Jeanne Tedrow, President & CEO, North Carolina Center for Nonprofits
“When we least expect it, life sets us a challenge to test our courage and willingness to change; at such a moment, there is no point in pretending that nothing has happened or in saying that we are not yet ready. The challenge will not wait. Life does not look back.” –Paulo Coelho
Just when I began to think the pandemic might be viewed in our rear-view mirror and that we can begin moving into a new normal (whatever we would define this to be), the news from Ukraine suggests otherwise. We are being confronted with a war of aggression and news of women, children, families being forced from their homeland. The generosity and kindness given to others in eastern Europe and around the world is very much the experience we share in the nonprofit sector. Though we are not directly experiencing the horror we are seeing on the news, we know that nonprofits in our community are no strangers to providing critical and essential care to those in need. Yet, as we move from one crisis to the next closer to home, there seems to be little room in between to refresh.
The challenges have been real, and while many may be tired, even exhausted, the nonprofit community continues to meet the moment. To do so, our courage and our willingness to change is tested. We cannot pretend that these have not been challenging times. We cannot say that we are not ready, or if we are not ready, we must respond anyway, with as much grace as possible.
Why do I bring these events up here and now? I am not trying to bring us down as we finally begin to enjoy the return to normalcy and to being together in person.
Rather, these events have culminated, at least for me, in creating opportunities for change. In the face of these challenges, we can remember that we are better together, that we need one another, and that our organizations serve best when they are inclusive.
Building and sustaining an inclusive nonprofit organization is one of our leadership opportunities in today’s nonprofit sector. When the North Carolina Center for Nonprofits updated our Principles & Practices guide in 2017, we added a principle on Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI). At that time, we treated these values as a free-standing principle.
We have been listening and learning. Now, the Center is embedding these values throughout our own organization and integrating them in all our programs and services. To have an impact, we need to infuse equity, diversity, and inclusion at the individual, interpersonal, institutional, and systems levels. While we may feel limited in what we can do across the globe, we can influence and lead change that improves the lives of many in our own communities.
As leaders in our communities, where can we begin?
Leadership is about energizing people. We do not have to be the boss or the chief executive to bring leadership qualities to our work, to our team, to our organization, and to the system we seek to change. Each of us in the role we play, in the lane we work, can be a leader.
As individuals, we can become more conscious of our beliefs and actions that encourage inclusion. We can ask ourselves: who is at our table, and who is not?
Interpersonally, we can seek to build and strengthen diverse relationships, creating new partnerships and alliances.
In our organizations, we can reflect on our operations, policies, and procedures that restrict others' personal and professional growth and change them.
From a systems perspective, we can consider how these interactions – over time and across our institutions – impact social and economic factors that do truly improve the quality of human life across our communities, indeed across North Carolina.
Nothing changes overnight. We lived through the pandemic for more than two years, and we are still dealing with it. We are trying to understand what normal looks like now. We have the opportunity to live into our core values that include equity, diversity and inclusion.
We can do this as leaders, as mission driven organizations. This is our shared responsibility, our common purpose. We can look forward, together.
Explore resources towards more inclusive nonprofit organizations.