What They Learned: Amanda Friedman ’18

For her thesis, the sociology major explored the relationship between nonprofit organizations and social justice.

The summer before her senior year at Haverford, Amanda Friedman ’18 recalls picking up a particularly influential book while interning at the Inside-Out Center, a program operated by Temple University that facilitates conversation between traditional college students and incarcerated students to inspire a love of learning and passion for justice in its participants.

Perhaps not your typical summer read, The Revolution will Not be Funded: Beyond the Nonprofit Industrial Complex by INCITE!, a feminists-of-color collective, inspired the sociology major to think about the relationship between professionalized nonprofit work and large-scale social change.

Friedman’s research culminated in her thesis, “How to Be Both: Negotiating Professionalism and Activism in the Nonprofit Sector.”

“At the beginning of this project,” Friedman said, “I set out to learn how people who work for social justice organizations manage to honor their professional and activist identities even though these two may be in conflict. One hypothesis I had at the beginning of the project was that as the sector becomes more professionalized, staff start to value quantitative metrics more as they evaluate their work and can lose sight of the original goals of their organization.”

As an active member of ETHOS, Haverford’s food-justice initiative, Friedman saw an opportunity to apply her passion and infuse more depth into her research topic. “The nonprofit sector is difficult to research and theorize because of how broad it is,” said Friedman, “so my contribution attempts to fill a gap by focusing only on food-justice-related organizations.

Friedman conducted interviews as a part of her fieldwork at a variety of food-justice organizations, including Edible Schoolyard NYC (pictured above).

Friedman’s thesis also appealed to her because of her plans to spend a large part of her career in the nonprofit sector. Friedman is currently working at the Cornell Branch of the Telluride Association as a program assistant and will head to Boston in the fall to begin a full-time job at the Mayor’s Office of Food Access as a Food Corps service fellow.

What are the implications for your thesis research?

At the end of the project, I conclude that even though there are tons of passionate people working to resist the forces of professionalization, these values need to be instilled by funders also. Nonprofits are central to American political life, and if they become overly professionalized they will no longer be a publicly accessible site for debate and representation of community values.


“What They Learned” is a blog series exploring the thesis work of recent graduates.

Photo: Edible NYC, an organization Friedman ’18 visited to perform research for her sociology thesis.