Tag Archives: trickle-down community engagement

Funders’ role in protecting marginalized communities during the next four years

[Image description: Green stalks of wheat. It looks to be a closeup of a wheat field. The wheat flowers are silvery green, and the leaves are light green.]

Last week, my organization, in partnership with several other orgs, called for an urgent meeting between funders and nonprofit leaders. “Protecting Marginalized Communities During the Next Four Years.” It was just a few days of notice, and I was nervous people wouldn’t show up. Over 100 did, half funders and half nonprofit leaders from diverse communities. For three hours, we checked in with one another, shared stories and ideas, and discussed actions.

There are certain days in my career where I return home exhausted and drained, but simultaneously grateful to get to do this work, and to get to do it with brilliant and passionate colleagues. This was one of those days. Although many of the stories shared were painful and alarming—a Muslim colleague detailed the fear and danger she experiences every day taking the bus; two Native colleagues discussed the challenges their communities face at Standing Rock—the energy and support and sense of community were palpable. Continue reading

Trickle-Down Community Engagement, part 2: The infantilization of marginalized communities must stop

lantern-827784_960_720Last year, I wrote a post on the phenomenon called “Trickle-Down Community Engagement” (TDCE), which is “when we bypass the people who are most affected by issues, engage and fund larger organizations to tackle these issues, and hope that miraculously the people most affected will help out in the effort, usually for free.” This post became NWB’s most-read article, triggering discussions, workshops, debates, and at least one R-rated puppet show. Today, I want to revisit TDCE, because it is a destructive force in our sector, much like the Overhead Myth, the Sustainability Myth, and the lack of ergonomic chairs, and we must keep it at the front of our minds. (Warning: Seahawks lost to the Panthers, so this post may be a little grumpier than most)

Taking a lantern to go find the light

Every Lunar New Year (which this year is on February 8th), my wife and I go to the local Buddhist temple at midnight to get our fortunes for the year by shaking a container of 80-or-so wooden sticks until one falls out. Each stick has a number corresponding with a particular fortune, one that is supposed to guide your entire year. One time, I got the worst fortune ever, something like “This stick represents a bird in the storm. Danger unfolds from four directions. All your endeavors will lead to failure. For every path you take, there is only pain and despair, and your hopes will be dashed upon the rocky shoals of futility.”

That’s terrifying, so I did what you are supposed to do when you receive a bad fortune for the New Year. It is a secret technique I learned from my father, and he learned from his father, and something I will pass down to my sons: When you get a bad fortune, put the stick back in the container and keep shaking until you find a fortune that you like. Continue reading

Are you or your org guilty of Trickle-Down Community Engagement?

plants-906447_640pdIn Seattle, if you’re a person of color and you walk down a dark alley late at night and you feel like you’re being followed, it’s probably someone trying to do some community engagement: “Psst…hey buddy—Go Hawks!—you want to attend a summit? It’s about economic inequity. We need your voice.” “Daddy, I’m scared!” “Stay calm, Timmy; don’t look him in the eye.” “Come on, help a guy out! Here, you each get some compostable sticky dots to vote on our top three priorities! You can vote on different priorities, or, if you like, you put more than one dot on—” “Run, Timmy!”

This is why you should never take your kid down a dark alley in Seattle.

A while ago I was talking to a friend (another Executive Director, since all my regular friends have abandoned me because I make jokes about compostable sticky dots), and he said, “Have you noticed that everyone is getting paid to engage us communities of color except us communities of color?”

Sigh. Yes, I have noticed. I’ve been thinking a lot about this, and have come up with a term to describe it: Trickle-Down Community Engagement (TDCE). This is when we bypass the people who are most affected by issues, engage and fund larger organizations to tackle these issues, and hope that miraculously the people most affected will help out in the effort, usually for free. Continue reading