Jeanne Tedrow, President and CEO, North Carolina Center for Nonprofits
Eye-opening. Moving. Re-thinking. Intentional. These are the words used by Center staff when asked to describe their experience as we continued “Walking the Talk” in 2019. This is our multi-year initiative the North Carolina Center for Nonprofits began with our 2017 strategic planning process. We felt then, as we do now, that the Center should go beyond simply talking about equity, diversity, and inclusion. We believe that we should aspire to model best practices, share our learning, and challenge ourselves and others to live into the values we espouse.
One of our core values is to respect and include the wide variety of North Carolina’s people, cultures, regions, religions, and political views. Embracing the many missions of all nonprofits across 100 counties, we wanted to speak with one voice to focus on equity, diversity, and inclusion across our sector. And, moving beyond diversity and inclusion, “equity” has become a critical lens that will guide the Center in developing all our programs.
Another important core value is helping nonprofits be effective in achieving their missions and be accountable to their stakeholders. To carry out this mission and live into these values, nonprofit leaders must better reflect the diversity of the communities we serve and work within. As importantly, our organizations’ policies, practices, and cultures need to support people of color and young leaders in ways that ensure they thrive and can fully bring their gifts and talents to nonprofit work for North Carolina communities. Those of us in leadership positions can become more aware of our own implicit biases and seek learning opportunities to better understand our racial, gender, and economic privileges that influence our daily decision making. We can also remember that this is a journey, that change can be difficult, and that it takes time. Some of us are looking at ways we can diversify our boards and our staff. Others are focusing on how to create more inclusive and culturally competent work environments. And many of us are going further to build a more equitable organization that reflects the diversity of those we serve.
When we began Walking the Talk, we asked ourselves, “why is this such an important focus for the Center at this time given the many compelling and relevant issues confronting our sector?” This one rose to the top because we heard from so many other nonprofits, members, and stakeholders that they wanted guidance in transforming their organizations to become more diverse, inclusive, and equitable. With research supported by the Building Movement Project, we were aware of the leadership gap and the barriers to emerging leaders of color. We also acknowledged that the Center was beginning our own journey and looking to act more deeply as a catalyst to advance our work with a focus on equity. How could we “model” best practices if we were just beginning to learn how to “walk the talk” of equity, diversity, and inclusion? We learned from Dr. King who said, “Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.”
In our recent annual report, we shared the programs we offered to help our members and others learn new tools, gain new insights, and move along the continuum. We planned outward facing programs such as webinars and workshops, and convened conversations among leaders. We also looked inward to assess our own policies and practices. We formed an equity committee at both the board and the staff levels, where we examined current personnel policies through our equity lens. With the guidance of equity consultant Alexa Broderick of The Equity Paradigm, our discussions generated a lot of feedback that we’re using to refine our polices to be more inclusive of a wider range of employee diversity and needs.
"It is one thing to make a commitment to pursuing equity, diversity, and inclusion," says Alexa Broderick. "It's another thing to institutionalize that commitment by embedding an equity lens into every facet of organizational policies, practices, and decision-making. By engaging in this process, the Center was able to identify where their policies did not reflect the organizational identity and staff experience they wanted to embody, while ensuring inequitable outcomes and experiences are being mitigated in a structured way. I am inspired by their willingness to lean into change and to truly walk the talk."
Our goal is to improve the capacity of North Carolina nonprofits to address the racial leadership gap, the sector’s generational leadership gap, and the policies, practices, and organizational cultures in nonprofits that exacerbate these gaps. As it is a journey, we expect to travel it, learn as we go, and share what we learn. Join us!