How to Engage Authentically with Communities

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Advice for Nonprofit Organizations and Foundations Engaging with Communities

Earlier this month we released our field guide Sharing Power with Communities, a tool for nonprofits and foundations experiencing challenges or looking for new ways to authentically engage communities in furthering their mission. The guide includes principles, models, strategies, common pitfalls, and resources.

One of the models featured in the field guide highlights a community led research process with Child Care Aware of America, a national nonprofit focused on quality and affordable child care. The organization partnered with Community Wealth Partners to facilitate a Parent Listening Team of parent leaders representing a diverse spectrum of families across the nation while prioritizing the voices of those that had faced the greatest personal barriers to accessing affordable, quality child care in their communities.

In this interview, Walter Howell, Associate Director at Community Wealth Partners sat down with one of the parent and community leaders, Fay Pierce to discuss what it felt like to participate in the process and her 3 critical steps nonprofits and foundations should consider when working with communities.

Full Interview featuring Fay Pierce, Parent and Community Leader Interviewed by Walter Howell, Associate Director at Community Wealth Partners

Here is the full interview featuring Community Leader, Fay Pierce and Associate Director at Community Wealth Partners, Walter Howell.

Sharing Power with Communities: A Field Guide Conversation

Normalizing Rest on the Road to Recovery in the Social Sector

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The power and impact of workplace sabbaticals have become increasingly relevant following the Great Resignation and burn out of employees across sectors. Reported benefits of sabbaticals include improved wellbeing, increased focus and engagement, and reduced turnover. Despite these reports, sabbaticals remain a privilege offered by some 16% of employers.. A report by Givebutter finds that “1 in every 10 employees working for a nonprofit, a large portion of our nation’s workforce, are feeling overworked, under-resourced, and disengaged. Leaders (60%) report feeling “used up” at the end of the workday.”  

“Grind culture”, or the celebration of working long hours and being constantly connected to work, is a trait of white supremacy culture. Systemic inequities in funding Black, Indigenous, people of color led organizations result in leaders of color having to stretch themselves thin with limited resources to invest in rest and well-being for themselves and their teams. Organizations such as the BIPOC-ED Coalition and advocates like Tricia Hersey, Founder of  The Nap Ministry are lifting up the dangers of glorifying work without rest. These and other leaders are encouraging the social sector to create space for rest and restoration through sabbaticals at all levels. As the sector continues to raise awareness around the need for rest, foundations are funding sabbaticals for nonprofit leaders while centering leaders of color specifically. 

Community Wealth Partners has a sabbatical policy in place for staff who have worked at the firm for 10 years. We took time to reflect on rest through sabbatical at Community Wealth Partners in an intimate conversation with our CEO, Amy Celep, Associate Director, Rachel Hutt, and Senior Director, Amy Farley. The following audio clips were recorded with intention to reflect on their sabbatical experiences, challenge our thinking as a firm, and share what we are wrestling with in an effort to normalize conversations around rest in the sector.  

It is important to note that to date only 4 people have been beneficiaries of sabbaticals at our firm so far, all of which are white women. As we continue the discussion around rest, we are examining our own policies to determine what changes we might need to make to ensure our team members experience time away from work for rest and recovery.  

Below are some questions we are holding as it relates to the future of rest through sabbatical. We encourage you to reflect on these questions and continue the dialogue with your colleagues, friends, and family. 

How would our work be impacted if we normalized rest as fuel on the road to changemaking in the sector? 

What practices could we examine within our organization to normalize rest? 

What do our colleagues of color need to feel supported in taking time to rest? 

Parking Lot Conversations at Community Wealth Partners | Rest Through Sabbaticals

Amy Celep, CEO, Rachel Hutt, Associate Director, and Amy Farley, Senior Director share their reflections on sabbatical and the importance of rest on the road to equity.

What is the history and thought behind the sabbatical program at Community Wealth Partners?

Amy Celep, CEO

What did you do during your sabbatical? 

Amy Farley, Senior Director

What were your big “Ah-ha” moments during sabbatical?

Amy Farley, Senior Director

Rachel Hutt, Associate Director

Looking back, what did sabbatical give you?

Amy Farley, Senior Director

What are your observations of team members when they return from sabbatical?

Amy Celep, CEO

What role did your colleagues play during your sabbatical?

Amy Celep, CEO

Rachel Hutt, Associate Director

What are your observations around sabbaticals in the field?

Rachel Hutt, Associate Director

Amy Celep, CEO

Amy Farley, Senior Director

Historically, white women have been the beneficiaries of sabbaticals at CWP. What are your thoughts around that and what changes might you consider moving forward?

Amy Celep, CEO

Sharing Power With Community Members: Perspectives from Rochester-Area Funders, Nonprofits, and Parents

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Engaging people with lived experiences can strengthen nonprofits’ and foundations’ work and build community power, but it also can cause harm and deepen mistrust if not done well. As foundations and nonprofits strive to center community members and look to them as experts, many struggle to engage with them in meaningful ways.

In Rochester, New York, there is a growing movement to center parents’ knowledge and perspective in programs and services that support the health and well-being of children. For more than two decades, the National Parent Leadership Institute (NPLI) has worked with parents across the country to help them build skills and knowledge to advocate for their children and families and have a voice at decision-making tables.

When the Greater Rochester Health Foundation wanted to engage parents in updating its Healthy Futures grantmaking strategy, the foundation partnered with NPLI to bring parents into the work. At the same time, the foundation worked with NPLI to help a small group of nonprofit grantees learn how they could center parent voice in their organizations. Since those initial steps, the foundation has worked to center community voice in all areas of its work, and supported a growing number of grantees in doing the same.

The following videos share the perspectives of staff members of Greater Rochester Health Foundation, NPLI, and University of Rochester Medical Center (a grantee) as well as Rochester-area parents who have received training from NPLI and work in partnership with the foundation and University of Rochester. In these clips you will hear why sharing power with community matters, the difference it makes to programs and strategies, and advice for funders, nonprofit leaders, and community members.

What Does Parent Leadership Look Like in Action?

Carolyn Lee-Davis of NPLI and parent leader facilitators Toyin Anderson and Maria Dalmau describe NPLI’s approach and how it contributes to stronger organizations, stronger communities, and better solutions.

What is NPLI and a parent leader facilitator?

Why is empowering parents important?

What should organizations who want to engage parents consider?

What steps can parents take to become advocates for their children and communities?

How Can Nonprofits Authentically Partner with Parents? What Difference Does It Make?

Linda Alpert-Gillis, ph.D., of University of Rochester Medical Center and parents Toyin Anderson, Maria Dalmau, and Jason McDonald discuss how they have worked together to help the Pediatric Behavioral Health & Wellness department better meet the needs of patients and their families.

Why is it important for organizations to engage parents?

What qualities are important to be a parent advocate?

What are the barriers to authentic engagement?

How does authentic engagement impact nonprofit leaders and organizations?

How does authentic engagement impact parents and families?

How Can Funders Authentically Partner with Parents? What Difference Does It Make?

Parent leader Toyin Anderson and Greater Rochester Health Foundation staff Danette Campbell-Bell, Anita Black, and Matthew Kuhlenbeck reflect on lessons they’ve learned through partnering together and advice they’d offer funders interested in engaging community in similar ways.

What have you learned through the experience of creating a closer partnership between parents and the foundation?

How did you rethink processes and roles?

What impact have you seen result from authentically engaging parents?

What advice would you offer funders looking to engage community more authentically?

Leadership Development Programs Need an Upgrade: Five Ways to Advance Racial Equity

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This post first appeared on the Center for Effective Philanthropy blog. It is reposted here with permission.

As the nation grapples with “the great resignation” across a range of job industries since the start of the pandemic, employment challenges extend to the nonprofit sector as well. Nonprofits are experiencing high rates of burnout and turnover, and many are struggling to fill vacancies. At the same time, the work of nonprofits continues to be lifesaving for communities that lacked adequate resources before the pandemic and have become more vulnerable since. Supporting nonprofit leadership at all levels is as important as it has ever been.

Notions of leadership are evolving, particularly as the nonprofit and philanthropic sector considers what it takes for individuals, organizations, and communities to drive systemic change in pursuit of racial equity and more effective outcomes for all. Leadership is not static, and it doesn’t sit with one person. Instead, leadership is about building collective power to influence and change organizations and systems to operate in just and liberating ways that enable all individuals to thrive. Under this definition, anyone can be a leader, and leadership is expressed through the actions people take.

With support from the Barr Foundation, Community Wealth Partners spoke to Black, Indigenous, and other people of color (BIPOC) nonprofit leaders and leadership development program providers to help Barr understand how they and other foundations can support BIPOC leadership in the context of racial equity. With these lessons in mind, Barr has begun to integrate three priorities in its approach to leadership development, including in partnership with some of the organizations featured below.

Promoting, retaining, and supporting BIPOC leadership within nonprofits is critical for driving systemic change. From these interviews, we heard five actions that can have the biggest impact. Funders can consider how they might tailor and incorporate these into their own approaches to supporting leadership.

1. Support leaders to change systems.

While traditional leadership development programs focus primarily on individual skill building, many programs that center racial equity also focus on topics that are important for driving change within racialized systems, such as deepening self-awareness, understanding ways to shift and leverage power, and opportunities for connection and collaboration across organizations and movements. This work is emotionally draining, so leaders also need support for their well-being (see more on this below).

The Institute for Nonprofit Practice is launching its Black Leadership Institute to connect, inspire, and uplift Black leaders who are working on systemic issues that have significant outcome disparities for Black people, such as incarceration and recidivism, health and health care, environmental justice, poverty, and education. Programming will focus on critical topics that enable Black leaders to build power and greater influence in their communities, including resources to expand leadership practices, deepen self-awareness, develop relationships and networks, and cultivate joy and renewal.

2. Center relationships.

Relationships are the cornerstone to building collective power. Leaders need trusting relationships with colleagues and peers to access learning, support, and create opportunities for partnership. They also need strong relationships within the power structures so they can leverage those relationships to drive systemic change. Funders can support relationship building by leveraging their networks and convening power to connect leaders to peers and allies they may not yet know. Interviewees we spoke to lifted up the value of leadership programs that create space for relationship building. For example, when program officers at the Annie E. Casey Foundation hosted the Baltimore Leaders Program for leaders under thirty, they facilitated connections to people in their networks, helping leaders secure additional contacts and sources of funding.

Cohorts can be a way to help leaders build relationships with colleagues and peers. TSNE launched its Executive Directors of Color Capacity Support Pilot to provide BIPOC leaders with adaptive, flexible, and integrated support through a range of offerings, including peer support and networking, participatory training, facilitated discussion, one-on-one coaching, project-oriented technical assistance, and access to tools and resources. TSNE recently completed a pilot cohort with 22 BIPOC leaders from the Boston region and is learning from evaluation results to inform the design of future cohorts.

3. Prioritize BIPOC leaders’ well-being.

Leading and navigating organizations that have been built within a white dominant model while also working to dismantle those structures and systems is complex, emotional work. BIPOC leaders need offerings that create safe space and prioritize their well-being. This could include fellowship programs, retreats, sabbaticals, or supporting changes in job roles and structures that allow leaders to create the space they need to be able to work in ways that feel sustainable and tend to their wellbeing at work.

“BIPOC leaders are serving BIPOC communities that have been historically marginalized. They may identify with those experiences in the community and the racial trauma that exists,” said Vernée Wilkinson of School Facts Boston in an interview. “As I’m advocating for students and families I serve, I simultaneously need to tap into my own trauma from similar experiences. Doing work together to process and heal is important.”

One nonprofit that is prioritizing BIPOC leaders’ well-being and sustainable leadership is New Seneca Village, whose mission is to provide cis, trans, and non-binary Black, Indigenous, and women of color social justice leaders with residencies offering time and space, access to nature, restorative practices and community centered around collective visioning for a just future.

4. Give multiyear, unrestricted support.

Unrestricted support is critical capital that allows nonprofits’ ability to invest in innovation, learning, growth, and operations. It also can support an organizations’ ability to attract and retain staff. Interviewees shared that a key barrier to being able to attract, retain, and develop talent is lack of flexible resources to use for compensation, hiring, and talent development. According to the Race to Lead report by Building Movement Project, BIPOC leaders say increased philanthropic funding to BIPOC-led organizations would help organizations be able to attract and retain more racially diverse leadership.

General operating support is a key component of the Barr Foundation’s Powering Cultural Futures initiative, which invests in 15 Massachusetts arts organizations playing vital roles in BIPOC communities. Grantees receive six years of unrestricted support along with technical assistance, network development, and support building capacity to achieve organizational priorities. The program’s goal is to support these organizations’ effectiveness and resilience so that they can contribute to an equitable arts sector in Massachusetts that uplifts cultural expression in BIPOC communities.

5. Invest in early- to mid-career-stage staff.

Increasingly, leadership development approaches are looking beyond the executive director role and taking collective approaches to strengthen teams, support staff retention, and build a stronger pipeline of talent. Investments at early- to mid-career stages, and focused on BIPOC leaders, are needed to maintain and expand the pipeline of talent in the sector who are ready to continue transformational work. The Center for Effective Philanthropy’s 2018 Strengthening Grantees survey found that nonprofit leaders cited staffing as one of the top challenges organizations face (second only to fundraising). As Rusty Stahl of Fund the People explained in the report, “Most nonprofits do not have the capital or the incentives to invest in their people. Most funders focus on the financial and program strengths and needs of grantees, not on the staffing strengths and needs. This dearth of investment can produce an unjust workplace, weak recruitment, poor work conditions, burnout and turnover, and unhealthy executive transitions.”

Our interviews found that those early in their career cite low pay as the greatest barrier for nonprofit employment. “When the lowest paid staff is earning one-third the amount of the highest-paid staff, that makes it hard for early career staff to feel like they are being valued as leaders,” said Kim Szeto of New England Foundation for the Arts.

Mid-career BIPOC staff named the importance of an equitable and inclusive culture for staff development and retention. One cultural aspect that mid-career employees cited as being discouraging was a focus on perfectionism as a barrier to advancement — something that is common in white dominant culture. “If the culture doesn’t embrace and support mistakes and failures, it will make it hard to cultivate good leadership and will create turnover,” said Melanie Gárate of Mystic River Watershed Association. “Leaders should model saying ‘I made a mistake. It’s ok to fail.’ This doesn’t happen very often.”

Getting Clear on What Matters Most

Recognizing that funders may not be able to incorporate all five recommendations into their leadership development support, here are some suggestions for how you might determine what to prioritize in your approach:

  • Be clear about who you are investing in and the change you want to see. When thinking about who, consider racial identity, career stage, etc. Also consider, what systemic changes are you hoping to see?
  • Get input from your grantees. What would make the biggest difference to them? Start there.
  • If the resources you have available are limited, consider giving unrestricted support instead of developing a leadership development program. Grantees we interviewed said a key challenge to being able to develop and retain leaders is lack of resources for competitive pay and professional development. Modest investments in leadership development from funders will have limited impact if this challenge is not addressed. As Caroline Saunders and Lucia Priselac of Grist shared, “In the context we’ve been working in, which has been high burn out and high turnover, there is no question having better pay has been huge to becoming a thriving community of people.”

Regardless of what steps you take as a funder, prioritizing talent development and retention is critical — perhaps more so now than ever. Nonprofit leaders are experiencing stress, burnout, and exhaustion. Recent research from Building Movement Project found that about half of the leaders they surveyed were considering departing their jobs or actively preparing to leave — and this data was collected before the pandemic started. To move the sector toward racial equity and justice, funders should sustain healthy leadership development within nonprofits that builds collective power to shift organizations and systems toward justice and liberation.

Making Capacity Building More Equitable

What does it look like to center equity in capacity building? This field guide offers questions to reflect on, decisions to make, and intentions to set with your capacity-building offerings. Explore the field guide.

Three Recommendations for COOs Navigating Change

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If you’re a COO, the challenges of leadership may sometimes leave you feeling isolated, unsteady, or uncertain about how to chart a path forward. You’re not alone.

I recently facilitated a multi-year learning cohort with 11 COOs from organizations of various sizes and developmental stages. Initially, the group planned to focus on issues related to organizational growth. Inevitably, those conversations expanded as they faced the realities of leading through a pandemic, a presidential election, and a racial reckoning. From October 2019 to May 2021, thanks to funding from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the group met monthly to learn together, talk through challenges, raise questions, and support one another.

Again and again, three things kept coming up: how much they valued peer connection, how critical it was to understand themselves in order to lead effectively, and the importance of strengthening their capacity to adapt. I lift up these recommendations for other COOs grappling with some of the same dynamics.

Learn more about why Hewlett believes it’s important to invest in the COO role in these videos.

See what COOs have learned about their role and the importance of investing in it in this Q&A blog post.

1. Seek out peers.

COOs are often uniquely alone in their roles, acting as a bridge between the CEO/board and staff. Finding peers from other organizations can make a tremendous difference. COOs in the cohort were willing to be vulnerable and candid about their own experiences and they received practical, relevant feedback in return. Over time, these interactions led them to feel more connected and better resourced. That’s what peer connection makes possible. Reach out to COOs from other organizations. Chances are, they are also craving connection.

2. Manage yourself.

COOs don’t often get time or space for self-reflection. Yet, for those in a role that is constantly leading others through change, it is also crucial to look inward at what’s driving you and how you show up. During cohort sessions, COOs tackled questions like: How do I deal with difficult thoughts or feelings? Where am I getting in my own way? What practices help me stay grounded and steady? The more you understand about yourself, the better equipped you’ll be to do the work.

3. Embrace adaptation.

If “the job description of a COO is to navigate change,” as cohort member Layla Zaidane of the Millennial Action Project said in our Q&A blog post, then the work is dynamic by nature. It calls for COOs to respond as challenges and opportunities arise, staff change, team dynamics shift, and the organization’s work evolves. Proactively create planning and learning cycles that allow you (and others) to look ahead, respond to changing conditions, and evolve your thinking and approach.

These three things have always been important. But right now, as COOs navigate the prolonged uncertainty of the past two years, investing in them is key to making sure that nonprofit organizations are prepared for the years to come.

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


Wealthy Donors Need to Go Outside Their Bubbles and Support Local Organizations Driving Social Change

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Reposted with permission of the Chronicle of Philanthropy

By Erinn Andrews , Lori Bartczak, Rebecca Shamash, and Piyush Tantia

During the past few months, many foundation leaders have called on philanthropic organizations to change their practices in pursuit of racial equity, including directing more resources to Black-led organizations. But these important efforts leave out a critical funding source for nonprofits: major individual donors.

Research released Monday by our organizations found that wealthy donors are in a unique position to provide reliable and flexible funding for community-based organizations but are frequently stymied by ingrained philanthropic practices that lead them away from giving to these groups.

The good news is that these donors often provide exactly the type of support that could benefit community-based nonprofits: multiyear, unrestricted funding with minimal administrative burden. But our interviews with 34 major donors, whose annual giving ranged from $13,000 to $5 million (with a median value of $100,000), found that they typically rely on personal experience and networks to identify which groups to support. As a result, a vital funding opportunity is lost for organizations that aren’t already plugged into wealthy donor networks.

Most of the donors we spoke with reported spending little time researching organizations to give to and instead relied on personal connections and recommendations of family and friends. In order to make a larger gift, donors said they needed to have a belief in the organization’s mission, a relatively longstanding relationship with an entity, some type of personal connection with the mission or the organization itself, confidence that the nonprofit was well run, and trust in its leadership.

Why Causes Get Left Out

While these approaches are convenient and comfortable for donors, they are also problematic. From a behavioral-science perspective, using trust in leadership as a criterion for giving carries the risk of implicit bias. Most people judge traits like competence within microseconds based on factors such as ethnicity and socioeconomic status. We typically like people simply because they are similar to us or are familiar in some way. Using emotional criteria such as trust or likeability to make decisions about giving can create barriers to building relationships with nonprofit leaders of different races or backgrounds at organizations not already supported by major donors or high-profile foundations.

The result is that community-based organizations whose work falls outside of donors’ personal networks or experiences have less opportunity to cultivate relationships that lead to significant donor support. Multiple studies from organizations such as Echoing Green, the Bridgespan Group, Open Impact, and Building Movement Project have found that community-based nonprofits whose missions are focused on social change lack the networks and resources to engage deeply with donors, which affects the amount of funding they receive. The problem is particularly acute for organizations led by people of color.

While our research uncovered areas in significant need of improvement among major donors, we also found encouraging practices. Most notably, major donors tend to give unrestricted funding to nonprofits, allowing them the flexibility to use the money as they see fit, including on overhead.

We had hypothesized that donors would prefer to see their money go directly to programs and services and might be reluctant to support operating costs, but our interviews with eight nonprofit leaders revealed the opposite. All reported they had little trouble raising unrestricted funding from individual donors. In turn, the donors we spoke with largely recognized that nonprofits need strong operations to deliver quality programs and consequently often gave unrestricted funding.

Wealthy donors have the potential to be key allies to local organizations meeting critical needs and driving racial-equity movements. But these donors need to intentionally take steps to reach beyond their comfortable giving bubbles. Here’s what they should do to get started:

Look beyond personal networks to find and fund organizations that directly serve people of color. Seek out introductions to nonprofit leaders working on issues related to racial equity. Build relationships with those organizations by attending online events (or in person when allowed again) or by doing volunteer work.

Build relationships with people of different backgrounds and identities. Join social or professional groups with diverse memberships or take part in professional development opportunities that draw a diverse crowd.

Listen and learn from community leaders and activists of color. They are closest to the issues and are in the best position to define the problem, identify opportunities, and shape solutions. Follow them on social media; take part in conferences or events where they are speaking; follow the outlets that are amplifying their voices.

Consider supporting a philanthropy organization that connects donors and nonprofits. Examples include the Groundswell Fund, Solidaire Network, and Headwaters Foundation for Justice, all of which use donated funds to make grants to organizations working on racial equity. These organizations, often referred to as intermediaries, can also connect donors to community organizations in need of funding and provide guidance on the amount to give.

Continue giving unrestricted funding and making multiyear pledges. These gifts are the most valuable to nonprofits because these donations can be invested where organizations see fit and provide a source of predictable revenue.

Educate other donors about the importance of giving to community-based organizations. Donors who are passionate about a particular nonprofit led by a person of color should share that passion with other donors in their network and encourage them to support the organization as well.

Donors who want to support racial justice need to recognize how their own unconscious behavior may influence their decisions about which organizations they trust to do this work. They need to reach beyond their networks, seek diverse voices to inform their philanthropy, and give more to community-based organizations serving people of color. Now is the time for individual major donors to do things differently.

Erinn Andrews is director of research and education at the Effective Philanthropy Learning Initiative at Stanford’s Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society, where Rebecca Shamash is a research fellow. Lori Bartczak is senior director of knowledge and content at Community Wealth Partners and Piyush Tantia is chief innovation officer at ideas42. Their research was supported by the Fidelity Charitable Trustees’ Initiative.

Read the original post on here on the Chronicle of Philanthropy’s website.

Three Truths About Stakeholder Engagement

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Strategies for social change are stronger when we engage a diverse group of people in shaping solutions. Through our work helping nonprofits and foundations set strategies for social change, we are seeing growing interest in engaging stakeholders when shaping strategy and, in particular, ensuring people closest to the issues have power to shape solutions.

While the who, what, and how of engaging stakeholders varies in each context, there are three things we’ve consistently heard from partners and seen ourselves:

1. Successful strategies rely on engaging a diverse set of stakeholders in shaping them.

When we talk about diversity here, we mean role — as described in the definition above — and identity. In thinking about identities, racial diversity should be the first consideration because we know that race is the biggest difference that makes a difference in terms of outcomes people experience in the U.S. You will probably want to consider other identities in developing your strategy as well. For example, in our work with a national organization that serves people affected by mental health challenges, it was important to engage stakeholders from a diversity of geographic areas (urban, suburban, rural) since we knew that geography impacts the types of support people can access. We also knew it was important to engage people with different relationships to mental health challenges, from individuals personally navigating them, to their family members, to those who provide mental health services.

Stakeholders: People who will be impacted by your strategy and/or should influence its development. This could include community members, staff, board, public officials, funders, etc.

2. Stakeholders closest to the issues should lead your strategy.

This often means those who have historically not had the power or resources to shape solutions. Board members and staff without ongoing lived experience may not fully grasp the nature of the challenges they’re trying to address. And creating strategies without engaging those directly impacted keeps power from them. Miriam’s Kitchen — which works to end chronic homelessness in Washington, DC — strives to center their guests (which is how they describe people who access their services and others with lived experience of homelessness) in everything they do. Their efforts started in their advocacy program, engaging people who have experienced homelessness and empowering them not just to get involved in advocacy but to be true partners and leaders in that work. The staff quickly realized that their guests had valuable insight into the organization’s other programmatic offerings as well. Today, Miriam’s Kitchen ensures guests have a voice in shaping the organization’s program strategies. (Watch our webinar to learn more about how Miriam’s Kitchen engages guests.)

3. Stakeholder engagement should be an ongoing practice.

Authentic stakeholder engagement is rooted in trusting relationships. Approaching stakeholder engagement as a checkbox exercise will likely cause more harm than good. Organizations that have built ongoing relationships with stakeholders — like Miriam’s Kitchen has done with their guests — can create open channels for feedback and communication that ultimately helps them do their work better. When the Greater Rochester Health Foundation was developing a strategy for its Healthy Futures program, which aims to improve the health and well-being of children ages 0-5 in the region, the foundation knew local parents and families were important partners to engage. The experience of engaging parents and families to inform this program strategy led the foundation to realize they could have greater impact if community stakeholders have more voice in all their strategies. Today, as Senior Program Officer Danette Campbell-Bell shared in our webinar, “the foundation is taking a back seat and allowing stakeholders to drive what we do.”

A Call for Deeper Engagement

As you work to engage stakeholders, continually challenge yourself and your organization to take it further. Look for opportunities to engage stakeholders, particularly community stakeholders, as co-creators or shift decision-making power to them. If your stakeholder engagement centers those closest to the issues and is rooted in authentic, trusting relationships, it is more likely to result in stronger outcomes.

To learn more about engaging stakeholders in your strategy, read our field guide and watch our webinar.

Failure Is Not an Option: How Nonprofit Boards Can Support Leaders of Color

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This article was originally published by NPQ online, on June 19, 2020. Used with permission. View the original post here.

By Idalia Fernandez, Monisha Kapila and Angela Romans

As capacity-building consultants to the social sector, we regularly support nonprofit organizations, their leaders, and their boards. Some of this support involves leadership coaching for individuals and teams. At a meeting earlier this year of racial equity capacity-building organizations, we found ourselves in a conversation about what we are seeing as we coach CEOs, executive directors, and other C-suite leaders of color.

Now, COVID-19, as well as the multiple cases of police violence against Black people that we are witnessing, are laying bare the structural racism that undergirds so much of the US social milieu in which our nonprofit clients swim. These impacts can be found everywhere, including the racial inequities in philanthropic dollars and access to small business loans for people of color (POC)-led nonprofits, and disproportionate impacts of the virus on communities of color, even as countless numbers across the country are protesting racial injustice and speaking out about its ongoing traumatic effects, especially on Black people. In this context, leaders of color in nonprofit organizations are in many ways proverbial “canaries in the mine” as their experiences and needs may portend the health and long-term viability of the sector as a whole.

Much of our work has been with historically White-led organizations. Many are, for the first time, appointing leaders of color to serve at the helm. During our coaching and support for these leaders, we see a few key patterns emerging.

“Failure Is Not an Option”

Across the field of leadership development, we read articles with calls for leaders to “fail forward.” Thought leaders from all sectors speak of the importance of failure to learning and growth. Yet we hear from leaders of color, especially if they are the first in their position, that they don’t have room for failure. They feel overt and implicit pressure from their staff and boards to “get it right,” with a covert feeling that if they do not perform at 200 percent, they may be closing the door for other leaders of color to come behind them.

Board members may say or imply, “We tried that [hiring a leader of color] once, and the person was ‘not a match’ for the organization.” As a result, leaders of color feel pressure not to show vulnerability, not to ask for help when they need support, and not to demonstrate the edge of their competency in anything—essentially, holding superhero expectations of themselves and falling victim to a sense of perfectionism that is a prominent harmful characteristic of white supremacy culture. This pressure leaves no room for behaviors like self-care and self-advocacy and reinforces the belief that taking care of one’s needs and asking for more support are luxuries for people with privilege. Combined, these pressures can have major implications for these leaders’ ability to grow themselves, their staffs, and their organizations.

Funding Scarcity

Recent books and articles highlight the implicit bias that drives racial inequity in funding for POC-led nonprofits versus those led by white CEOs. Research from Building Movement Project’s Race to Lead initiative found that 63 percent of POC leaders cite lack of access to individual donors as a fundraising challenge, compared to 49 percent of white leaders who say this is a challenge. Similarly, 51 percent of POC leaders cite lack of access to foundations as a challenge compared to 41 percent of white leaders.

As a result, we see CEOs of color experiencing difficulty fundraising in general, and “funder flight” in particular when an organization’s former leader leaves and program officers hesitate to continue funding the organization under a new CEO they don’t know. This can be particularly acute when an organizational founder or longtime executive director transitions out of the leadership role but still retains funders’ loyalties. As we have seen in the midst of COVID-19, CEOs of color as a whole have fewer strong personal and professional banking relationships, and therefore can have difficulty gaining access to investment capital for building projects, program expansion, and other organizational needs.

“Fix Our Race Problem”

Leaders of color, especially CEOs, are often brought in with an explicit and important mandate to focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in general, and racial equity specifically. Unfortunately, they often lack the support to do so effectively, either because board leadership fails to sufficiently or explicitly champion this mandate, or a dearth of financial resources to hire capacity-building support.

If the CEO of color is the organization’s first, they are also often entering organizations with a mostly-white senior leadership team and frontline staff who are more racially diverse, leading to a CEO navigating a tightrope between a senior team resistant to changing an organization’s race equity culture and emerging leaders with high expectations for change and who actively push back if the new leader does not move change fast enough.

In this moment of profound challenge and opportunity, keeping equity at the center is critical. Supporting leaders of color is a fundamental step in this process. Here are a few ways nonprofit boards and their organizations can build structures and practices to attract, hire, and retain successful CEOs and other C-suite leaders of color.

1. Assess your leadership context. Incorporate discussions about the implications for bringing on a leader of color as part of succession planning. In preparing for a hiring process, boards should ask themselves and the organization’s staff, “What do we think leading this organization will be like for this new leader? How do we have explicit conversations about the range of identities and lived experiences on staff and the board and what support this leader will need given that context? What culture are we bringing them into?”

Conduct a formal assessment so you have an accurate, data-informed mirror of how you really are doing and what is required. The purpose of an organizational assessment is to prepare the environment for a new leader; don’t, however, let it be a barrier to hiring a person of color. During your hiring process, be honest with candidates about where the organization is, what challenges they can expect to face, and how the board is prepared to support them.

2. Build in and support a professional- and relationship-development plan. Do not take the approach, “We’ve hired a CEO of color, now we’re woke.” Work with leaders of color to understand where they need support, and budget for professional development in areas that have been shown as disproportionately difficult for organizational leaders of color, such as fundraising and board development. Invest in executive coaching and time for participation in networks and learning communities with other CEOs of color. Connect the CEO with current and prospective program officers and major donors to build new and transition existing relationships.

3. Create a container for risk-taking. CEOs and other positional leaders of color often feel they cannot act boldly given the inordinate pressure on them to perform perfectly. And when they do act boldly, such as making staffing changes that impact white people, they can face allegations of reverse discrimination, negative feedback from board members, and criticism from staff.

Boards can model a climate that encourages and truly supports change aligned to the CEO’s vision by fully supporting the CEO’s decisions and not second-guessing their leadership. Also, create space for CEOs of color to make the inevitable mistakes that come with leading complex change work and are necessary for learning and growth.

Build accountability mechanisms that cultivate a learning culture rather than just “getting it right.” Consider a CEO employment contract that can provide a sense of stability by setting the terms of CEO and board mutual accountability, provisions for contract renewal, and clear stipulations for the CEO exiting the organization, including severance obligations.

4. Partner on racial equity. Leading an organization’s racial equity change efforts must be a shared effort across the organization, not rest solely on the shoulders of one or two leaders of color. As capacity builders, we understand the importance of deep partnership and focused learning among the board, CEO, and staff to sustain these efforts. Outside facilitation can support organizations on their racial equity journeys. Boards should demonstrate their commitment by doing their own racial justice work, including examining their own racial composition, diversifying as needed, and investing in board learning plans on implicit bias and racial equity.

We recognize that nonprofit organizations and their leaders face myriad challenges and opportunities in this time. That’s why, in fact, this work is so important. Let’s do all we can as a field to support the people of color who are currently serving and preparing to step into CEO, executive director, and other C-suite roles critical to leading nonprofits into a new, more equitable normal.

Idalia Fernandez is a Senior Director at Community Wealth Partners. She focuses on leadership development, team coaching, and advancing racial equity.

Monisha Kapila is the Founder and CEO of ProInspire. She focuses on supporting leaders at all levels to accelerate equity in the nonprofit sector.

Angela Romans is a Partner at AchieveMission. She brings deep experience in leadership development, racial equity, and education access and success.