What does it take to actually bring about equity in the nonprofit sector and communities?
I think about this question a lot, particularly in the context of the nonprofit workforce and leadership. Minnesota tops the national lists as the most educated, literate and healthy. But, it also tops the lists indicating the highest educational, employment and health disparities in communities of color. Minnesota is great at everything, including disparities. Nonprofits play an important role in all of these areas of inequity in our communities, and Minnesota's nonprofit staff, leaders and boards are not reflective of the communities in which we work.
As nonprofit blogger Vu Le points out, equity is the new coconut water, hot and trendy but at risk of becoming a fad. Equity is ubiquitous -- part of funding priorities, policy conversations, popping up in organizations visions and strategic plans. I define equity, as PolicyLink does, as the "just and fair inclusion into a society in which all can participate, prosper, and reach their full potential." Vu Le defines fakequity as fake equity -- all talk, no action or soliciting feedback from community and not acting on it.
Inspired by these words and concepts, I wanted to host a conversation with nonprofit leaders in Minnesota on equity and fakequity. Vu was the keynote at this year’s Minnesota Council of Nonprofits' Annual Conference, so it presented an excellent opportunity to dive deeper into these ideas.
Joined by Youthprise’s Wokie Weah, Springboard for the Arts and Board Repair’s Jun-li Wang, and the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits’ Jon Pratt, we had the opportunity to do just that during a town hall session at the end of the conference.
Our hope was to generate ideas and action steps to bring back to our organizations and the nonprofit sector, commit individually, and identify a personal step toward equity. At the end of the session, I asked people to commit to doing one thing in the following two weeks. People committed to speaking up, taking a risk and seeking out others to collaborate with to advance equity at their organizations.
Here’s a quick snapshot from the great table conversations in the room during three world café rounds.
1. What is equity? What is fakequity? How do these concepts play out at the individual, organizational, community and systems level?
- Equity Is asking how can we address the issue collectively
- Equity is letting everyone speak truth
- Equity involves messiness
- Fakequity is conversation without action
- Fakequity is the desire for diversity without change in the process
- Fakequity is choosing comfort over change
- Fakequity is not changing practices based on input
- Fakequity is percent over power.
- Unintentional fakequity is reaching out to people but not changing access to services or changing lives effectively
2. What are some successful actions by nonprofits to increase equity? What do you think other organizations should be doing?
- Build intentional relationships
- Consider the barriers to board membership
- Offer paid internships
- Share resources
- Formula for equity: + leadership – assumed homogenous values – talk without action + empathy
- Meaningfully engage youth
- Represent every voice
- Invest in leaders of color and organizations lead by people of color
- Stop salary cloaking
- Listen to the community and actually implement their suggestions
3. What action or idea should come next that actually moves us away from fakequity toward equity?
- Counter fakequity with action. Do something. Follow through and act
- Tell the stories of other organizations doing equity well – share their successes, reward and highlight them
- People directly impacted should develop the advocacy agenda
- Compensate community members for their time and expertise
- Stop justifying inequity and fakequity
- Interrogate and interrupt spaces of comfort
- Be less rigid, more flexible and change inaccessible processes
- Work with Board Repair – An independent network organized by and for people of color to create a more effective nonprofit sector by increasing participation of people of color on boards and committees in the Twin Cities.
- Figure out how to overcome the fear of failure to accept changes that need to happen!
I know that there are smart, self-aware, and thoughtful leaders not only thinking and talking about equity, but also DOING a lot to raise up equitable solutions. Collectively we can resist fakequity and more towards equity.
Your turn: What are you willing to do to move toward equity? In the next two weeks? Six months? Share your ideas here with the YNPN Twin Cities community.