12 Steps Towards Organization-Wide Equity at Your Nonprofit

Posted by Tricia Snell, Apr 08, 2016 0 comments

For some years now I’ve been striving—as a white woman leading an organization that serves a diverse constituency—to meet my responsibility to equity, and I share my thoughts in this blog because I think my journey could be relevant to others.

So here is a brief primer.

Photo: Caldera#1 – Don’t Assume Your Programs Define Your Entire Equity Footprint. Because you have programs that serve a diverse constituency, and you are doing good things in the world, that does not mean that your organizational practices reflect those equity values. Think about everything your organization does: how you communicate internally and externally, how you make decisions, where you invest your money, how you hire and support (or don’t support) staff, what the board’s attitude to equity is, and many other elements that may be particular to your organization.

#2 – Educate Yourself (and Commit to Ongoing Self-Education for the Long Haul). You must spend the time to immerse yourself in equity issues. Take your own personal learning seriously. You cannot authentically lead an equity planning initiative without being grounded and committed to it yourself.

Training I can vouch for:

Three reading suggestions:

Photo: CalderaEquity networks that can help you:

  • In Oregon, Caldera became a member of Partners in Diversity, and I assume there are other such organizations all around the country.

#3 – Offer All the Same Education Opportunities Above to ALL of your staff. The more educated your staff are before entering an organization-wide equity initiative, the more effective it will be.

#4 – Make a Case for Equity Planning Through Its Role in Driving Excellence. If board, staff, or donors question whether you have time to devote to equity planning, or whether it really is a high priority, you can explain that your organization is not only “walking the talk,” but that equity planning will:

  • Improve programs (clarifying program goals & activities so that staff can execute with more confidence)
  • Develop and define communications (expressing your mission and values more clearly)
  • Strengthen administrative policies (identifying & solving HR problems and providing guidance to develop new practices)
  • Elevate fundraising (government agencies and foundations are leading the way on equity, and want to support nonprofits who are progressive in their practices)

#5 – Hire a Really, Really, Really Good Equity Trainer Who Can Take Your Whole Organization Through a Year-Long Equity Process. A half-day seminar won’t cut it (beware pop-up consultants who claim they can handle equity issues so swiftly); you need more time devoted to it. And you need your entire staff and board to go through a deep equity planning process together. The together part is crucial. The work is active, not received.

Caldera has a deep, trusting, long-time relationship with equity and youth mentor trainer Hanif Fazal, who recently founded the Center for Equity & Inclusion in Portland, Oregon. The Center is so new it does not yet have a web site, yet Hanif has worked with us and many others in Oregon for years. This article tells you a little about him (he’s the one holding the Justicia sign in the first photo you’ll see.)

Caldera is part of a co-hort of youth organizations who are engaging in equity planning with the support of a cadre of Oregon foundations. It is a year-long process that includes the creation of a Caldera Equity Team, special work with Caldera’s Senior Staff Leadership Team, All-Staff trainings, and Board trainings. We will also meet with the other organizations in the training, and share our learning with the foundations who are supporting us. It is an open, transparent process that is our path towards the organization-wide equity I referred to in the title of this blog (in other words, we haven’t arrived yet, but we have found the path).

Photo: Caldera#6 – Include as Many Staff in the Whole Process as Possible. Equity involves inclusiveness. If you exclude people from the process, it just doesn’t make sense.

#7 – Focus on Systematic Change. There is no gain in pointing the finger of blame at yourself or other individuals in your organization. Create a climate of learning and striving for better as a team, and be gentle; everyone will be at a different point in their learning.

#8 – Identify the Specific Problems in Your Organization, and Talk About Them Openly. The more open and accepting you are of the problems, the more open your staff and board will be to working on solving them and changing the culture.

#9 – Consider your Financial Investments. If you are lucky enough to have an endowment, as Caldera does, think about whether it is invested in funds that are aligned with your equity principles. Caldera is now in the process of shifting our endowment funds into ESG-based (Environment-Social-Governance) investments that deliver both our needed profits and our mission-based values.

#10 – Blend Your Equity Planning into Your Strategic Planning. Caldera is at a watershed moment in its growth and development. By launching equity planning concurrently with a new strategic planning initiative, we have the opportunity to make equity explicit in our Strategic Plan (and therefore in all that we do).

#11 – Take Time to Network around Diversity When Adding New Staff and Board & Committee Members. Make focused efforts to meet with equity networks (such as the Partners of Diversity organization I mentioned earlier, in Oregon), nonprofits that serve specific communities, and leaders of color in your community when you are looking to fill a new position.

#12 – Allow Yourself a Sigh of Relief When You See Your Entire Staff and Board Engaged in Enlarging Your Organization’s Equity Lens. For some time, I struggled with my own role as a white person in advancing equity. In our first Equity-Team meeting, when I saw everyone highly engaged and leaning in to discuss ways to improve Caldera, I felt a beautiful sense of calm.

The lesson learned is that as Executive Director you are only one person, and that it takes everyone in an organization to make a broad organizational change. If you support it passionately, at the same time that you step back for others to lead, you will be part of a group strive, on its way to a group transformation.

Tricia is a member of Americans for the Arts. Learn more.
Follow Caldera on Instagram at @CalderaArts


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