The Long Road to Equity is Paved with Data, Innovation and Optimism

At Alford Group, diversity is one of our core values and we are proud to have been the diversity partner with AFP and the AFP Foundation for the past 17 years. We hosted this year’s AFP Diversity Session, “Foundations Empowering Change: Not Business As Usual,” which featured a facilitator and panelists who are committing funds, insights, counsel, social capital, time and other resources toward building diversity, equity, and inclusion in their own organizations and the organizations with which they partner. They are:

  • Linetta Gilbert, Managing Partner, Gilbert & Associates (Facilitator)
  • Miki Akimoto, U.S. Trust, Bank of America Private Wealth Management
  • HeHershe Busuego, The Boston Foundation
  • Beth Smith, The Hyams Foundation

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Let’s start at the very beginning…a very good place to start…

Remember that song from The Sound of Music? Just like Do-Re-Mi, we must understand and use a shared set of building blocks if we want to sing together. Linetta Gilbert provided us with a primer and reminder of the key terms and concepts we all need to use to share and advance our ongoing conversation.

Diversity deals with taking into account the differences of others and having others with differences represented. These differences include race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, ability, age, income level, and several others.

Inclusion refers to the degree to which diverse individuals are able to participate fully in the decision-making processes within an organization or group.

These first two terms, diversity and inclusion, can often be confused for one another. Sometimes if we have people represented “around the table”, we think we’re inclusive. According to Linetta Gilbert, the real showdown comes when you are at that table and there are decisions to be made. Do those diverse individuals have the same level of respect – as evidenced by power and voice – as others? Do you take into account their relative voice and power in your decision-making processes?

Finally, equity concerns understanding and addressing the underlying or root causes of outcome disparities within our society. Diversity is not the end game. The end game is creating the space for equity. She asked the audience to think about who has access in their organizations and communities. Who can hope to achieve the same or higher levels as people who are not of their group?

Strengthening the “so what?” muscle through data and innovation

Our panelists spoke about how they are collecting, requesting, creating, and using data to drive decisions and get clearer pictures of their own organizations as well as their partners and grantees. Linetta Gilbert pointed to the D5 Coalition as one example of an organization working to advance transparency in philanthropic spending. She also implored the group to follow the lead of foundations like the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Kellogg Foundation in making commitments to addressing diversity, equity and inclusion through leadership in research and practice. They are not investigating just about the disparities but imagining what our organizations might accomplish. Kellogg has put together a national resource for the field, and it includes a place for each of us to create (and share) our own resource directory, because context is so important to this work.

Miki Akimoto is always looking for organizations to be clear about:

  • Where you are identifying and closing a gap, meeting a need in your community
  • Which specific populations you are serving
  • What the specific needs are that you are addressing
  • How your program is addressing those needs
  • How you can use data to show you are making a difference

She said that many of our fundraising colleagues are still surprised when she asks them for data. Once she starts unpacking their need with them, it becomes more apparent to them why she’s asking. It’s clear that those who have data and know how to use and communicate their information are at an advantage in attracting and engaging funders.

HeHerShe Busuego talked about a re-commitment to intentionality about including values of diversity, equity, and inclusion within every dimension of her organization’s new Open Door Grants program, which is formally launching today. From the language they use and application they created to their outreach and grantmaking process, they created the program to fund new innovations and address critical challenges of communities. They used what they have heard and learned from their community to make the program clear, open, and accessible to the community at large and encourage a wide variety of organizations to apply.

 Change takes time, but it is time well spent

Beth Smith touched on the historical context that foundations like hers must acknowledge and work to change. As she said, “Philanthropy is inherently white. Foundations are inherently white,” noting that that is where the wealth has been concentrated in this country. Thus, the work to diversify philanthropy and the organizations is multi-generational. It takes time. Yet she shared an optimistic perspective and pointed to positive changes she has seen in philanthropy. She asked the audience to focus on two things that we can all do to continue those positive changes:

  1. Leadership: Leadership comes from organizations in different ways and it does not matter if you are not the Executive Director. Leadership comes from caring about these issues and trying to take actions that help your organizations change.
  2. Intentionality: Change does not happen without being very purposeful and very intentional.

We appreciate all of our fundraising colleagues who are engaging in conversations about diversity, inclusion, and equity this week and throughout the year. We believe in the power of our organizations and this profession to continue to advance diversity throughout our communities, whether they be on-line or off, local or global. Thank you for your thoughtful contributions and your continued leadership in this important issue for our sector, important not only as a values issue but also as an issue of creating greater and more sustainable impact.