Tag Archives: equity

The privilege to fail: How the benefits of trust and failure are not equitably distributed

[Image description: A little turtle balancing a bubble on their nose, looking upward. Wait, is this a turtle…or a tortoise? It’s on land, so I think it’s a tortoise. But aren’t all tortoises considered turtles? I am not sure, but Game of Thrones is on, and I don’t have time to google. Pixabay.com]

Hi everyone, as usual, Game of Thrones is back on, with the Battle at Winterfell coming tonight, so the quality of this post may likely decrease. Don’t @ me, bro. Or whatever. See, I warned you.

A while ago, I wrote “Is Equity the new coconut water?” which likened the concept of equity to the refreshing tropical juice, both coming out of nowhere and suddenly becoming ubiquitous. Well, over the past few years there has also been a rise in “Failure.” Failure is now the new kombucha. Everyone is drinking it. Failure, like the fizzy fermented tea, is supposed to be good for you; kombucha has probiotics that restore the natural balance of your body’s biome or something.

One way the embrace of Failure shows up is in events where people talk publicly about their fiascoes. Last year I attended one such event. I sat enraptured as one nonprofit speaker after another came up on stage and told the audience about their screw-ups, consequences, and lessons. At the end of each story, the audience cheered with enthusiasm and support. When we are so conditioned to only display our strengths and accomplishments in public, this “Fail Fest” was refreshing, like a big gulp of ginger-berry kombucha.

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So you don’t think race, equity, diversity, and inclusion are relevant to your mission

[Image description: An brown/gray owl with extra large orange eyes and black pupils, looking adorably surprised. Image from Pixabay.com]

Hi everyone, this post may be a little shorter than usual, due to a few few full-blown tantrums from my little ones over the course of the day. One involved a potty training accident that required a thorough hose-down in the bathtub. I am slightly frazzled and not very lucid.

A few months ago, I was talking at a conference about what race, equity, diversity, and inclusion look like in every day practices. “These concepts have been like coconut water,” I said, “everyone’s drinking them after hot yoga. But how are we actually changing our hiring, communications, board governance, evaluation, fundraising, and other areas?”

After my presentation, a colleague raised her hand. “My organization does not focus on social justice,” she said, “We address cancer, which does not discriminate; it affects every one of all races. How are these concepts applicable to my organization?”

I was glad she asked that question, because I am sure others feel the same way. Another time, a different colleague wrote, “while measures of injustice, inequity[,] and racial oppression might be appropriate outcomes for your nonprofit—ours is reduction in hunger. Which might lead to all those other things but really—we care about feeding kids.”

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The urgency of making big funding bets on organizations led by marginalized communities

[Image descriptions: Four stacks of coins of ascending height in a straight line from left to right, with a large filled with coins at the end of the line. Each stack of coins as well as the jar has a green plant with multiple leaves growing out of it, the size of the plants also increasing with the height of the stack of coins or jar. They appear to be outdoors, with an out-of-focus outdoorsy background. Image by Pixabay. Description, as always, by Vu].

Last week, SSIR published a case study I co-authored with David Bley of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation detailing Gates’s significant investment in my organization, Rainier Valley Corps (RVC). Our partnership started with 1.1 million over four years to launch RVC’s fellowship program to bring more leaders of color into the nonprofit sector. These brilliant leaders would run programs, fundraise, set up systems, mobilize community members, and do whatever else the organization needs to be effective. About half the fellows are hired full-time at their host organizations during or after their fellowship, a critical outcome when only 18% of nonprofit professionals are people of color.

After running our successful fellowship program for a year, RVC learned several significant lessons, including the fact that the philosophy that grounds organizational development does not work for organizations led by communities of color. This philosophy, as I’ve pointed out before, is basically to force all organizations to be generalists, so that even small grassroots organizations must scramble to do HR, finance, payroll, evaluation, communications, legal compliance, contract monitoring, etc. And the ones that cannot do all these highly complex tasks simultaneously and with a degree of quality are punished.

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10 measurable New Year’s resolutions your nonprofit or foundation can totally achieve in 2019

[Image description: An adorable little squirrel with puffy cheeks and big eyes, staring directly at the camera. They have mixed orange-gray fur, with a white tummy. Their paws are touching, held in front of their chest. This squirrel has nothing to do with this post and is only here as clickbait. It worked. You clicked. Pixabay.com]

Hi everyone. If this is your first day back from the holiday break, make some coffee and read last week’s pep talk “Welcome back to work, you stunningly brilliant and attractive world-changer, you!” followed by “12 tips to ensure you don’t stab anyone on your first day back from break.” (Tip 9: Take a short walk. To your car. Drive home. Watch Netflix.)

It is 2019, a brand new start! Take a deep breath. What you smell is the aroma of change, of possibility, of hope! Or maybe leftover food or rotting compost that should have been thrown out before the weekend, but I’d like to think it’s the former. As many of us make our personal resolutions to improve ourselves, so should our organizations. Unfortunately, many resolutions fail because they are either too lofty or too nebulous or involve exercise.

Here then are some tangible, relatively straight-forward resolutions all of us, whether we are nonprofits or foundations, should make to ensure that we and our sector have a kickass 2019. They are in no particular order, do not encompass everything we need to do, and I might expand on some of them in future posts: Continue reading

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