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On Charlottesville: A Defining Moment for the Nonprofit Sector

This is a moment that will define us as a nonprofit sector. It calls on us to look deeply at our humanity, examine our own actions and biases, and recognize, as the Heinz Endowments’ Grant Oliphant wrote, that “this, too, is America.” This hatred is part of the U.S. as well as the love we hold so deeply.

What happened in Charlottesville is not new and, for many, not surprising. There is a long history of institutional racism and white supremacy that led to this point. Yet the moral ambiguity we see in people’s defense of the white supremacists is also acutely dangerous. This spring, we wrote about how organizations might determine whether to publicly voice an opinion. In this moment, the answer for us is simple: we must speak out. Nothing justifies white supremacy, anti-Semitism and bigotry. We feel the nonprofit sector must speak loudly and with unified voices; but more than that, we must also act.

What can we do? To add to those listed by the Schott Foundation among other organizations, here are some ideas: We can hold fast to our certainty that racial superiority is unequivocally wrong. We can reflect on our own organizations’ policies that might be upholding institutional racism. We can listen to the communities with whom we work and learn from our blind spots. We can support communities of color in leading the work. We can call out bigotry when we see it. A dear friend suggested congregants of synagogues and African American churches can travel to sister institutions in Charlottesville for services to show solidarity. We can work to balance grace and anger. We can vote. We can make time for self-care and create space for others to do the same. We can have hard conversations with children. We can work to ensure our schools are helping students grapple with our racist and anti-Semitic history. We can continue the critical work of helping communities move out of poverty and gain access to healthcare, housing and employment opportunities. We can do so much, though at times it may feel like so little. But we believe small actions can advance big change.

We have an obligation to the communities with whom we work to wrestle with this racism and anti-Semitism, to pledge our unwavering support to those targeted, to get uncomfortable by examining ourselves and welcoming hard conversations, to actively build more equitable and inclusive organizations, and to counter narratives rooted in hate.

After the election, we called upon the nonprofit sector to help normalize a “culture of inclusion.” We see our clients and partners working tirelessly to do so. While we may be filled with grim emotions—anger, frustration, hopelessness, confusion—the moral clarity and actions of our clients and partners give us great hope. We see people more commonly profess love than profess hate and we see humanity’s limitless capacity for love. We know the nonprofit sector will live up to this moment, fight moral ambiguity, take action to heal our communities, and build more equitable and inclusive institutions and systems.

Editorial support by Lauri Valerio

Sara Brenner

About Sara Brenner

As President, Sara Brenner leads the firm’s consulting business. Sara helped develop and is implementing the firm’s new strategy to solve social problems at the magnitude they exist, while leading a sales team that grew revenue by more than 45%. Sara oversees the implementation of the new strategy-aligning products, impact measurement, and talent initiatives with a results-based culture to deliver exceptional value to partners. With over 15 years’ experience in consulting for nonprofits, for-profits and the government, Sara worked extensively in the health and human services including at the Advisory Board Company and The Gallup Organization. See Sara's full bio

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