Now more than ever our communities' nonprofit organizations need to understand, and be prepared to act within, the dynamic landscape of social justice and equality.

Author: James Rice


What is social justice?

Oxford Reference defines social justice as a fair and equal society in which each individual matters, their rights are recognized and protected, and decisions are made in ways that are fair and honest. With the outcry sparked by the 2020 murder of George Floyd, social justice now is often associated with evolving concepts of diversity, equity and inclusion.

In today's climate of polarizing politics, social media clicks and sensationalized news platforms, we too often find a caricature of the true meaning of social justice for all. John Rawls, an American philosopher, argued that justice is fundamentally linked to the idea of fairness.1 He explores justice on an institutional rather than an individual level. He believed that for something to be fair, no one can be exploited or made to submit to claims that appear illegitimate. So as the country continues to grapple with both racial and social issues, we continue to learn more about how to refine our approach to create meaningful change.

Social justice and nonprofits by the numbers

  • 42% of Americans say they donated or planned to donate to social justice causes in 2020.
  • 58% of this segment say that this is their first year donating to this type of cause.
  • Of the people who planned to donate to nonprofit causes, 43% say their donations will be in addition to their other charitable contributions.
  • 32% say that this will replace what would otherwise be given to another organization.2

Benefits of social justice for nonprofits

While challenging to nonprofits' boards and staff, we see five important benefits by pursuing social justice.

  • Builds deeper relationships and trust with a large percentage of the diverse communities served through nonprofit work.
  • Aligns with for-profit organizations that are focused on corporate and social responsibility to increase your donor pool.
  • Aids in attracting new volunteers and donors for your organization.
  • Attracts more diverse board members and staff.
  • Accesses social justice-related grants and/or sponsorships.

Five ways to support social justice within your organization

While in some settings saying "Black Lives Matter" can be seen as a divisive statement, we also understand "All Donors Matter" for nonprofit organizations. Many organizations worry about the risk of losing influence or donations for taking what might seem to be a hyper political stance. There is a big difference, however, between politics and simple human decency. And, in defending human rights, there's really no middle ground. Within our societal need for changing public policy, societal mores, and institutional biases that reproduce social injustices, local nonprofits can take five actions that matter:

  1. Consider your organization's current practices Understand how your cultural practices impact social issues, both locally and nationally.
  2. Use inclusive messaging Use messaging that helps staff, donors, board members and patrons of diverse backgrounds know they are welcome and valued in your organization.
  3. Diversify your team Proactively diversify your staff and your board to help provide further insights and perspective that can broaden your organizations belief system.
  4. Include social justice programming Whether or not you perceive your organizations as having a core focus related to social justice, it's important to make room for intersectional social justice programming. To the degree your policies permit it, staff, volunteers or board members interested in taking the lead should be given the opportunity to demonstrate that your organization is supportive of racial and economic justice.
  5. Start safe and honest conversations Real change only happens when we have real discussions. No cancel culture. Work to create a safe environment, where all people have a voice and can be heard respectfully. To help facilitate these types of discussions, nonprofit leaders can invite in facilitators and discuss such action-oriented agendas, like those in these two articles:

10 Ways to Promote Social Justice Everyday from MINDFOOD

15 Ways to Advance Social Justice in Your Community from the University of Kansas

Author Information


1 "John Rawls," Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, rev. Apr.12, 2021

2 Schmidt, Will. "Why America Gives 2020: How the COVID-19 Pandemic and Social Justice Movement Have Changed Giving," Classy, n.d


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