In case you missed it, I recently hosted a webinar presented by Delta Delta, entitled Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion: Why It’s Important For Nonprofit Fundraising, with the following guests:
- Punita Dani Thurman - Vice President of Program & Strategy, Skillman Foundation
- Isaiah Oliver - President & CEO, Community Foundation of Greater Flint
- Carla Walker-Miller - Walker-Miller Energy Service
In this 60-minute webinar, the group discussed actionable steps to help nonprofits commit to and effectively work toward a more inclusive future. More specifically, we talked through:
- How funding changed in 2020;
- Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) principles in action;
- DEI and donors;
- Creating a racially diverse board of directors; and
- Ways to embed DEI in your nonprofit’s culture.
As you can see, this powerful discussion covered A LOT of ground, and while I’m sure all of our guests walked away with their own takeaways, here is what stood out to me.
Focus for Funders in 2020
Similar to what we’ve heard from other corporate funders in 2020 and 2021, the panel felt it was (and will continue to be) essential to have open communication and truly listen to community needs. This sentiment was not only in response to COVID-19 but also to the racial reckoning that has been long overdue.
Because people of color were disproportionately impacted in every aspect, it was necessary then to not only look at the systems that perpetuate the inequities, but to deepen connections with those who are affected most. The result was to fund organizations that provide interventions that could have the most needed positive impact.
Our panelists were also mindful that even while COVID-19 and the social justice issues were playing out, “real-life was still happening,” so it was and still is critical to listen and to respond to what people actually need and not what the staff at your organization thinks they need. And since this needs are quickly and ever-evolving, it’s essential to have regular conversations and communications.
Beyond Board Diversity: Organizations Are Assessed on DEI Principles in Action
As a baseline, non-discrimination policies, diversity statements, and diverse staff and board representations are important. But beyond that, if a nonprofit has a real orientation to DEI in practice, it will be reflected in how the people they serve feel about working with the organization. It’s not about what the organization says, it’s about the action it takes - and funders are watching!
Inaction is NOT a choice since how we’ve acted historically is simply not working. Nonprofits and funders need to identify what to do differently and make impactful changes to truly show up for those that need to be served. DEI initiatives and the changes they bring should reach every corner of the organization.
Nonprofits also need to identify what they are willing to change. Who they are today needs to look very different in order to get to where they are trying to go tomorrow. With this in mind, it’s critical to have open conversations throughout the organization - from the board to leadership to staff - at every level, to eliminate the hierarchy of human value in many of our societal systems.
Part of this process will be seeing and openly discussing the ugly history of philanthropy and starting the conversations about the people who have and those who don't have. As pointed out in our conversation, there are generations of black kids who think black people are receivers, and white people are givers. In many cases, this mindset is the result of not just the history of our country, but in the ways philanthropy perpetuates givers and receivers.
DEI and Donors
Every organization, like every person, should have the courage of its convictions. If your organization is doing the right things with the right people and with the right intention, you should be proud and you shouldn’t be afraid to shy away from those convictions. Yes, you may lose donors who disagree with how your organization embraces DEI principles and stands up for those it serves. But if a donor doesn’t support your fundamental guiding principles, then it may be time to consider whether you want that person as a donor.
Creating a Racially Diverse Board of Directors
The board's role is to determine where the organization is headed, and the staff's role is to get the organization to that place. If the voices of those you are impacting are not included in the decisions about where the nonprofit is headed, then it’s time to make a change at one of those levels.
It’s not just about filling seats and checking boxes. That is inefficient, inappropriate, and not useful to your organization. It starts with understanding the benefits that you will gain from having diversity on the board. It also requires your organization to be open to criticism.
But first, you need to be intentional about getting close to those you are interested in inviting to join your board. It helps to set a goal and timeline for shifting the direction of your board and being sure to ask candidates, “What can you bring to our organization to help it become stronger?”
Lastly, be sure your criteria for your black and brown board candidates match those of your white candidates. As mentioned, equity needs to extend to every corner of the organization.
Embed DEI in Your Nonprofit’s Culture
It’s critical to start with yourself. Be sure to commit to your journey of reflection and self awareness. You may view yourself as accepting and open, but we ALL have blind spots and implicit biases. Individually we all need to own the responsibility to shift and change.
Creating space to explore your views and attitudes will go a long way in helping create an initiative for the nonprofit you lead or work within. It helps to not focus on fixing and to use “I” statements when speaking about your feelings and attitudes. Using curiosity instead of judgment in conversations can allow conversations to flow.
Be committed to the goal of creating a diverse, inclusive, and equitable organization because there will be many steps, some of which may prove difficult. As a leader within an organization, it will be your job to understand when to push and pause during the process.
If you are uncomfortable driving the DEI initiative within your organization, consider hiring a professional. Bringing in a team or someone from the outside can help guide conversations, identify challenges, and provide accountability. A couple of organizations mentioned by our panelists, include:
To find solutions and help to effectuate change in your nonprofit and community, it requires a systematic and sustained effort. As you and your organization put these principles into practice, it will be essential to identify and measure them along the way. Iterations will be necessary to be sure they are effective and you may encounter challenges, but I urge you to keep going! Through this work, your organization will build a sturdy foundation to welcome diversity, build equity and include everyone’s voices.
To watch our full conversation, click here.
And, as another resource, check out this article for more information about how your nonprofit can be a leader in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.
About Rachel M. Decker
Having spent nearly 20 years in the nonprofit sector as an effective and strategic fundraising and foundation executive, Detroit Philanthropy Founder and President, Rachel Decker is passionate about helping others, making meaningful connections, solving problems and, most importantly, creating impact in our community. With the founding of Detroit Philanthropy, she turned that passion into a commitment to champion philanthropy throughout metro Detroit as a philanthropic advisor, fundraising consultant and speaker.