Tag Archives: equity

Why organizational values are so awesome and sexy

red-squirrel-570936_960_720Hi everyone. Before I delve into today’s topic, I’m going to ask for donations to my organization. Seattle has a day called GiveBig, hosted by The Seattle Foundation. Donate on May 3rd (not before or after) and the money gets a share of a stretch fund. If you like the rantings on NWB, and especially if you are a foundation or major donor, consider giving to RVC on May 3rd (you can go there and pledge to give before May 3rd). We’re trying to raise 10K; 100% of this money will pay for rent and utilities*. As an Executive Director, I freak out a lot about fundraising and being able to pay for rent and utilities. A lot. It basically accounts for 80% of my daily night terrors. The less I freak out about fundraising, the more time I can focus on thinking and writing about important stuff, like Trickle-Down Community Engagement, or the rules of dating in the nonprofit sector.

Today, I want to talk about Values. Values have been like the middle children of the nonprofit sector, wedged between the older brother Vision and the me-me-me baby of the family, Mission, whom everyone has to pay attention to all the time. Or maybe Mission is the bossy older brother, and Vision is the baby. Or maybe Mission is like the mom who makes us eat our vegetables, and Vision is like that cool but aloof cousin.

Whatever. (It’s midnight, and I have a newborn. And in fact, I am at the airport). Point is, few of us pay much attention to Values. Values are the platonic friend who has a crush on us but whom we constantly take for granted while we chase after hotter people. We scatter a few inspiring-sounding words on our website—Equity! Respect! Compassion! Community! Accountability!—and call it a day. A few of us elaborate on our core values with vague sentences like “Respect: We treat everyone with respect.” Continue reading

Why Budget Testing is a terrible way for foundations to determine funding allocation

spiral-1081904_960_720A while ago, I wrote “When you don’t disclose salary range on a job posting, a unicorn loses its wings.” The post highlights the importance of salary transparency from the beginning of the hiring process. It also talks about one of the dumbest and most damaging hiring practices we have: Using salary history to determine the starting pay of new hires. This practice ensures that people who have been underpaid—primarily women and people of color—continue to be underpaid. We, the sector fighting for equity and social justice, must end this archaic and destructive practice immediately.

As I’ve been thinking more about how we treat individuals in the sector, I’ve been noticing that there is a parallel to how we treat organizations and even whole communities. A parallel to using salary history at the organizational level is something I’m going to call “Budget Testing.” This is when funders have rules regarding how much funding an organization can apply for based on its budget size. Many foundations, for example, will not fund an organization for more than 10% of its budget. Others have set limits, such as organizations with budgets less than $1M can only apply for $25,000, and those over $1M can apply for $100,000. 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

Funders, your grant application process may be perpetuating inequity

minibarA few weeks ago, a fellow Executive Director of color and a friend of mine, “Maria,” was nearly in tears after failing for a second time to get a small grant. She doesn’t drink, or else I would have offered access to the personal minibar that I keep in my office. A shot of Wild Turkey and a brisk walk always cheer me up after a grant rejection.

“I’m so tired,” Maria said over the phone, “I can’t continue putting in my own money to keep this afloat. Maybe nonprofit is just not for me. It’s too hard.” She had spent over 40 hours on these two grants, and I had spent over 12 hours facilitating part of a board retreat, helping develop the logic model, revising the budgets, editing the narratives, and providing moral support.

The grant was a one-time award for less than 10K, and she had been told repeatedly, by different people at this foundation, that her work was important and much needed.

The purpose of this story is not to call out a particular foundation, but to highlight the fact that the standard grant application process needs a deep overhaul because it is leaving behind too many communities. 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