Know Better. Do Better.

Jeanne Tedrow, President & CEO, North Carolina Center for Nonprofits

When you know better, you do better. –Maya Angelou

The renewed vision statement of the North Carolina Center for Nonprofits adopted by our board of directors in June 2022 is: We envision a North Carolina where nonprofits are intentional in their commitment to build holistic, healthy, and equitable organizations while centering racial equity to strengthen communities.

Becoming an anti-racist organization committing to build holistic, healthy, and equitable organizations is a journey. Over the past five years, the Center has committed itself to doing the work necessary to become an inclusive, diverse, and equitable organization. We have identified our journey as our “Walking the Talk” initiative. We recognize that this work is not linear. That is, while we must keep taking steps toward our vision, our process is more transformative than transactional. It is an intentional approach to change from within while modeling the way to our nonprofit sector. While we have made some strides, what will it take to live into our vision and challenge other nonprofits to do the same?

To begin our journey, we had to become more aware of who we are and who we represent. Looking internally, we needed to make a conscious decision to become more racially and ethnically diversified. We formed Equity Committees of the board and with our staff. We looked internally at our hiring practices, personnel policies, job descriptions, and any human resource issues that might create barriers to employment and career paths within the Center, and ways to increase opportunities. We hired consultants along the way to help us better understand our own implicit biases and to encourage us on this journey. This has been an iterative process. As we make one change, we find ourselves learning more about systemic racism and what we might do to better understand how race influences how we manage operationally. There is so much more to do.

Where do we go from here? What does it mean to center racial equity? To achieve our vision, we must engage other nonprofits across the sector to become intentional in their commitment to build holistic, healthy, and equitable organizations.

Having worked in the nonprofit sector for 40 years, I have tried to be race conscious and aware of my privileges as a white woman leader. Early in my career, I, like many of my colleagues, focused on increasing diversity – having more racial representation in my personal and professional worlds. As an executive director, I encouraged a diverse board with representation from the communities we served. Progressing on this journey, I became more intentional on going beyond diversity to being inclusive.

Along the way, colleagues began talking more about equity. The reality is that the work I was doing was steeped in my own biases and white dominant culture, and I had to stretch my attention to consider changing organizational culture. Like others, I operated from my own perspective that has been built on my lived experiences. I had to open my own eyes to see and better understand how racism impacts our communities.

What I learned along the way regarding systemic racism, my Black and Brown colleagues knew all along because they experienced it directly. I have also come to understand that the systems that are in place were purposely placed to keep people segregated, to diminish opportunities for others, and to protect the white dominant culture. These systems have been in place for many years. To break institutional and systemic racism, we must be willing to make changes. As we commit to change, we must recognize that change does not happen quickly. As a white leader, I must be willing to become vulnerable, to make mistakes, and to keep going. To change cultures and systems, we must go beyond words and become active in our anti-racist work.

The Center’s statewide 2022 Conference theme is Building on Inclusion, Achieving Equity. We chose this theme because we want to invite other nonprofits to join us on this journey, to learn with us. Becoming inclusive is an action and achieving equity is a goal.

The Center is committed to our vision, and we cannot achieve it alone. Building holistic, healthy, and equitable organizations that center racial equity will help us strengthen all our communities. We can achieve this vision if we work together.