Tag Archives: equity

Philanthropy and the Destructive Illusion of “Leveling the Playing Field”

[Image description: Closeup of a person kneeling on a race track, as if in preparation to run in a race. They are wearing shorts and holding a baton. Image from Pixabay.com]

A few months ago a program officer and I were talking about the lack of funding that goes to communities-of-color-led nonprofits (only about 10% of philanthropic dollars go to organizations of color). He shook his head in sympathy and frustration, sipping on his coffee. “There has to be a way to level the playing field,” he said. This was probably the third time that quarter I had heard that phrase uttered by a funder. 

This concept of “Leveling the Playing Field” is very present in our sector in our society, like cats or skinny jeans, and we don’t really question it at all. We assume that it is a good thing. If we just make it so that competitions are “fair,” then the people/groups with the most merit, the best ideas and proposals, will win. If we can just make the field more even, then everyone will be able to play the game and everything is good. 

This philosophy has led some thoughtful funders to accept applications in Spanish or other languages, accept handwritten applications, or accept non-written formats such as videos or photos (Although, how effective is this last one when my one-man show, The Agony and Ecstasy of Capacity Building, has never resulted in funding?). 

Those practices are great, but can they level the playing field? Can the funding field ever be “level”? Continue reading

When you base pay on salary history, a unicorn loses its horn

[Image description: A tan and white horse in a field of wheat. The horse looks pensive. Maybe it’s actually a unicorn who just lost its horn because someone asked for salary history. Image by Donna at Unsplash.com]

Hi everyone, we need to talk about salary history. Imagine you are hiring two fundraisers for your growing development team: Edna has had nine years of experience raising money, and has a record of bringing in over $10 million dollars. Joe has two years of experience fundraising and has brought in $300,000; before that, he worked for a bank. Because Edna is more skilled in fundraising, you have her supervise and mentor Joe. Things work out well for a while, until Edna found out that Joe is paid 10% more than she is. The reason: Joe had worked at a bank, so he had a stronger salary history. So now we have someone who is more qualified, with a better track record, and who is doing more work—supervising and mentoring in addition to fundraising—getting paid less than another person who is less qualified. Continue reading

The courage to be unfair

[Image description: A tan brown lion cub, hiding behind a tree branch, blurred yellowish background. I think this is a lion cub. Image obtained from Pixabay.com]

Last week, I went to speak at a conference in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania put on by the United Way of Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce and United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley. The topic was Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. Not wanting to use the same graphic with the kids standing on the boxes (you know what I’m talking about) to illustrate the difference between equity and equality, I tried the sandwich metaphor:

“Imagine if you had three kids and three sandwiches. Equality would be that you give each kid a sandwich. That seems fair. But many of you work with kids whose families are low-income, whose only meal that day may be through school or through your program. Imagine if one of the kids has not eaten for three days, and one kid just came from a birthday party and is stuffed. Equity is understanding these circumstances and giving the kid who is really hungry two sandwiches, and maybe the kid who just ate gets none.” Continue reading

How the concept of effectiveness has screwed nonprofits and the people we serve

[Description: An adorable little light-brown hamster, with tiny feet, staring directly at the camera. Its little hands are clasped in front of it. This hamster has nothing to do with the content of this post. It’s just a cute hamster, because it’s Monday and you deserve a cute hamster. Image obtained from Pixabay.com]

Hi everyone. Before we delve into today’s very serious topic, a quick announcement. January 12th is International Nonprofit Karaoke Throwdown Day! Here’s a blog post I wrote on why staff and boards of different nonprofits need to hang out more. Find a nonprofit or two in your area and challenge them to a #NonprofitKaraokeThrowdown. Here, I even crafted an invitation email for you:

“Hey [org(s)], Nonprofit AF has declared January 12th to be International Nonprofit Karaoke Throwdown Day, so we at [your org] challenge your staff and board to a singing contest. This is It, we’ll be Right Here Waiting for You, and Chances Are, You’re Going Down. Sorry Not Sorry.”

Now that we got that out of the way, let’s talk about effectiveness. Last week, Kathleen Enright, the CEO of Grantmakers for Effective Organizations (GEO) wrote this thought-provoking article. Here’s an excerpt:

“[The] work to define effectiveness has typically come from white organizations – prominent consulting firms, think tanks, universities, philanthropy and management support organizations. These institutions – and I count GEO among them – have advanced ideas about effectiveness that have unwittingly perpetuated or even exacerbated inequity in the nonprofit sector.”

Continue reading

Can we agree on this simple definition of Equity?

[Image description: An open silver briefcase with stacks of 100-dollar bills held together with rubber bands. Strewn around the briefcase are loose bills. Image obtained from Pixabay.com]

In a previous article, I mentioned that equity has been like coconut water. It’s all over the place. It’s flavored with pineapple, sometimes with chocolate. Everyone is drinking Equity; it’s on websites, in conference themes, and in those “word-cloud” thingies. Given how pervasive it is, it’s weird that we don’t seem to have a common, universally-accepted definition for it. As this article states “Very few foundations had a clear definition of what equity meant to them internally, and absolutely no one saw any common definition emerging from the field anytime soon.” So, after thinking about it for a while and talking to other leaders, here’s my take on it, at least in the nonprofit/philanthropic sense:

“Equity is about ensuring the communities most affected by injustice get the most money to lead in the fight to address that injustice, and if that means we break the rules to make that happen, then that’s what we do.”

Some of you are probably thinking, “Money? That’s your definition? That’s simplistic AF. Maybe you should stick to writing nonprofit jokes.” Yes. It’s money. Equity is about money and whether that money is going to the people most screwed over by our society. All of us need to stop avoiding this basic premise. Continue reading