October 18, 2018

Exploring approaches to advancing DEI

Participants in the Building Community portfolio's recently completed Nonprofit Sector Support Leadership Development Learning Collaborative.

Exploring different ways to advance diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) is a core interest to the Building Community portfolio and Meyer.

Over the past two years, we have pursued two topics in depth with a select group of grantees through a learning process called "Nonprofit Sector Support" (NSS). With one group of 11 grantees, we had the opportunity to think about how leadership development-related programming can advance equity. In a second related cohort, we had a chance to work with 22 groups interested in advancing equity through work as capacity builders or providers of technical assistance to others.

Grantees gave us great insights and real time examples of this work in action. We have also been learning how this work takes shape in different parts of the country (more on this below). With this knowledge, we have started to synthesize our findings, and our program officer, Carol Cheney, will be sharing them in the coming months. A few headlines from what we have gathered through our NSS effort about how to advance DEI through leadership development and support for capacity building:

Strategies that are working well:

  • Lifting up multiple ways of knowing
  • Focusing on healing and the intersections between issues
  • Challenging and reframing dominant culture narratives
  • Sharing stories as a capacity-building strategy
  • Creating intensive experiences for peers to learn together and from each other
  • Creating multiple opportunities for the end-users or ultimate beneficiaries to help shape programs, provide feedback and define success
  • Cross-sector relationship building (e.g., across public, private and nonprofit sectors)
  • Building advocacy skills and providing opportunities for participants to take part in public policy

Areas of persistent challenge:

  • Taking time to build relationships and trust
  • Connecting across distances
  • Inadequate resources to meet needs
  • Entrenched systems of white supremacy
  • Challenges in accessing influential networks and building power together
  • Fear and mistrust based on the political environment

Racial Equity to Accelerate Change Fund

This past year, Meyer joined with nine funders from around the country to establish a new initiative called the Racial Equity to Accelerate Change (REACH) Fund. At the heart of REACH is an interest in advancing promising practices for supporting nonprofits interested in addressing issues of racial equity and inclusion.

Being part of REACH is tied to the reality that Meyer's grantees and applicants are paying heightened attention to DEI in formulating and achieving solutions to entrenched problems. In recent years, we have experienced a significant increase in requests from leaders for capacity building support to advance DEI both within their organizations and in their program work.

For many of our grantees, creating a more inclusive and equitable society is at the heart of their missions and the reason they do their work. For other organizations, a renewed commitment to DEI flows from an increasing awareness that fulfilling their missions requires that they understand and embrace these issues. Wherever grantees may be along this continuum, they increasingly are seeking help with these issues.

Although this growing attention to DEI is promising, a steady stream of events in recent years has made it clear to many Americans how far we still have to go. A surge in white supremacist, anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim hate crimes has startled a nation that had come to think of these attitudes as relics of a more distant past. Rolling back laws and policies that represent hard-won civil rights, such as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, is also increasing. The extent to which racism is still deeply entrenched in America has been thrust into view, and increasing numbers of people believe that achieving racial equity is one of the most important challenges of our times.

Against this backdrop, the nonprofit and philanthropic sector is also confronting troubling data that, even in our own sectors, we need more traction. Several studies reveal that the diversity of nonprofit boards and executive leadership has hardly budged for decades even as the diversity of the country has grown significantly. The underrepresentation of people of color on boards and in executive leadership is stark when viewed alongside the racial composition of the communities we serve, and it means that the work of these organizations is not benefitting from all available talent, perspectives and experiences.

In a values-based sector that largely argues for fairness and equal opportunity, we need to do better. This means not only working harder but also trying new approaches.

Toward that end, REACH Fund is seeking participants for its first cohort of racial equity practitioners. Participants will receive grants of $50,000 - $150,000, which will be applicable to both general operations and on-the-ground racial equity support to nonprofits (either new or existing clients). More information about this opportunity can be found here.

— Dahnesh