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The Non-Profit Universe

One of Cindy Spring's quarterly essays.

EarthLight Magazine #46, Summer 2002

I love the notion coming from leading-edge spiritual and science philosophers, that my speciesĖlike all other speciesĖdeeply participates in the evolution of the Universe. In the words of philosopher Richard Tarnas, humans birth bold ideas and creative forms "from the wellspring of nature itself, from the universal unconscious that is bringing forth through the human mind and imagination its own gradually unfolding reality." Tarnas speaks to my soulís passion for reconnecting with the forces that shape my beloved Earth. He also speaks to my egoís need to be committed to a noble cause. (How much more grand can you get than to be a participant in the Universeís unfolding?)

The question does arise: how on Earth do I do that? Iíll go straight to an answer Iíve found for myself: deeply participate in the evolution of a nonprofit organization. Iíve attended the births of several nonprofits and this is my observation:

The primordial fire that sparked millions of galaxies is the same fire that sparks the creative impulse. Combine that impulse with the best of human traits such as compassion, wisdom, and a penchant for identifying a social need and addressing it. Bingo! A nonprofit is born. A basecamp for evolutionary effort.

Founders of nonprofits are practical visionaries. Along with fellow visionaries such as artists, musicians, poets, and inventors, the founders tap an inner vision of a world they want to exist, one they want to live in. Earthjustice, Books Not Bars, Friends of the Creeks, Community Food Bank, Wisdom Circles, CARE, Native American College Fund, Habitat for Humanity. See how the names capture the vision?

I may send checks to dozens of organizations that do good work, but a few allow me the sense I am riding the forces of evolution.

  • Without young peopleís determination to "save the world," I believe we are doomed. Thatís why I work with EarthTeam, which locates and channels community resources to high school environmental clubs and classes.
  • "The women who join us are supported in their activism by the trees." Thatís the mythic lore of Womenís Forest Sanctuary and Iíve experienced the truth of it. Iím one of several hundred people purchasing 14 acres of redwood trees for permanent conservation in Humboldt County, California.
  • "Because the Earth needs a good lawyer" (their motto), I support Earthjustice with a monthly donation. Who fights for the manatees in Florida or the migratory birds in the Pacific? Or against toxic emissions in Louisiana and mines in Montana? These folks are in the vanguard of confronting human destruction of other species.
  • Itís a privilege to be among the community of writers and volunteers who contribute to EarthLight. To stay ahead of despair and help us sustain our gaze, we need frequent doses of ideas that deepen our thinking. And, as writer Barry Lopez suggests, "sometimes we need a story more than food." Alternative media are essential to having any sense of whatís truly going on in our world today.

Those are some of mine. Which nonprofits are you supporting? Not all nonprofits fit my life-affirming description. Some are shams; some exist as associations of those whose sole motive is personal gain; some just donít work well. But you know the ones I mean.

Nonprofit organizations often set in motion unintended consequences that couldnít have been known, or even intuited by the founders. The creative impulse continues within the organization and increases the complexity and sophistication of the original vision. When British lawyer Peter Benenson wrote "The Forgotten Prisoners" in Londonís Observer newspaper in May 1961, how could he possibly have foreseen his article spawning Amnesty International, the worldís leading human rights organization, operating in over 100 countries?

In 1989, nine-year old Melissa Poe was growing up in Nashville, Tennessee, when she gathered six of her friends together because of her concern about pollution. Kids for a Clean Environment spread like wildfire with 600 chapters within two years, and is now the largest youth environmental organization in the world. Once triggered, that original creative spark can illuminate the minds of others.

Again Richard Tarnas: "The human mind is following the numinous archetypal path that is unfolding from within it." I think a nonprofit organization, springing from our deepest longings, can become a collective experience of that path.

Cindy Spring is an environmental activist and co-author of Wisdom Circles, A Guide to Self-Discovery and Community Building in Small Groups.

She can be reached at See prior columns and responses at © Cindy Spring 2002.

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