Getting Started on the Journey to Equity and Inclusion

Last fall we asked our clients to share the work they’re doing in the areas of justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion and, no surprise, they went above and beyond. We are truly inspired by their responses and our follow up conversations, and look forward to sharing these stories with you in a series of blog articles to provide practical ideas for your organization and community.

This past year has brought countless challenges, lessons, and opportunities. It also shed light on vast inequities in our society that we can no longer ignore. We understand more than ever that change is needed, but many organizations don’t know how to begin and what to do to affect meaningful change. 

Getting Started
Like so many of your organizations, Foundant wants to more actively participate in the pursuit of justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion. To focus our work and give us direction, we created an internal team, now known as the “JEDIs.'' The JEDI team conducted an in-depth assessment of our needs and the organizations available to meet those needs. The decision about who to hire to guide us through this work was not taken lightly. After conducting a search, Foundant hired the Montana Racial Equity Project (MTREP), a nonprofit and nonpartisan organization that advocates equity and justice for historically marginalized, disenfranchised, and oppressed peoples in Montana. Not only does MTREP bring the necessary expertise and lived experience, the organization is also based in Bozeman, Montana, providing a shared understanding of local dynamics. 

MTREP began this work by assessing Foundant’s internal culture through an organization-wide survey and a series of one-one-one interviews. After receiving the results of this assessment, Foundant will work with MTREP to develop social and racial equity education for team members, and create and implement a strategic plan to help us to continually improve and carry the work forward in perpetuity.

Learning Together
While Foundant is still in the early phases of this process, our team is clear on one immediate goal: elevate the voices of our clients that are already doing this important work to help others begin their own journey. 

During our follow-up conversations with clients who are already engaging in this work, we heard  common themes that emphasize the importance of defining terms, normalizing mistakes, and sharing ideas with each other--providing actionable ideas no matter where your organization is on this journey.

Defining Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
The clients we spoke with shared a desire to define terms and establish common language to better engage their fellow staff members, stakeholders, and communities in this work. The acronym “DEI” has become ubiquitous, particularly in the past year. But, what exactly does this mean and how does this differ from equity, inclusion, and justice (EIJ)? MTREP explains that organizations must first establish a racially equitable culture that does not limit a new person’s ability to contribute before seeking to increase diversity. Diego Zegarra, Vice President of Equity and Inclusion at Park City Community Foundation, agrees, explaining, “We are focusing a bit too much on diversity without necessarily thinking about inclusion, which speaks to who has power in the room.”

Kim Konikow, Executive Director with North Dakota Council on the Arts, also addresses the fact that demographics vary greatly for different parts of the country. “Here in the midwestern northern plains states, we look at it as opening perspectives and trying to be more inclusive. It's not about diversity as much as it is about inclusivity. It’s a way of doing things that promotes accessibility.”

Normalizing Mistakes and Showing Up Imperfectly
Many are scared of doing the wrong thing, saying the wrong thing, or causing more damage. However, change isn’t possible without having the conversation. “We need to change the narrative to a culture that values learning and normalizes mistakes and showing up imperfectly,” explains Zegarra. “When the CEO or executive director shows up vulnerably, it gives license to a lot of folks to do the same.”

MTREP acknowledges that talking, learning, and engaging in conversations about race are not easy, but stresses that we must become comfortable with the uncomfortable if we want to address and dismantle racism. 

Sharing Practical Ideas
If your organization is just starting this work, it might be comforting to know that you are not alone. Tobi Bruhn, Executive Director at Foundations Community Partnership in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, explains that while some organizations are already doing great work, many are at the starting point, particularly small and medium-sized organizations with fewer resources. Bruhn reminds these organizations that they don’t need to reinvent the wheel and create brand new programs. “Learn from other people’s trials and errors. Take a successful program and figure out how you can implement it  within your community or organization.”
Collaboration has always been key within the philanthropic community. This has never been more true as we face this great need for change, uncertainty or fear about how to begin, and limited resources. 

Learn More
We recently held a webinar with panelists from several organizations committed to leading change across very different communities. This very special panel shared steps you can take to move forward in your own organizations and communities. 

Watch this recorded webinar at your convenience.

Also, watch for the next article in our blog series to learn how organizations are adjusting grantmaking processes to address equity and inclusion.

About the Author

Foundant Technologies

For more than a decade, Foundant Technologies has specialized exclusively in making philanthropy easier and more impactful through intuitive technology solutions. All of our cloud-based solutions focus on grantmaker, grantseeker, scholarship provider and community foundation needs with the goal to make day-to-day tasks streamlined and help maximize the impact of the philanthropic community.

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