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?

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.

Learning from Community Foundations’ Response to Crisis

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This blog post originally appeared on Center for Effective Philanthropy website. View the original post here


Amid the dual crises of a global pandemic and a national reckoning with systemic racism, the U.S. philanthropic sector faces tremendous challenges and opportunities. CEP’s Foundations Respond to Crisis study found that many foundations are making new efforts to support communities of color and other communities disproportionately impacted by the public health and economic consequences of COVID-19. Unfortunately, CEP’s data also suggest that while foundations are thinking about operating differently, they are slow to act. (For example, in interviews, foundation leaders more frequently described reflecting and learning when asked how they are making changes to their internal policies and practices; less than half of interviewees reported doing something differently internally.)

As private and family foundations continue to make meaning of this current moment and philanthropy’s response in it, they should look to community foundations for guidance. Community foundations can play a powerful role in directing resources to organizations meeting the greatest needs in communities. Among the philanthropic sector, they have perhaps experienced the challenges and opportunities of the past year most acutely as they deploy COVID-response funds to meet the most pressing needs in their respective communities.

To better understand how community foundations are responding to their respective communities’ needs, Community Wealth Partners interviewed staff members from 13 community foundations representing a range of geographies and asset sizes. Our research found that many community foundations are moving from talk to action when it comes to 1) adopting more equitable practices and 2) communicating a point of view about racial justice in their communities with donors and other stakeholders.

Moving from Talk to Action

For some community foundations, the COVID-19 crisis pushed them to move from planning for new ways of working to trying new ways of working.

“The pandemic required that we go from zero to 100 in terms of developing and deploying a plan as a response to the pandemic,” said Norma Fuentes of the Seattle Foundation. The Seattle Foundation had been developing a logic model to inform actions the Foundation would take to address growing inequities in its region, but the need to respond to COVID-19 pushed the Foundation to move forward on working in new ways.

Similarly, the Central Indiana Community Foundation (CICF) was in the process of developing an equity framework for its grantmaking when the effects of the pandemic created a heightened sense of urgency. CICF’s COVID-19 response fund provided an opportunity for the Foundation to build new relationships, fund new organizations and projects, and reassess its grantmaking practices with a racial equity lens.

“We leaned on residents to understand the greatest needs and who was positioned to meet them,” said CICF Director of Effective Philanthropy Robin Elmerick. “We made grants to grassroots organizations, including several who did not have 501(c)(3) status, and we helped some organizations find fiscal agents where needed. It was a total shift for us.”

Community foundations are also thinking about how to ensure that changes they are making in their pandemic response become embedded in their day-to-day practices moving forward.

“With our COVID response grants, we are reaching out beyond the organizations we usually support and trying to find creative ideas in the community that are addressing inequities,” said Katie Kling of the Charlottesville Area Community Foundation (CACF). “This helps us think about how we foster those relationships and stay connected to those who are filling critical needs in our community.”

CACF continues to foster those relationships by staying in regular contact with organizations and community leaders that work in close proximity to community needs. In response to requests for non-monetary support in addition to funding, the Foundation is offering Catchafire subscriptions to qualified local organizations so they can augment their capacity with skilled volunteer support.

Communicating a Point of View

The national conversation on systemic racism also pushed many community foundations to take a stronger point of view about racial equity — and to communicate that point of view directly with their respective donors and other stakeholders.

“Community foundations are not neutral,” said Kirsten Kilchenstein of the Oregon Community Foundation. “We frame our work in our core values and embrace our role as a bridge builder, bringing communities and resources together where they’re needed most.” (CEP’s research also found that community foundations are having different types of conversations with donors.)

Like many of the community foundations we spoke with, the San Francisco Foundation is thinking about how a focus on racial equity shifts the way it works with donors, nonprofits, and other partners in the community.

“This is a moment to redefine what it means to be a donor of the San Francisco Foundation,” said the Foundation’s chief of philanthropy, Ruben Orduña. “With the COVID pandemic, civil unrest happening across the country, and increasing criticism of donor-advised funds, we are having conversations with donors we’ve never had before. They are asking questions like, ‘What does it mean to defund the police?’ ‘What does it mean to center Blackness?’ If we can get donors to move dollars into the issues we’re prioritizing, that’s a win.”

While some may be reluctant to raise these types of conversations out of fear of losing donors, the community foundations we spoke with agreed that the benefits outweigh the risks. Most foundations reported losing few or no donors in response to them taking a stand on racial equity; not only that, they also attracted new donors.

“If we lose a few donors, the trade-off is we get loyal donors in return,” said Cecilia Clarke of the Brooklyn Community Foundation. “When they come to work with us, knowing our point of view, that means they’re in.”

Learning from Community Foundations

As the pandemic enters another season and a new presidential administration sparks potential for significant policy change, foundations need to decide how they want to show up in this moment. Based on what many community foundations have done in the past year, here are two recommendations that can apply to all types of funders:

  1. Less talk, more action. The events of 2020 forced many foundations to move from planning and strategizing to acting. It is past time for foundations to change their practices to advance racial equity, and there are a host of resources available to support them. (For starters, look to groups like NCRPEquity in the Center, and Change Philanthropy for guidance.)
  1. Leverage your relationships to advocate for racial justice. Foundations should use their privilege and social and relational capital to champion racial justice. Make it a priority to educate and influence your board members, peer foundations, partners, and key decision-makers in your community. (For more resources on intentional influence, read these blog posts.)

While COVID-19 took the world by surprise almost a year ago, we are now in a stage of the crisis where there’s no excuse to be caught off guard. As we approach a second year of significant struggle in our communities, foundations need to take more decisive and deliberate action and use their privilege and position to champion racial equity.

Community Foundations’ Steps Toward Equitable Funding Practices

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Community foundations play a vital role directing resources to areas of greatest community need — especially in times of crisis. In a year marked by dual crises of a global pandemic and a national reckoning on systemic racism, many community foundations have stepped into leadership roles that were entirely new to them. They have established COVID response funds that are distributing resources to support relief and recovery for their communities. Many — through grantmaking, donor education, convening, and advocacy — are playing an active role in helping their communities face histories of racism and oppression and shaping strategies to advance racial equity.

As community foundations stretch in new ways to respond to community needs, many are thinking differently about their role, their value proposition to donors, and how they assess impact.

Recognizing that many community foundations are already playing this role, we wanted to learn more about how they are doing so. Community Wealth Partners interviewed staff members from 13 community foundations, representing a range of geographies and asset sizes. In addition, we reached out to four philanthropic intermediary organizations that are structured differently from community foundations and have an emphasis on funding social justice organizations, grassroots organizations, and/or organizations led by people of color. These interviews yielded insight into how community foundations might think differently about their role and practices they could consider to deepen engagement with communities and donors.

Interestingly, most of the community foundations we spoke with had, in the past few years, adapted their mission statements to name a commitment to advancing racial equity in their community. This affects how these foundations identify organizations to fund through their discretionary grantmaking, the conversations they have with donors, and how they think about their impact. It also affects who has access to the foundation’s resources — both on the discretionary grantmaking side and from donor-advised gifts.

View the full report here. Findings from our research focus on three themes:

  • How and why more community foundations are forming a point of view on racial equity — and how that affects how they work with donors
  • Ways community foundations are fostering connections between donors and nonprofits
  • Evolving thinking about assessing impact

If you are connected to a community foundation, we’d love to hear how these themes resonate with your experience. How is your local community foundation showing leadership in your community? What questions is your community foundation grappling with? Send us a note on Twitter @WeDreamForward or email Lori Bartczak at


⇒ Read the Report


Special Opportunity: Community foundation cohort

Community Wealth Partners is planning a peer learning cohort for community foundations interested in finding new ways to foster connections between donors and nonprofits, starting in January 2021. If you are connected to a community foundation that is looking to adopt new practices to help connect donors with grassroots organizations, nonprofits serving communities of color, and/or organizations led by people of color, this cohort might be of interest to you. Contact Lori Bartczak to learn more.

Conversations with the Arizona Community Foundation

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The Arizona Community Foundation has been on a journey to redefine how they measured impact and respond amid the pandemic. In this series of one-minute videos, you can hear some quick takes from Steve Seleznow (President and CEO of the Arizona Community Foundation) on community foundations’ value proposition, impact measurement, their role during times of crisis, and equitable grantmaking amid COVID-19. Watch the videos here and below, and read a more in-depth Q&A with Steve on these topics here.

How might community foundations think about their value proposition?

“[Donors] choose to work with us because they want that relationship and they believe there’s value in the relationship we have and there’s value in our ability to share our community knowledge to help them achieve what they want in the community.”

How might community foundations think about measuring impact?

“There are certain things I think I can measure from our grantmaking, … and there are many things that I know to my heart are really great work and are having some level of impact that I don’t think I can measure.”

What role should community foundations play during times of crisis?

“At the heart of a community foundation is the middle name: community. So when our community is in distress, as one of our core values requires us to do, we have to be nimble. We have to respond to what the community tells us.”

How can COVID-19 rapid response funds lead to more equitable grantmaking?

“Through this process, many new nonprofits that typically weren’t on our radar and probably never got a grant from us in the past now got on our radar.”

Read the full conversation here.

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


Defining Impact and Responding to COVID-19: A Q&A with the Arizona Community Foundation

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In 2018, the Arizona Community Foundation (ACF) decided to redefine how they measured impact. The foundation, which focuses on mobilizing philanthropy throughout the state of Arizona, had been successful by standard measures. Over 10 years, their assets under management had grown from $400 million to just over $1 billion. But beyond dollars, they needed a clearer and more nuanced picture of their impact on donors, nonprofits, and communities. In partnership with Community Wealth Partners, ACF created a new impact model and vison for building a culture of philanthropy. In this vision, donors, grantees, and community foundations work in collaboration to contribute to greater impact for each of them individually. Since then, the foundation has found early evidence of a culture of philanthropy and affirmed their unique value proposition amid an environment in which commercial financial institutions were threatening their sustainability and, more recently, as COVID-19 heightened and increased community needs.

In May 2020, Sara Brenner (president of Community Wealth Partners) sat down with Steve Seleznow (president and CEO of ACF) through a virtual interview to discuss ACF’s view on impact, how they engage donors, their response to COVID-19, and more. This interview was edited for brevity and clarity, and below are the highlights. You can also watch a series of one-minute excerpts from the conversation here.

Sara Brenner: A couple of years ago, your team decided to redefine what impact means for your work. I’d love to start there and hear why that was important for the foundation and what challenges you wanted to address.

Steve Seleznow: I found the existing tools and methods wholly inadequate to measure how we were supporting our donors, what donors were doing through grantmaking, and the tangible results in supporting our communities across Arizona. Every time I tried to apply models that I’d learned from private philanthropy or nimble venture philanthropy, I came up short. I had seen plenty of false precision being used to define the impact of grants, and I wanted none of it. I was challenged to find a better way for measuring impact for our community foundation.

Working together with Community Wealth Partners, we discussed the donor relationships we created and how that develops and grows over time. What we decided to test was whether or not ACF could support a culture of philanthropy through the work of relationship managers and donors. Could we move donors from transactional to transformational? It was an amazing journey, and we learned a great deal about our expertise and connectivity within the community and how it supported our donors’ ability to be more connected to the causes they were passionate about, increasing impact for both our donors and the nonprofits they support.

Brenner: Through our early work together, part of what we began to explore was how donors changed through the work with ACF in their knowledge, actions, and behavior. I wonder if you could share a little about what you learned about donors.

Seleznow: We’re a very donor-centric community foundation. At the heart of what we do is engage directly with donors, understand their charitable goals, and help them become more effective philanthropists. What this journey clarified for us was that the way we engage donors is core to what we do, our growth, and our ability to have positive impact in the community. Donors have many choices – they could work with Fidelity, Vanguard, Schwab, or J.P. Morgan Chase, and they don’t. They choose us because they want that personal relationship. They believe there’s value in our ability to share our community knowledge and help them achieve what they want for their community.

“Donors choose us because they want that personal relationship. They believe there’s value in our ability to share our community knowledge and help them achieve what they want for their community.”

Brenner: Through this process, we worked together to identify three archetypes of ACF donors. How do you understand those archetypes, and how does the foundation work differently with those donors now?

Seleznow: We crystalized three archetypes. No one archetype is better than the other; they’re three different types of donor. There are donors who have a very clear idea of who they want to give to and how much they want to give, and they rarely veer from that. They’re what we call supporters. They support a nonprofit or group of nonprofits, and their support endures through time. The nonprofits tell us those supporters are essential because they offer a sustainable form of capital that nonprofits count on year after year. So we place great value on that type of supporter giving. There are some donors who stay there and some who morph into something we define as an investor. An investor is the donor who sees their donation as an investment in a nonprofit or a small group of nonprofits where they want to get really engaged and make a difference for the cause. They want to sit on the board, know the CEO, know the board of directors, visit, and sometimes volunteer. They invest their time and charitable dollars in supporting and growing that organization. They typically give larger grants. The third category is the multiplier, the person interested in leverage. “I’m going to put up $100,000 to invest in this organization that I love, but I want to find five other donors who will do it with me, and I want to multiply my donation of $100,000 by five. Can you help me find five other donors?” They want to multiply everything they do. They’re very entrepreneurial and believe their talent is best used engaging with a nonprofit and getting others to invest along with them. This results in multiplying their investments. Multipliers often engage in bigger systems change because they are more invested individually and through the people they have recruited to support the cause.

“Donor archetypes help us know who we’re working with and how we can help them achieve their philanthropic goals.”

What that means is we now have a lens to filter and use to define as we begin working with donors or bringing in new donors. Who seems to lean toward being a multiplier? Who’s an investor? Who’s a supporter? We now use those lenses to assess where we think a donors is. A donor can change, but it helps us know who we’re working with and how we can help them achieve their philanthropic goals.

Brenner: Are there moments you’re seeing the community at large work differently and in greater collaboration because of COVID-19?

Seleznow: It was almost immediate that the philanthropic sector in Arizona came together to unify our efforts. We didn’t want donors to have to decide between response efforts, and we wanted to centralize grantmaking so we could be more efficient and timely in getting immediate relief funding out to the nonprofits.

The Valley of the Sun United Way serves the greater Phoenix region and works with an identified group of about 60-80 partner nonprofits. The Arizona Community Foundation serves every county in Arizona. So we decided to set up two platforms – one with Valley of the Sun United Way and one with ACF. They would generate funding from their donor base, and we, from ours. The corporate sector could choose to support the funds based on where they wanted their dollars to go (local or statewide). We agreed to review all grants for the greater Phoenix region together to make sure there was no duplication and ensure we both could respond quickly with the needed support.

The other part that I think advanced philanthropic collaboration was the grants review panel we put in place. We didn’t want the nonprofit sector to think favoritism existed in the grantmaking process. The review panel consisted of ACF staff, nonprofit leaders, corporate contributors, and a few individual donors. We invited the major funders to have a representative on the review team, and we included the president and CEO of the Alliance of Arizona Nonprofits on the review team. These representatives could see every nonprofit that applied, who got grants, and how much they received. The process was transparent and inclusive. That made a huge difference, advanced our relationships, led to greater trust within the nonprofit sector, and provided full transparency for all of the dollars contributed by donors and corporate and philanthropic partners.

Brenner: We know that small, grassroots organizations often led by leaders of color can be left out of funding. I’m curious how equity played out in decision making for the rapid response fund and how you think it should play out in the future?

Seleznow: We put together a diverse group of people to review the grants. The panel had to include the community and reflect the diversity of the community – diversity in terms of region, race, gender, identity, and sector. Because we widely marketed the fund – and thanks to the Arizona Republic which ran three full-page ads in the newspaper announcing the fund – we were able to identify dozens of nonprofits we didn’t know. There are about 22,000 nonprofits in Arizona. Through this process, many nonprofits we had not previously worked with were identified and provided grants. And we’ve been cataloguing these nonprofits so that whatever the new normal is, we have a more inclusive catalogue of nonprofits doing amazing work and a new opportunity to achieve greater equity in our grantmaking.

COVID-19 has also brought to light issues of inequity. When schools closed, we saw the digital divide. Everybody could see that not all kids had computers or reliable internet service. So when schools went online, that meant a large numbers of kids – kids who are poor, kids of color – were not getting educated. Then we saw the data on who’s getting COVID-19 – by race, by community. Here in Arizona, Navajo Nation is suffering tremendously. Historically – for centuries – that community’s health needs have not been properly addressed. We’ve seen large numbers of African American and Latino families impacted. We saw who got laid off first and who is being hardest hit by the loss of a paycheck. If you look at the numbers, you see that this crisis is disproportionately hitting people of color and people without economic means. If this is not the time to aggressively address these issues, then when will we?

“If this is not the time to aggressively address inequity, then when will we?”

Brenner: You’ve talked about two phases to this crisis: emergency response and reconstruction. As we move toward reconstruction, what is the role of community foundations and how do you see that changing?

“When our community is suffering, we have to be nimble. We have to respond to what the community tells us. We need to be willing to do things we’ve never done.”

Seleznow: At the heart of a community foundation is in the name: community. When our community is suffering, we have to be nimble. We have to respond to what the community tells us. We need to be willing to do things we’ve never done. I’ll give you an example. We work with a corporate partner that wanted to create a relief fund for small businesses that were serving low-income neighborhoods and employing members of that community. We checked with our lawyers, and we could very clearly define a public benefit. If those small businesses went out of business, those communities would suffer from the loss of jobs, income, and the essential services provided by those businesses. While we’ve never done anything like it before, we said yes. The community needed this service, it clearly has a public benefit, so we’re taking it on.

Brenner: What ideas do you have for engaging donors in ways that keep equity at the center?

Seleznow: If we see inequity in our community and we’re talking to a donor about education grants they want to make, then we have an obligation to say that achieving educational equity is an important part of what they achieve for their grantmaking. It’s our obligation to make sure donors are informed and educated on the inequities that exist and have the data behind it to understand the proven set of facts. If you want this community to offer a better quality of life for all, you’ve got to find out who has been left behind because of inequity. Maybe you’ll want to invest in this, and here’s how you can do it.

Brenner: What closing advice do you have for other community foundations trying to understand their impact in new ways?

Seleznow: I hesitate to tell my colleagues how they should think, but I would say: I had to do a lot of self-examination to be really honest with myself about impact. Take a hard look at your ego and how you define your impact – “We’ve changed our city.” “We’ve changed our state.” There are certain things we can measure from our grantmaking, and there are many things creating a positive impact that I don’t think we can measure. Be honest about that. Don’t say, “Because I can’t measure it, it’s not worthwhile,” but don’t go down the path of not measuring anything either. Figure out what you’re really about, how to measure that, and where you should pivot to create the most impact.

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.