Building a Culture of Equity and Inclusion in Collaboration

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Culture can make or break collaboration. Culture guides how members of a collaborative will work together and impacts what the group is able to achieve together. When the goal of collaboration is to address inequities in a system or community, it is critical to build a culture that centers equity and inclusion. Without this intentionality, collaborations, just like organizations, will default to behaviors of white dominant culture—behaviors that can stand in the way of the authentic inclusion and long-term, systemic thinking needed to achieve equitable outcomes.

Since March 2020, we have worked with a community of practice of more than 35 nonprofit organizations focused on healthy food access and consumption. The goal of this community is to increase access to and consumption of healthy foods—particularly in Black, Latinx, Indigenous, elderly, and rural communities. The funder of the community, Walmart Foundation, has been intentional about fully ceding power to participants and us, as the backbone of the collaborative, in deciding how to build this community.

From our work with this group, we have seen firsthand the importance of intentionally building a culture that prioritizes equity and inclusion. As designers and facilitators of this community, we have reflected on mistakes we’ve made and celebrated small wins that have happened along the way. As we reflect on our experiences with this community and other collaboratives we’ve been part of, we see three aspects of white supremacy culture, as described by Tema Okun, that can be common—urgency, quantity over quality, and paternalism.* By sharing our experiences, we hope to help other collaborative efforts find ways to actively work against harmful aspects of white supremacy culture.

Right-sizing the sense of urgency

A false sense of urgency can crowd out space for thinking about the long term, recognizing where you have gaps in perspective or in knowledge, or building an inclusive space where all voices are welcome and heard. Sometimes collaboratives move too quickly to action because of external pressures such as funding timelines or in response to the urgency of the issue they seek to address.

When we started our work with the Healthy Food Community of Practice, we recognized early on that we did not have full representation of the communities we wanted to serve among the participants we were bringing to the table. We knew we needed to start somewhere, and at the time it made sense to start with the organizations who raised this idea in the first place, which happened to be mostly large, national organizations. In hindsight, we should have paused to ask ourselves some questions: What is the implication of building the community around these organizations? How might that help us or not help us achieve the goal of creating healthy food access and consumption for historically marginalized folks? Taking the time to dig into those questions would have led to a more intentional, and probably more inclusive, design process.

At the same time, a common challenge we’ve seen with collaboratives that do not have some urgency is they can become groups that are all talk and no action, and this can be a waste of time and resources. Some balance is needed between an unnecessarily heightened sense of urgency and lack of urgency that can also feel like lack of accountability to the community you say you want to help. Collaboratives can resist white dominant culture by creating regular space for reflection and self-awareness about how urgency is showing up in the work, centering the people affected by the collaborative in the reflection. If you are feeling urgency, what is driving it? If there doesn’t seem to be any urgency, what is the cost of that? How might adjusting where or how you place urgency bring you into closer alignment with your values and how you want to work together?

Countering paternalism through shared power

Without clarity at the outset about how decisions will be made, it can be easy to default to patterns where decision making is clear to those with power and unclear to those without power. Lack of clarity and intentionality about decision making can also result in people affected by the decisions not being involved in making them. This can become more complicated in large collaboratives with many participants, when someone is playing a backbone role, and/or by funding relationships.

Nearly all these dynamics are at play in the Healthy Food Community of Practice. The participants represent organizations of various sizes and hold a range of roles within their organizations. It’s not practical (or desired by the group) to engage the full community in every decision. For the decisions where we do engage the full community, there can be power dynamics at play among participants. As facilitators of the community, we recognize that every decision we make is a form of wielding power.

One way we have tried to mitigate these dynamics is by forming an advisory council, a group of seven to 10 participants that we engage periodically to advise the program design. We offer a stipend to help compensate for the extra time participation requires, and when members join, they are signing on for a period of five months. At the end of their term, new members can join the advisory council so that the power that comes with this role is shared broadly across the community over time. The advisory council has added an important voice to the design of the community, helping to ensure the topics we elevate for discussion and thought leadership bring maximum value and relevancy to the community.

When we had extra funds available for the community (due to the shift from in-person to virtual meetings in 2020 and 2021), we worked with participants to design a participatory grantmaking process. As a result, the community awarded grants to three collaborative efforts happening among participating organizations. This was a step towards countering paternalism, however, we recognize that we could move further along the power-sharing spectrum. Ultimately, it is the communities that are most impacted by the issue of nutrition insecurity that should be deciding how funds are allocated. We continue to learn and evolve to move further along this spectrum.

Flipping the “quantity over quality” default

In general, there is an over-reliance on quantifiable outputs and metrics as a way to gauge effectiveness in the nonprofit sector. This is driven in large part by funders and the “what gets measured gets funded” refrain that is so common. This way of thinking crowds out space for developing thoughtful processes, building relationships, clarifying values for working together, and prioritizing long-term, systemic change over short-term gains. While it is always important to respond to immediate needs, we also need nonprofits to have the resources and time to work upstream to change the systems that are causing the immediate needs.

To flip the “quantity over quality” mentality, collaboratives can first ask, “why are we coming together?” and “how do we want to work together?” before getting too far in figuring out “what do we want to do together?” Our theory of change for the Healthy Food Community of Practice centered relationship building as a foundational step in forming the community, recognizing that this was a critical first step for the group to move toward learning, action, and field-building. The community began by establishing some shared goals and norms for working together. These have evolved over time as the group has deepened relationships and dug into the work together. As more BIPOC leaders have joined the community and we have been having tougher conversations about the intersection of race equity in food systems, the norms and behaviors that guide the community’s conversations have needed to evolve. While we recognize it is not possible to prevent all harm, we also believe it is our role as the backbone to establish conditions that prevent as much harm as possible and equip people in the community of practice to repair harm when it happens. We continue to learn how best to do that.

We have also found it helpful to create opportunities for “small wins” as a way to help deepen relationships and help the group find common purpose. The Healthy Food Community of Practice has formed small work groups, which they call “innovation pods,” to work on discrete topics, such as developing a revised theory of change for nutrition education that is more culturally competent and conducting research to understand how the pandemic impacted benefits enrollment processes and form recommendations moving forward. These small wins help participants build relationships with one another, help the group take steps toward their broader goal, and help build momentum for larger actions the group can take in the future.

Once the work is underway, collaboratives can rethink how they measure success beyond outputs and outcomes. Interaction Institute for Social Change’s Results-Process-Relationship Triangle offers a helpful frame for reflecting on what’s working well within a collaborative and areas for improvement.

Building a culture that prioritizes equity and inclusion

Culture builds within a collaboration whether you are intentional about it or not, and collaboratives that don’t focus on building a culture that prioritizes equity and inclusion are likely to default to the white dominant norms that are deeply engrained in our ways of working. We know this because we’ve been there many times. While we’ve learned there are many ways white dominant culture could show up in harmful ways in collaboratives and many ways collaboratives could buck against it, here are three possible places to start:

  • Right-sizing the sense of urgency: Create space for regular reflection on whether and how the group is feeling urgency. If you are feeling urgency, what is driving it? If there doesn’t seem to be any urgency, what is the cost of that? Where might a different level of urgency bring you into closer alignment with your values and how you want to work together?
  • Countering paternalism: Be transparent about how decisions are being made. Work toward sharing decision-making power. Ensure you are involving people that will be affected by the decision.
  • Prioritizing quality, not quantity: Prioritize strong relationships and thoughtful, inclusive processes as equally important as achieving measurable results. Hold space to reflect on process and relationships in addition to results.


* If this statement is raising feelings of defensiveness for you, consider the words of Tema Okun: “The invitation for this and every characteristic is to investigate how each and all characteristics and qualities lead to disconnection (from each other, ourselves, and all living things) and how the antidotes can support us to reconnect. If you read these characteristics and qualities as blaming or shaming, perhaps they are particularly alive for you. If you find yourself becoming defensive as you read them, lean into the gift of defensiveness and ask yourself what you are defending. The description of these characteristics are meant to help us see our culture so that we can transgress and transform and build culture that truly supports us individually and collectively.” We are sharing our reflections in the spirit of contributing to a collective culture of equity and inclusion in nonprofit collaborations. 


Supporting Leaders of Color

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Particularly amid the dual pandemics — COVID-19 and systemic racism — organizations need strong leaders who bring lived experiences and can support, reflect, and understand the concerns and needs of the communities that are disproportionately impacted. Some of these organizations are responding by shifting practices including hiring leaders of color. “This practice is necessary but not sufficient,” said Angela Romans of AchieveMission.

Following the Nonprofit Quarterly article “Failure Is Not an Option: How Nonprofit Boards Can Support Leaders of Color,” the podcast Nonprofit SnapCast interviewed Angela Romans, Idalia Fernandez of Community Wealth Partners, and Monisha Kapila of ProInspire about their work coaching and supporting nonprofit leaders of color and some key patterns they see emerging as many historically white-led organizations appoint leaders of color for the first time. Listen to the episode here.

Here are some highlights:

  • Organizations and boards looking to hire leaders of color need to look inward: “What is the context we’re bringing someone into? To what extent are we prepared to tackle the inequities we’re propagating within our own organization? How will we tackle those as a board and as an organization so that we can truly create the kind of ecosystem that embraces the vision and leadership of a new leader of color and also helps them grow?” — Idalia Fernandez
  • Boards play a critical role in supporting the vision of CEOs of color: “Boards can encourage and support the change by aligning to the CEO’s vision. It’s the board’s job to identify the CEO, but then the CEO sets that vision and the ways the organization needs to change to achieve it. The board has to be on board with supporting that leadership and not second-guessing it.” — Monisha Kapila
  • Organizations and boards need to identify and plan for the challenges a new leader of color might face: “Every organization has strengths as well as growth edges or gaps. So if there’s a big financial mess [at the organization], does the [new] leader of color have strong financial chops and training? If they do, great. If they don’t, develop a professional development plan and staff or consultant support to help that leader face those organizational gaps. You can’t be ready for every challenge, but it’s a matter of understanding where the gaps are and then creating the right plan to address those challenges.” — Angela Romans

Listen to the episode

Read the Nonprofit Quarterly article


Podcast: The Impact of COVID-19 on the Sector

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In a recent episode of the Business of Giving podcast, Amy Celep (CEO of Community Wealth Partners) talks with host Denver Frederick about what we’re hearing from the organizations we work with. The conversation explores many things including:

  • How the COVID-19 crisis is exposing deep inequities but also accelerating action to address those inequities.
  • The ways leaders are leading effectively in a virtual world and taking care of staff and themselves. If you want to do best by your mission, clients, and staff, Amy says, you have to pay attention to what you need. And as Maurice Jones, CEO of LISC, told Amy, “We’ve had to up our game in matters of the heart, and give people permission, through our words and deeds, to display their pain.”
  • How scenario planning can help organizations prepare amid uncertainty. Around Minute 8, Amy shares a five-step process for scenario planning.
  • How funders can address power dynamics to better support nonprofits. Funders can proactively encourage grantees to be bold in their asks. They can also continue practices of trust-based philanthropy long after this has passed.
  • How nonprofits can better understand the reliability of their revenue streams. Nonprofits can ask bold questions of donors and funders like, “What are your intentions for our grant/donation? What do you anticipate continuing to do and fund? What might you consider stopping or pausing?”

You can listen to the full interview here on the Business of Giving website or below.


What Does Virtual Leadership During COVID-19 Look Like?

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It’s hard enough to lead an organization through a period of difficulty and uncertainty. It’s even harder to lead through the extreme societal and organizational disruption we are experiencing in the wake of a pandemic and to do so virtually with team members juggling work with watching children, caring for sick loved ones, navigating difficult home situations, and managing a roller coaster of emotions.

In response, many leaders are asking, what does virtual leadership look like?

While virtual leadership like this is new for all of us, there are leadership principles that are particularly relevant right now. Just as before, leaders can offer:

  • Inspiration and realism: Give hope to your team while being realistic about the future and its uncertainty and challenges. Getting this balance right is key to helping your team have faith in leadership, their own work, and the path forward.
  • Action: Help your team get unstuck by focusing on immediate steps they can take to make a difference and adapt, especially if they seem paralyzed by the changes. Show them you are in it together.
  • Love: Support your team, assume best intentions, and create space for team members to be multidimensional, imperfect humans who can try new things and learn in the process.

This time also calls upon us to be creative with how we lead. Here’s what strong virtual leadership can look like this moment.

  • Assume the best and give grace. Let’s face it: work and home have just collided like never before, and you may not know what challenges people are facing or what they need. This is a moment to assume the best of intentions, be flexible where you can, and listen to your team. Ask questions to understand what’s going on. Pay attention to the circumstances people may be facing in their homes and personal lives – particularly team members with disabilities, with dependents, with sick loved ones, and who are part of communities that are on the front lines of this pandemic or that are receiving the least support right now. (The Management Center put together this survey to help you understand staff needs.)
  • Be present from afar. As always, your presence matters. As you lead from afar, you can get creative with how to be present virtually. For example, consider temporarily creating daily 15-minute check-ins with teams to stay connected and provide support. During meetings, turn on your video so people can engage with your facial expressions and body language. As you communicate with your team, consider that many people have a greater need right now to feel connected and informed; but also, if their inboxes look like mine, they’re receiving a huge influx of emails. Be generous but intentional in your full-team communications. Consider using email to communicate organizational things and using a chat platform (like Slack or Zoom) to manage smaller, daily, project-level communications.
  • Walk the virtual halls. Connecting one-on-one with individuals can help maintain or strengthen relationships. You can’t physically walk the halls of the office to connect informally with people, but there are virtual ways to do this. You can set up virtual coffees or meet-ups with people you don’t typically see in meetings, particularly people with less access to power in your organization. It’s also important to support your team’s virtual social gatherings to help foster a sense of community. Encourage and support virtual social events like lunches, snack breaks, or mindfulness gatherings. As we distance ourselves physically, we need more social connection.
  • Live your culture virtually. Now more than ever culture matters and will be tested. Culture challenges are often exacerbated amid all the pressures staff are facing, which can lead to less effective work in a time when it’s greatly needed. At the same time, this moment may offer an opportunity for breakthroughs because it may force your team to break down silos and change ineffective ways of working as you try new things. Model the values and behaviors that make your organization effective, and continue to hold teams accountable for doing so too. Most importantly – this is a time to prioritize the conversations that help you uphold your culture. It can be easier to avoid difficult conversations when you are virtual. Instead, insist that your team engage, listen, and have the conversations that matter most. You might hold time with your team to talk about what it looks like to live your values right now. How might you manage power dynamics over your virtual meeting platform? How might you collaborate in real time with each other when people are dealing with slow internet? How can you ensure everyone feels they can fully participate in team meetings when the technology isn’t intuitive to some team members?

We’ve learned some of these lessons over the years, and some have emerged in the last two weeks. This moment and the months that follow will teach us a great deal about how to lead. What are you learning about virtual leadership? What’s working, and what isn’t? We hope to keep learning, making mistakes, and finding humor alongside you.

Podcast: Making Change through Coalitions

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Coalitions have to grapple with complex issues. They need strategies bold enough to inspire people to get involved but believable enough that people think it can happen. They need to address mistrust among members and with communities. They need to undo some structures they’ve built and find new ways of working.

In this two-part series, Community Wealth Partners’ president Sara Brenner talks with Vitalyst Health Foundation’s Spark podcast. about findings from research on what contributes to transformational change. In Part One, she shares the four stages of the social transformation lifecycle, as well as a story about a coalition. In Part Two, she walks through ten key elements that can help coalitions drive change that lasts.


“If we take step back and think about how we feel in the work, we realize we’re coming up against resistance all the time. Where are those points where we’re stuck, and why are we stuck? When people talk about being stuck, it’s usually because of the dynamics they have with other partners or people within their own organizations. ‘We’re unable to move on an issue because we haven’t worked through a difference in perspective or some kind of competition or a challenge or distrust or our own ambitions are at the forefront rather than the ambition of the cause.’ What we suggest coalitions or organizations do is spend some time building their culture intentionally.” —Sara Brenner


Making Organizational Culture More Intentional to Drive Community Change

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This post originally appeared on the Grantmakers for Effective Organizations blog. Read the original post here.

As more grantmakers are considering how they can advance change through their grantmaking, many funders are also thinking about the need to strengthen their organizational cultures in order to work more effectively and have greater impact. Intentional cultural change work can take many different forms. Our conversation with Margie Jo Eun Joo Andreason, diversity, equity and inclusion manager at Northwest Area Foundation, and Paul Luna, president & CEO of Helios Education Foundation, during a recent GEO webinar showed two different approaches to culture change.

Prompted by the staff and board, Northwest Area Foundation decided to take an explicit focus on racial equity and began an intensive process of making both internal and external changes to address DEI over many years. “DEI work is cultural change work,” Margie shared during the webinar. “All our systems have not been built for people of color and are layered in patriarchy. There is a lot to undo.”

During the webinar, we polled attendees and found that 72% of participants said considerations of DEI were part of culture conversations happening inside their organizations.

Helios Education Foundation’s Culture Work was prompted by the Foundation approaching it’s ten-year anniversary. Helios had experienced significant growth in its first decade and its senior leadership wanted to ensure that the established cultural values were being lived out in an authentic and transparent way. In addition, the Culture Work provided an opportunity to examine working relationships among staff. This led to the foundation focusing on specific areas such as delegating decision-making more broadly and working more collaboratively.

No two cultures will be the same and organizations will take different paths to build intentional cultures that lead to results. Still, Margie and Paul’s stories point to some common elements that are helpful to keep in mind as funders embark on culture change efforts:

  1. Identify concrete behaviors that will help create your desired culture
  2. Embrace both top-down and bottom-up approaches
  3. Be prepared to get personal

These recommendations align with Community Wealth Partners’ research and experience on culture change as well.

Identify Concrete Behaviors That Will Help Create Your Desired Culture

Many culture change efforts fall short because they stop at naming organizational values without identifying concrete behaviors that support those values. To create a culture where people are living the organization’s values, it is necessary to establish explicit structures, policies, and practices (norms) that reinforce those values. These norms will incentivize the types of individual behavior that will reinforce the culture.

Similarly, organizations must reflect on norms, both implicit and explicit, that might incentivize behaviors that conflict with the desired culture. This is especially important when you are working to dismantle aspects of white dominant culture in pursuit of a culture that is inclusive and equitable. For example, to ensure behaviors that were more aligned with the equitable culture they wanted, Northwest Area Foundation put norms in place such as embedding equity in the foundation’s strategic goals, which ensures the foundation will put resources behind it; creating a staff position to champion this work (Margie’s position); and establishing a cross-departmental steering committee to ensure this work cuts across all areas of the organization.

Embrace Both Top-Down and Bottom-Up Approaches

It is critical for leadership to take an active role in culture change efforts to give the work the attention, urgency, and commitment it needs. Margie shared how board and staff both supported Northwest Area Foundation’s equity work, which was helpful for creating urgency. At the same time, top-down efforts alone are not enough. Culture change is the work of everyone in the organization, and therefore it is helpful to have structures in place that can help ensure shared buy-in and ownership at all levels of the organization. Helios Education Foundation adopted a culture-building process that engaged the entire organization. One way they did this was by creating a Culture Working Group, made up of a cross section of employees from all levels and departments. The purpose of this group is to ensure that the culture change in the organization is owned and shared among staff.

Be Prepared to Get Personal

Culture manifests in individual behaviors. Many culture conversations stay focused on the organizational level without honest reflection on individual practices required to make meaningful change. Paul shared that when Helios decided they wanted to work on creating more space for shared leadership and being more collaborative, it meant he needed to reflect on some of his personal practices and adjust his leadership to be more aligned with the desired culture.

“One of the things I focused on was empowering others to do things that previously they would not have done, and [I had to] get comfortable with that,” Paul shared. “I also focused on listening and understanding when I received challenging feedback. I wanted to model the type of culture we wanted to take shape within the organization.”

Internal Changes for External Impact

Intentionally creating culture helps align your organization for greater impact. For example, when Helios Education Foundation sought to improve collaboration and decision making within the foundation, those internal improvements were noticeable to grantees and community partners. Paul shared that the foundation’s community partners noted positive changes in the ways the foundation showed up in work and conversations with partners. In addition, improving internal decision making and grantmaking processes inside the foundation led to improved communications and engagement with the community.

As foundations increasingly talk about DEI and other changes they want to make to the ways they work and the impact they want to have, paying attention to foundation culture and intentionally shaping it becomes increasingly important. To lead your grantmaking with authenticity and credibility, make sure internal culture is front and center in the conversations happening across the foundation.

Visit the GEO blog to read this post and access member resources on culture. 

Additional Resources:

How Community Foundations Define and Communicate Their Value

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Sometimes an old idea can bring new insights. Take, for example, the Arizona Community Foundation (ACF).

As with many community foundations, measuring impact beyond assets under management is particularly challenging because ACF distributes the bulk of its funds according to the wishes of its 1,700 fundholders. While some community foundations have significant discretionary funds that they can invest in issues they select, ACF’s discretionary funds are limited. As a result, ACF must act through its donors to increase its impact. ACF hypothesizes that when donors, grantees, and the foundation itself interact in dynamic ways, they promote a culture of philanthropy that increases giving, leads to more effective nonprofits, and contributes to a better Arizona. With this hypothesis in mind, we partnered with ACF to help measure and increase its impact.

As learnings from this impact measurement surfaced, we used a time-tested framework to help ACF think about how they work with donors and grantees to further advance a culture of philanthropy.

A New Use for an Existing Framework

A framework familiar to the business world, the value disciplines framework, proposes that companies become industry leaders by excelling in one of three areas while meeting industry standards in the other two. The idea is that by narrowing its focus to be truly exceptional in one area, a company can stand out from competitors. The three disciplines that companies focus on are:

  • Operational Excellence – A reliable product at a modest price (Frontier Airlines, Walmart)
  • Product Leadership – Cutting-edge products or services (Apple, Tesla)
  • Customer Intimacy – A deep understanding of different customers’ needs and the flexibility to meet them (Amazon, Salesforce)

While a business framework may not seem like an obvious choice for a community foundation, there are several reasons it helped ACF think about its value. First, unlike private foundations, whose assets often come from a dedicated source, community foundations have customers: the donors who choose to place their money in donor-advised funds (DAFs). For many community foundations, growing this donor base is essential to the organization’s community impact and financial health. Second, a growing number of banks are offering DAFs, creating competition for community foundations. Delivering exceptional value is essential if community foundations are to compete with low-fee DAFs from companies like Vanguard and Fidelity.

How Community Foundations Can Identify Their Value Proposition

Together, we adapted the value disciplines framework to apply specifically to the community foundation context:

  • Operational Excellence – A reliable, smooth donor experience; giving is easy and cost-effective
  • Product Leadership – High-quality donor services; a variety of giving options that meet donor needs
  • Customer Intimacy – Personalized services delivered in a thoughtful way, based on a deep understanding of the donor’s needs

When we interviewed donors to understand the value ACF offered in supporting and shaping their philanthropy, we found that they typically saw ACF as excelling in customer intimacy. They felt ACF staff deeply understood their interests and tailored services to exactly what they needed. For a donor interested in seeding new organizations, ACF recommended a steady pipeline of well-vetted startup nonprofits. For another donor interested in international solar energy, ACF offered advice on how to manage legal risk when giving overseas. These donors and others felt heard and understood by ACF staff. They were satisfied with the products ACF offered (product leadership) and found giving to be a smooth experience (operational excellence), but they saw ACF as leading with customer intimacy.

Why Understanding Value Proposition is Important for a Community Foundation

Other community foundations can apply a value disciplines lens to:

  • Increase impact. The impact of a community foundation is tied to the giving of its donors. Engaged donors are more likely to become long-term givers and go beyond financial contributions, for example, by volunteering, recruiting other donors, and advocating for nonprofits. By supporting donors in their areas of interest and in ways known to be effective, a community foundation can increase its impact on the community.
  • Differentiate from other players. As smaller organizations, community foundations will struggle to offer DAFs that are lower priced than those marketed by large investment banks. However, their size and place-based nature is an advantage when it comes to customer intimacy. By building relationships, bringing deep knowledge of the community, and responding to donor needs in a tailored way, community foundations can attract and retain donors looking for more than a transactional experience.
  • Make the right internal investments. Like any organization, community foundations are faced with numerous opportunities to invest in internal capacity. Knowing where the organization needs to deliver exceptional value and where “good enough” is sufficient is critical to making the best use of scarce resources. If donors see customer intimacy as the key value proposition, then investments in donor support staff and systems will add greater value than incrementally improving price or products (assuming these are already at industry standard levels). Investments in donor-facing systems are particularly important to a younger generation of donors, who are digital natives and expect a technology-enabled experience.

As you apply the value disciplines lens, you might ask yourself the following questions:

Operational Excellence

  • How smooth is our giving experience? Do we spend a lot of time troubleshooting donor issues?
  • How does our pricing compare to other alternatives for donors? Are we a high-, medium-, or low-cost provider?

Product Leadership

  • Do we offer a wide range of giving options? How do these compare to what other competitors offer?
  • Besides DAFs, what other services do we offer donors (e.g., advice, learning opportunities, connections to community nonprofits, networking opportunities)?

Customer Intimacy

  • How well do we understand our donors? How detailed is our data on their interests and giving history?
  • Do we segment donors to better tailor our products and services to their needs?
  • How often do our staff connect with donors?

Applying this framework has led ACF to better understand the needs of its donors, ensure the best service provision, and seek new ways to support them in transforming their philanthropy Through this support, ACF believes it will advance a vibrant and enduring culture of philanthropy in which donors increase their support for nonprofits, grantees become ever more effective in delivering on their missions, and greater collaboration among all parties leads to a better future for Arizona.

Putting Your Organization’s Values Into Practice

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We launched a field guide a couple of weeks ago on forming an organizational culture that will set you up to reach the outcomes you seek. The guide is filled with practical recommendations, and to further build on this, we wanted to offer two additional tips on how to live out your culture’s values day-in, day-out. As we’ve seen in our work with Helios Education Foundation and the Wells Fargo Regional Foundation, these tips and activities can help bring your organization’s values and culture to life.

Making Your Collaboration Value Stick

For many organizations, inclusion and collaboration are core values that drive the work. In our field, we know that we can not do the work on our own – we are better when we have more perspectives and lived experiences at the table and when partners are empowered to drive decisions. But what does this look like in everyday practice? How can the behaviors that lead to inclusion and collaboration be a part of our daily routines, structures, meetings, and teams?

Form a cross-functional culture working group.

Helios Education Foundation launched a culture working group with staff from across their organization representing every team and every position level, from operations assistants to the chief operating officer. The task for the group was three-fold:

  • Model an effective cross-functional working team
  • Identify and bring attention to culture issues and needs
  • Take a leadership role in defining fun and relationship-building activities

Through monthly meetings and actions in between, the group worked together on a number of new initiatives: managing a new staff engagement survey, rolling out Yammer as an interactive communications app and starting monthly birthday celebrations, occasional group outings to Topgolf, National Donut Day festivities, and many other activities. The working group distributed leadership to live out the culture — everyone owned the change they wanted to see. Representatives from across the organization were included and empowered to decide on and move forward key improvements in the organization, showing that living out these core values can lead to positive results.

Everyday Fun on Your Team

Do you take time for an icebreaker in all-staff meetings? Is team building a priority when you gather? Would your staff describe the organization as a “fun place to work”?

For many organizations, funteamwork, or community are core values. But what does that look like in practice? How can you get into a regular rhythm where fun is not just an annual picnic but an essential part of how you do work?

Take five minutes in the beginning of every staff meeting for a game.

Split into teams and do one round of trivia. Play a round of Pictionary or Charades. Or, as we did recently with our friends at the Wells Fargo Regional Foundation and their board, see who can build the tallest free-standing tower out of only 20 balloons and a roll of tape. Make this a regular practice — on a weekly, monthly, or even daily basis — if you want to really live out a value of teamwork and fun in your teams.

We hope these tips help you put your culture into action. For more information, send me a message (

Creating a Change-Making Culture: A Field Guide

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Leadership expert Peter Drucker famously said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” While many in philanthropy have heard this quote and quite a few may agree that a strong culture is critical for foundations to achieve their goals, data suggest that culture may indeed be a barrier to success for many foundations.

A 2017 survey of grantmaking organizations by Grantmakers for Effective Organizations found that 48 percent of grantmakers did not think their culture was where it needed to be to maximize effectiveness. That means almost half of these organizations don’t have the culture they need to be successful. What can you do about it? Invest your time and money in getting the culture you want.

Many foundations invest significant time and resources in developing strategies that chart a course for greater impact without including attention to culture in the process. As the data above indicate, attention to culture is critical for ensuring an organization is well positioned to meet its goals and has the right team in place.

We created a field guide to help you form the culture you want for your organization. In this field guide, we offer a method and process for creating this change-making culture, with questions to discuss with your staff and board and practical recommendations throughout.

Grounded in our partnership with Helios Education Foundation, this field guide shows how we have seen organizations achieve significant results—including the ones listed below—through an intentional culture change process.

Culture Results

  1. Clearly defined and agreed-upon values that resonate for all staff
  2. Behaviors that reinforce your values and guide how everyone will act with each other and with external partners
  3. Structure, policy, and process changes that support values and behaviors
  4. Action plans clarifying who will lead changes and by when they will occur
  5. Aligned senior leadership teams with clear and consistent management practices, agreed-upon decision-making protocols, and increased trust
  6. Distributed leadership across the organization to lead culture changes “from their seats,”including the potential to establish cross-functional, staff-led culture working groups that ensure changes move forward (see our forthcoming blog post for more on culture working groups)

2018 Must-Reads

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What is something you read, listened to, or watched this year (regardless of when it came out) that impacted the way you think about your work? And why? We asked folks across the social sector for recommendations and were thrilled to see the incredible list they put together. Here’s what they said. What would you add? Comment below or tweet us.

Recommended by Kerrien Suarez (Equity in the Center)Lupe Poblano (CompassPoint)Dr. John Jackson (Schott Foundation), and Elissa Sloan Perry (Management Assistance Group)

“’Decolonizing Wealth’ is brilliant and groundbreaking!” — Kerrien Suarez, Equity in the Center

Power Moves

Recommended by Jalisa Whitley (Unbound Impact) and Connor Daley (Talent Citizen)

“’Power Moves’ from NCRP reframed my thinking around leveraging and sharing power, and their webinar series was amazing.” — Jalisa Whitley, Unbound Impact

“’Power Moves’ from NCRP has been the most important resource for me this year! It has helped us understand our own power as a firm (a badly under-examined field) and provided our clients and partners with inclusive, equitable tools to gather feedback.” — Connor Daley, Talent Citizen

We Too Sing America: South Asian, Arab, Muslim, and Sikh Immigrants Shape Our Multiracial Future

Recommended by Neesha Modi (Kresge Foundation)

“As an Indian American in this work, ‘We Too Sing America’ by Deepa Iyer has been personally profound.” — Neesha Modi, Kresge Foundation

The Mighty Miss Malone

Recommended by James Siegal (KaBOOM!)

“I read (with my 12-year-old daughter) ‘The Mighty Miss Malone’ by Christopher Paul Curtis. It’s a vivid, Depression-era portrait of 12-year-old Deza Malone, a girl with endless potential who is faced with challenges no kid should face – at the intersection of race, gender, class, and place.” — James Siegal, KaBOOM!

Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds

Recommended by Lupe Poblano (CompassPoint)Elissa Sloan Perry (Management Assistance Group), and Shawn Dove (Campaign for Black Male Achievement)

“Although I read adrienne maree brown’s ‘Emergent Strategy’ a couple years ago, it’s still active in my life and often in my suitcase!” — Elissa Sloan Perry, Management Assistance Group

“Introduced just this year to adrienne maree brown’s ‘Emergent Strategy.’ Been moving and marinating at a reflective pace! She says we should ‘see our own lives and work and relationships as a front line, a first place we can practice justice, liberation, and alignment with each other and the planet.’” — Shawn Dove, Campaign for Black Male Achievement

Early Learnings from the Reframing Washington Empowerment Fund: Part 1 and Part 2

Recommended by Jalisa Whitley (Unbound Impact)

“I love the Weissberg Foundation’s blog, in particular their learnings from their Reframing Washington Empowerment Fund. It’s a great model of funder transparency.” — Jalisa Whitley, Unbound Impact

Entangled Roots: The Role of Race in Policies that Separate Families

Recommended by Alicia S. Guevara Warren (Michigan League for Public Policy)

“For me over the last year, I’ve done a lot of reading on the trauma caused by parental separation. I have been particularly moved by those who have been so courageous to share their stories—written and through video—to spur action and help people understand the impact the policy to separate families at the border was having. One report that I think is particularly helpful was from the Center for the Study of Social Policy called ‘Entangled Roots: The Role of Race in Policies that Separate Families.’ It helps to show all of the systems where we have policies that separate children and the roots of racism in those policies. It includes actions and recommendations, which is always important in policy work!” — Alicia S. Guevara Warren, Michigan League for Public Policy

Scene on Radio: Seeing White Series

Recommended by Nicky Goren (Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer Foundation)

“The podcast series from ‘Scene on Radio’ called ‘Seeing White’ should be required listening for white people, particularly those embarking on racial equity work in philanthropy.” — Nicky Goren, Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer Foundation

“We need to correct and reframe our history.” — Nicky Goren, Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer Foundation; Relevant recommendations from Nicky: Doctrine of Discovery (video) and Uncivil (podcast)

Does Collective Impact Really Make an Impact?

Recommended by Sara Gibson (20 Degrees)

“This piece really got at the [heart] of collective impact—how hard it is and how it really works, if you give it enough time and really involve the right people.” — Sara Gibson, 20 Degrees

Toward One Oregon: Rural-Urban Interdependence and the Evolution of a State

Recommended by Colin Clemente Jones (Collins Foundation)

“My reading this year has really honed my thinking on power and place. For me, ‘Toward One Oregon’ from Oregon State University Press is at the top of the list. Definitely paradigm-shifting.” — Colin Clemente Jones, Collins Foundation

Additional recommendations by Colin: A Lot to Ask of a NameCity of Segregation: One Hundred Years of Struggle for Housing in Los Angeles, and There Goes the Gayborhood?

“People follow you because of what you believe is possible, yes, for them as a team, and more importantly for each of them individually.” — MarkSteven Reardon, consultant; quote shared by Janice Johnson Dias, PhD (GrassROOTS Community Foundation) 

M Archive: After the End of the World

Recommended by Elissa Sloan Perry (Management Assistance Group)

Raising Kings: A year of love and struggle at Ron Brown College Prep

Recommended by Dale Erquiaga (Communities In Schools) — See also this follow-up episode

The Need to Double Down

Recommended by Darell Hammond (formerly of KaBOOM!)

What Every BODY is Saying

Recommended by Andres Gonzalez (Holistic Life Foundation)

“It greatly enhanced my ability to read people and to better communicate with them based on some of their non-verbal cues.” — Andres Gonzalez, Holistic Life Foundation