Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion – What others are doing

When organizations – both nonprofit and philanthropic – consider their missions with an eye toward diversity, equity, and inclusion, it can have wide-ranging implications, from who comprises their staff and volunteers to what their policies say about vendors, intake, and more.

Greenville Partnership for Philanthropy and the Nonprofit Alliance joined in hosting a meeting for their members on the topic of diversity, equity, and inclusion and what they mean for organizations.  The meeting was facilitated by Keisha Gray and Natalia Valenzuela Swanson of the Mary Black Foundation in Spartanburg.  Insights and guidance were offered by panelists Kerri Forrest with the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation’s Lowcountry office, Nalisha Henry with United Way of Greenville County, and the Rev. Dr. David Taylor with Momentum Bike Clubs.

Even though the focus of the meeting was at the organizational level, it is people that make up an organization.  Organizational approaches to diversity, equity, and inclusion are just manifestations of individual beliefs and perspectives.  As Keisha pointed out, “The work is driven by you as an individual and by what you bring to this and your good intentions.”

David shared that his interest in in racial equity, diversity, and inclusion grew from his curiosity about his own history as a seventh generation Greenville County resident.  His exploration of his background led to more reading about the history of race in our nation.  Books such as The New Jim Crow, The Warmth of Other Suns, and White Fragility led him to pursue more conversations and relationships with people who are different from him.  All of this experience opened his eyes to his blind spots and the adversity he’s avoided because of his skin color.

David leads Momentum Bike Clubs, a youth mentoring program that takes place around bicycles.  Most of the participants are youth of color, and David has been acutely aware that if his organization doesn’t consider diversity, equity, and inclusion in everything they do, Momentum Bike Clubs will be less able to fulfill their mission.

Nalisha said that when she was an undergrad at Furman, she was part of the Student League for Black Culture where they celebrated the value in our difference, which means there is value in including those who are different from the majority. United Way of Greenville County has been on this journey to understand and expand diversity, equity, and inclusion for the last 2 ½ years. It started when a staff assessment showed the organization needed a wake-up call on these issues.  They began by setting up a DEI action team, which continues to guide the work.

Kerri’s personal and professional experiences have placed her in settings where she’s been one of only a handful of black or brown people (in her K-12 school in Charleston, for instance, she was just one of five students of color and then was one of the 10% of racial and ethnic minorities at Clemson) as well as inclusive spaces surrounded by people from all over the world (such as in DC working in television news).  When she came back to Charleston to work for the Donnelley Foundation after 15 years in Washington, she again found herself in a world that was very black and white.  So she’s had to be intentional about placing herself in diverse spaces, and she encourages that intentionality as a good first step.

Panelists offered guidance for audience members interested in pursuing diversity, equity, and inclusion goals in their organizations:

Leadership has to be behind this and driving it.  At the United Way, the board made DEI a priority in the search for a new CEO. David as the CEO of his small nonprofit has championed an equity lens in all of his work with board members, other staff, volunteers, and participants.

Explore the “why” around diversity, equity, and inclusion.  This helps guide the work and create energy around it.  At the Donnelley Foundation, they started by listening to other peer foundations’ stories that were further along in diversity work.  They realized how important it was for their board members to be just as invested so staff doesn’t get ahead of board, so they held special meetings for board members to hear from other foundations about their DEI journey.

Create opportunities to learn and be brave, because change moves at the speed of people’s learning and awareness.  There’s a measure of “knowing what you don’t know” and increasing cultural competency and knowledge is critical.  At the United Way, they held a book club around Brené Brown’s Dare to Lead, attended productions on social issues at The Warehouse Theatre, brought in speakers on different issues, and held various awareness months.  The Donnelly Foundation held training with Race Forward for all board and staff.  Momentum Bike Clubs provides cultural competency and self-awareness training for all mentors so they can be aware of their own blind spots and have proper understanding and expectations. (A list of resources shared by panelists can be found here.)

Find ways to turn thought into action.  Once there are changes in understanding at your organization, find ways to change behavior.  At the Donnelley Foundation, they took a look at their portfolio to better understand how equitable the current grantmaking is, worked with a facilitator during a retreat to begin thinking about what equity means to the organization, and have offered diversity, equity, and inclusion workshops for grantees interested in taking the same introspective look. The United Way has intentionally diversified its board and staff.  Momentum Bike Clubs intentionally recruits mentors of color to work with their youth.

Look at your code words in hiring and programs and see what they convey.  As an example, Kerri noted that grantmakers often look for “sustainable” grantees.  If that means organizations with healthy bottom lines and regular ongoing revenue sources and endowments, it likely also means majority-led organizations that have had traditional access to wealthy donors. HR policies that set educational or experience standards can do the same thing.

How should an organization – especially a small one – get started?

It’s simple, said Kerri Forrest.  “Just get started.”  She said that it’s most important to begin the journey by taking a first step, which could be education or conversation.  But be intentional and organized as the journey continues.

Looking ahead at HR policies, recruitment, procedures related to services, and other organizational work can be overwhelming, but Nalisha says nonprofits and funders can’t underestimate the individual work that also has to be done, because we all have pasts, triggers, and biases (people of color included). Natalia points out that racial equity work is systems work that is the result of personal mental models, and David stated that because of that it’s appropriate to engage your organization’s stakeholders at that level. As an example, Kerri emphasized that as they considered grantees and diversity, it wasn’t from a punitive perspective but one that recognized we all have blind spots and are products of the systems we’re in – we need to support each other in building our understanding and making changes as a result.

David, Keisha, Kerri, Nalisha, and Natalia all expressed that their organizations have come a long way but still have a long way to go.  However, the work has been rewarding and has had effects beyond strengthening their equity lens.  The thoughtful and intentional approach toward systems change that is required for a DEI focus has positive implications for the way they work on other topics.

How did attendees respond to the conversation?  Read on for input from NPA and GPP members.


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