Category Archives: Cultural Competency

Why communities of color are getting frustrated with Collective Impact

hand-813525_960_720A while ago I wrote “Collective Impact: Resistance is Futile,” detailing the frustrations of CI and comparing it to The Borg on Star Trek. “Controlled by a hive mind that neutralizes any sort of individualism, and comprising billions of annexed individuals, [The Borg is] strong and terrifying, like an army of zombie robots, each with one eye that has a laser beam.” That was my first impression of Collective Impact, at least the way it’s being playing out in Seattle.

Years later, Collective Impact continues to spread, with mixed results and reactions. I talked to a funder on the East Coast last week, and she said her state is getting sick of the constant mention of Collective Impact. Meanwhile, in a Seattle, a colleague of mine said, “Collective Impact is like The Governor in The Walking Dead—seems nice, until you’re locked in a room with it.”

Talking to other nonprofit leaders, I’ve started noticing some patterns. There is definitely a sense of frustration of how CI has been manifesting in Seattle, and among leaders of color, that sense of frustration is even more palpable. We need to have an open discussion about how Collective Impact has been affecting diverse communities, and work toward some concrete actions that would make it more effective.

But before we get into the discussion, a couple of disclaimers. First, I am not against Collective Impact. I think it has done a lot of good, with Strive Together and Harlem Children’s Zone being two examples. And heck, I am involved with efforts that would arguably be labeled as Collective Impact: Rainier Valley Corps (RVC), which is developing nonprofit leaders of color and organizations led by communities of color with the ultimate goal of getting diverse communities to work together to effect change; and the Southeast Seattle Education Coalition (SESEC), a communities-of-color-led coalition rallying people together to help school and kids succeed in the most diverse quadrant of Seattle. (Also, to a lesser degree, ED Happy Hour, a backbone organization encouraging EDs to get together monthly to engage in mutually-reinforcing therapy involving alcohol). Continue reading

Why Equality is actively harmful to Equity

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A few weeks ago, I gave a keynote speech to a large group of youth involved in philanthropy, along with a few of their parents and mentors. My topic was “The Role of Equity in Philanthropy.” It was awesome that we had kids ages 8 to 24 engaged in grantmaking and other aspects of philanthropy. They were smart and hungry and full of hope and possibilities, bright minds not yet beaten down to a haggard shell haunted by endless grant rejections and complex community dynamics and the sudden dawning realization of the ephemerality of existence, cowering in the supply closet on a fold-out cot, cradling a stuffed unicorn while Green Day’s “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” plays softly from a phone.

(What, like your Friday nights are soooo much more exciting.)

“As budding philanthropists,” I said to the youth, “you have probably seen the illustration of the difference between Equality and Equity. You know, the drawing of those kids standing on those boxes looking over a fence at people playing baseball.”

As if on cue, two kids came up to the stage with a drawing they had done earlier of the iconic image on easel paper. I stuck it to the lectern. “Get used to this image,” I said, “Have it burned into your mind. Because you will not be able to avoid it. It will haunt your dreams.” Continue reading

Why individual donations strategies often do not work for communities of color

easter-eggs-684450_640Hi everyone, this week is my organization’s first annual fundraising reception, where we formally introduce our Fellows to the community. Doing special events, to be honest, freaks me out, and I have been banned by planning committees in the past from attending meetings. Sheesh, and all because I get stressed out and occasionally go into catatonic states and murmur things like, “Beware…the storm is gathering…registration lines will fill up…time will stop…guests will beat their chests in anguish and despair as volunteers weep in the darkness…beware…”

Anyway, today I want to talk about cultivating individual donors and how it relates to communities of color. Every time that I talk about how arduous grantwriting is, either on this blog or in person, inevitably someone will say something like, “That’s why you should focus on individual donors! Statistically, individual donors provide 72% of the funds for nonprofits! Why, I knew this one org that was struggling, and they decided focus on individual donors, and they were able to save the family farm, and not only that but the ED was asked to pose for the Men of Nonprofit calendar because his stress melted away and he regained his youthful, radiant complexion!” Continue reading

Letter to RVC’s first cohort of nonprofit leaders of color

IMG_2905Hi everyone, RVC’s first ever cohort of ten leaders of color start their work today after spending most of last week in an intense orientation retreat designed to introduce them to the nonprofit sector: “And this, you may know, is hummus. It is present at 90% of nonprofit meetings in Seattle. Traditionally it is eaten with pita wedges, but recently we’ve been seeing an increase in raw broccoli and baby carrots, especially at community forums.”

I’ve spent most of last week with the Fellows, and since today is such a historic moment for my organization and for our first cohort of leaders, I want to spend this post writing a letter to them. It will likely be long and sappy and sentimental, much like this letter I wrote my son just in case I died early. If you feel like skipping this week’s post, I’ll understand. Next week we will get back to a normal, less sentimental post. Continue reading

Weaponized data: How the obsession with data has been hurting marginalized communities

brass-knuckles-1258994_1280Hi everyone, I just came back from giving a keynote speech in Vancouver Canada, complete with pictures of baby animals. I am condensing the key concepts here. A couple of notes before we tackle today’s exciting topic. First, I want to thank my awesome colleague Dr. Jondou Chen for introducing me to the term “weaponized data.” If I ever start up an alternative rock band, I am going to invite Jondou, and we’ll call it “Weaponized Data.” Sample lyrics: “From the start/you returned begrudging correlation/to my foolish causation/like an icepick to my heart.”

Second, for the grammar geeks out there—and I am one—I’m going to do something blasphemous and use “data” as both a singular and a plural noun in this post, depending on context. I know, I know, technically “data” is the plural for “datum,” so we should be saying, “The data are inconclusive” and not “The data is inconclusive.” Kind of like “media” is the plural of “medium” and “panda” is the plural of “pandum.” But, fellow grammar geeks, we must choose our battles. Let us save our energy to fight, with patience and compassion, crimes against decency like “that time works for John and I” and “you were literally on fire during your presentation.”

So, data. Data is pretty awesome. As a proud nerd, I love a good set of data and can spend endless hours looking at a sexy chart full of numbers. If data were turned into a syrup, I would put it on my soy ice cream all the time, because it is just so sweet. In the past few years, there has been more and more pressure on nonprofits being able to produce good data. Getting more and better information on practices and outcomes can only be good for our sector.

However, like fire or Jager Bombs, data can be used for good or for evil. When poorly thought out and executed, data can be used as a weapon to screw over many communities. Usually this is unintentional, but I’ve seen way too many instances of good intentions gone horribly awry where data is concerned. Here are a few challenges we need to pay attention to regarding the game of data, which is a lot like The Game of Thrones, but with way less frontal nudity: Continue reading