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Getting Started on the Journey to Equity and Inclusion

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.

Recent years have brought countless challenges, lessons, and opportunities. These events have 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, called 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. MTREP brings the necessary expertise and lived experience and is 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-on-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 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 already doing this important work to help others begin their own journey. 

During our follow-up conversations with clients already engaging in this work, we heard common themes that emphasize the importance of defining terms, normalizing mistakes, and sharing ideas—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. 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, “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 of the 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 fear doing or saying the wrong thing and 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 is 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 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. 

Additional Resources

Read the other posts in this series:

Also, don't miss Who's at the Table?: Resilient Philanthropy Through Inclusive, Equitable Practice. Hear our client panel provide valuable insights as they share their journeys, missteps, fears, and celebrations in a very special educational webinar featuring an expert facilitator from Montana Racial Equity Process. 

About the Author

Foundant Technologies has specialized in making philanthropy easier and more impactful through innovative software solutions and exceptional client experiences since 2007. Passionate about philanthropy, our team is dedicated to meeting the unique needs of grantmakers, scholarship providers, community foundations, and nonprofits to enable change-makers to make the world a better place for all.

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