Reflections on Stewardship

December, 2023

As 2023 approaches its close, my thoughts gravitate toward questions of stewardship. Croatan Institute was formally incorporated a decade ago, and we made our launch public on Earth Day in 2014. The Institute will therefore be celebrating its ten-year public anniversary in the spring of next year.

The Institute today is a much different organization from when we started it, now with a staff of fifteen employees and affiliated fellows, a much stronger financial footing, and a decade of experience and impact. Since our founding, we have collaborated on a wide array of engagements with more than 200 organizations, ranging from mission-aligned businesses and nonprofits to foundations and philanthropic affinity groups, from impact investors and community development financial institutions to farmers and place-based organizations seeking focused financial solutions to the interconnected social and ecological problems we are facing in the 21st century.

Our collaborative ethos with partners in the field mirrors the cooperative nature of how our team collaborates internally at the Institute. Although we are legally organized as a nonprofit corporation, Croatan Institute has internalized many participatory principles and practices of cooperatives and experimented with a more explicitly cooperative form of governance as was outlined in our Strategic Plan.

At the Institute we have never been comfortable with the idea of a Board dominated by donors with a fairly removed understanding of the day-to-day demands of operating the organization, as is commonly found across the nonprofit sector. We certainly value the diverse perspectives of our external directors, and we are delighted to welcome our two most recently elected independent directors Masika Henson and William J. Barber, III. As with cooperatives, the Institute’s autonomy and independence from outside influences is critical to maintain, and we are regularly seeking to enhance the participatory, democratic nature of control over the organization by those who serve it every day and draw their livelihood from it.

Naturally, the nonprofit legal form does not permit the equitable ownership of the Institute’s capital as cooperatives do among their members, so we have embarked on alternative means of exercising democratic control over the organization as it grows. Employee participation and representation on our Board is just one of these alternatives. Experimenting with a more participatory annual budgeting process is another. All Staff have the opportunity to provide valuable input into the budget, both individually and through an empowered series of committees that have broad discretion to make daily decisions about a wide range of the Institute’s activities, such as business development, communications, human resources, and finance and investment. Each committee has developed its own approach to internal facilitation and decision making. We look forward to sharing more about our on-going experimentation with cooperative nonprofit stewardship at Croatan Institute in the future.

At our most recent annual meeting last month, the Board made several important decisions related to the Institute’s stewardship that I’m pleased to share. One was the election of our colleague Anna Aspenson as the first Staff-nominated employee representative on the Board of Directors. After working with her closely on several projects over the last two and a half years, I’m delighted to welcome Anna to this newly established position on the Board.

Another major action of the Board was the selection of our colleague Christi Electris to serve as the Institute’s first Executive Director, effective January 1, 2024. Christi deeply embodies the Institute’s core values; she is rigorous in problem solving, interdisciplinary in training and perspective, inclusive toward everyone she meets, independent in mind and spirit, and trusted by those who have had the good fortune of working with her. I count myself lucky to be among those. Christi took a major chance in joining me a decade ago to launch Croatan Institute – as a new kind of research and action institute with a mission, now even more clearly stated, to build social equity and ecological resilience by leveraging finance to create pathways to a just economy. She has been unwavering in her commitment to the Institute’s mission even during some of our most challenging moments. I now look forward to stewarding the Institute under her executive leadership.

So as the year ends, please join me in welcoming Anna Aspenson and Christi Electris to these important new roles at the Institute. If you value the mission, vision, and values of the Institute and the collective sense of service and stewardship our team incarnates, then I would invite you to join me in supporting this next wave of leadership by making a meaningful contribution to Croatan Institute before the year ends.

You can make a tax-deductible donation in any amount today or make a more substantial pledge to our Canopy Community to be fulfilled by next year. You can also purchase one of our collaborative, locally sourced, naturally dyed Black Walnut t-shirt from our partners at Solid State Clothing and TS Designs, proceeds from which will support our Canopy Community as well.

With best wishes for the new year,

Joshua Humphreys
President and Senior Fellow