,481 students and the class of 2022 has 2,241. The number of selective school graduates has not risen with the population. That's why I think Matt's Option 1 would work, even if he's skeptical. There's a LOT of smart people that just can't get into the best schools these days.

And a quibble: there are not dozens and dozens of qualified applicants for Supreme Court openings or Cabinet positions; there are thousands. There are 1.3 million lawyers in the US. The top .1% (if that could even be measured, which I doubt) means 1300 attorneys. I'd wager all of them are more than qualified to sit on the Supreme Court (acknowledging that this doesn't address issues of character or vetting).

Expand full comment

Wait, am I the only one who thinks abortion shouldn't be in ACLU's purview?

Expand full comment

The ACLU has defended abortion for decades, which is a good thing. The issue with the tweet is not that they shouldn’t be talking about abortion; it’s that the defense actually isn’t strong enough because they’re not talking about protecting the right for its own sake. Instead, that’s melting into the same kind of “any disproportionate group-based harm is worse than anything else” buzzword soup that’s making left orgs indistinguishable from one another.

Expand full comment
founding

Also, because they’re just factually wrong that abortion bans disproportionately harm LGBTQ+ individuals. I think even if you restrict to the fraction of LGBTQ+ individuals that want an abortion, interstate travel or underground abortions aren’t going to be harder for this group than for straight women.

Expand full comment

To the extent that abortion is a legal issue, why shouldn’t the ACLU concern themselves with it?

The problem with the tweet highlighted in the essay is not that it isn’t touching on a legal matter, it’s that its approach is bizarre. I mean, “the LGBTQ community” is disproportionally affected by abortion bans?! Really?!

Expand full comment

Bisexual women are enough more likely to have abortions than straight women that lesbian-and-bi women combined have more abortions than straight women (per person).

LGBTQ people are about 45% cis LB women, about 45% cis GB men and about 10% everything else, while cishet people are about 52% cis women and 48% cis men, so LGBTQ people overall are quite a bit more likely to have an abortion than cishet people.

If you include the male partners of women having abortions, then more straight people are affected than LGBTQ.

Saying "bisexual women are a lot more likely to have an abortion than straight women and we should take them into account" would be useful and informative rather than performative - most people don't know this and can't work out that this is what is meant by "the LGBTQ community is disproportionally affected by abortion bans"

Expand full comment

These facts are very interesting, but much moreso because of what they say about sexual identity than about abortion.

Expand full comment

Why are bi women so likely to have abortions?

Expand full comment

I don't know. I didn't know that bi women have an exceptionally high rate of abortions until I looked it up yesterday!

I suspect it's partly because bi women are, on average, younger than straight women (not because they die earlier, but because younger generations are more likely to come out, and that is more true of bi women than of lesbians). Younger women have more abortions than older women (they have more pregnancies and those pregnancies end in abortion more often). Another possible explanation is that people who are attracted to both men and women and are members of conservative religions are much less likely to tick the "bi" box on a survey, so the survey is full of more liberal people, ie people who are more likely to choose to have an abortion.

I don't know if correcting for age would be sufficient to explain it or not, though - it might just be age.

But the fact that LGBTQ includes bisexual women who do get pregnant is something that both straight people and LGBTQ organisations tend to forget - bi erasure and exclusion is an ongoing battle where bi organisations are regularly pushing LGBTQ organisations not to forget about us.

Now, whether ACLU should be doing a list of minority groups that are affected by abortion rather than concentrating on the cis white straight middle-class women that are most likely to be persuasive with the sorts of voters who are on the margin on this issue - that is a different question. But, predicated on "doing a list of minorities affected", including LGBTQ as a counter to bi erasure is a good thing, though they need to make it clear (instead of "the LGBTQ community", how about "LGBTQ people, especially bisexual women").

Expand full comment

Well, it is a civil liberty...

Expand full comment

What do you define as ‘civil liberty’? Mine has basis in what is in the constitution and amendments.

ACLU had more respect and my money even when defended groups I hated, because their logic was consistent. Now they seem to exist to raise money to keep existing.

Expand full comment

Why does what gets defined as a civil liberty by a pressure group have to correspond with what's written in the constitution and no further?

I don't see why a pressure group cannot take the position that there are additional civil liberties other than those explicitly specified in this very old document.

Expand full comment

Yeah, seems like a bizarre claim. By this logic the ACLU wouldn't have advocated for the right of women to vote because that wasn't (yet) in the Constitution.

Even though I can't imagine anyone arguing that's not a civil rights issue.

Expand full comment

Given Roe and Casey, there *is* a constitutional right to abortion. The Roe decision located that right in the 14th Amendment's implied right to privacy (they also mention the 9th Amendment).

Expand full comment

Penumbras, formed by emanations...

Expand full comment

There have to be unenumerated rights, just as there have to be unenumerated exceptions. If you take the Constitution as having neither, then it is transparently garbage.

(e.g. the First Amendment makes all defamation laws unconstitutional unless you accept that there are unenumerated exceptions, the Second Amendment bans disarming an active shooter, the Fourth Amendment doesn't secure electronic communications because they are not "houses, papers or effects", the Sixth Amendment prohibits prosecutions for crimes committed in DC, the Seventh Amendment can be completely disregarded outside Delaware)

Expand full comment
Comment deleted
Expand full comment
Comment deleted
Expand full comment

"There's a textual basis for thinking the Constitution may cover...."

Absolutely does cover, as your reference to 9A shows.

We can always argue about what other rights, not enumerated in the Constitution, should be recognized. But 9A clearly says that they exist.

Expand full comment
founding

I do sometimes wonder what makes something a “civil” liberty or a “civil” right rather than just a liberty or a right. Is this just meant to differentiate from market liberties and rights?

Expand full comment

Yes- nothing is more fundamental to civil liberties than my right to my own body.

Expand full comment

Yeah, I second this. I roll my eyes at stuff like student loans, but abortion makes perfect sense to be part of the ACLU's purview.

Expand full comment

That was also true before you were born.

Expand full comment

ding dong roe is dead

Expand full comment

I mean, sometimes you have to keep up with the news cycle. And say the things that keep the donations flowing. (Especially when they are causes you agree with!)

It would be weird if the ACLU twitter account just ignored what the Court is doing on abortion...

Expand full comment

I really hope the ACLU isn't making strategic decisions based on what they want their social media intern to post on their Twitter account.

The ACLU was founded in 1920. Serious question--what was their abortion position and discourse in the era immediately around RvW?

Expand full comment
Jun 21, 2022·edited Jun 21, 2022

The point about structural issues impacting the availability of diverse job candidates reminds me of a manufacturing truism - that you can’t inspect quality into your product. Unless we fix the structural issues we won’t fix the outcome.

Expand full comment