Addressing Race-Based Inequity, Part 1
The community of nonprofit organizations is a force to be reckoned with. Globally, according to the National Council of Nonprofits, charitable organizations, or non-governmental organizations, “feed, heal, shelter, educate, inspire, enlighten and nurture people of every age, gender, race and socioeconomic status… They foster civic engagement and leadership, drive economic growth and strengthen the fabric of our communities.”
In the U.S. alone, there are 1.3 million NGOs doing this work every day. That’s 12.3 million employees, 64 million members of boards of directors, and over 10 million donors. According to Johns Hopkins University, “The U.S. nonprofit workforce ranks third in size among the 18 major U.S. industries, behind only retail trade and manufacturing. In 24 states and D.C., nonprofits actually employ more workers than all the branches of manufacturing combined.”
The independent sector has the numbers; we use them to impact the world every single day. But we could be doing more. We could help to change the trajectory of the way humans interact, survive and thrive if nonprofits, funders, corporations and government work together — if we focus and work strategically with the common goal of eliminating racial inequity.
Unfortunately, many nonprofits operate in a frenetic, fire-dousing mode. They tend to be understaffed and are sometimes underfunded. This can lead to, or be caused by, chaotic operational models that produce Band-Aid fixes for societal problems instead of systems that identify and address cardinal issues. If the nonprofit industry wants to play a fundamental role in the supreme goal of achieving racial parity, we first need to look at ourselves.
The way foundations and individuals have evaluated nonprofits’ worthiness for monetary investments has changed over the years. For too long, the sector focused on outputs (how many were served) instead of outcomes (what observable changes or improvements were a direct result) and impact (deeper change with broader reach).
The last five years have seen concerted effort by funders, especially large foundations, to evolve from rewarding nonprofits for their volume of work to forming partnerships, participating in research and creating community consortiums whose remit is to identify the root causes of the problems/issues today’s nonprofit missions are trying to address. Archbishop Desmond Tutu describes this effort perfectly, “There comes a point where we need to stop just pulling people out of the river. We need to go upstream and find out why they're falling in.” Buy less Band-Aids, and spend the funds on finding the cause of the bleeding.
Addressing Systemic Racism
2020 has seen a seismic shift in America. Systemic racism has finally come into focus for individuals, educational institutions, some areas of state and local government, and corporations nationwide. That clarity arrives at different phases of enlightenment for various groups. We’ll consider four categories here:
- People of color have always known that every aspect of life is informed by bias and imbalance of power.
- Some white Americans have long understood the inequities exist, but may not have taken as much action to balance out those inequities and injustices as they could have, because it would have meant sharing “seats at the table” and having uncomfortable, protracted conversations that would shake up the status quo.
- Individuals who either somehow didn’t see that human existence in the U.S. is characterized by race, those who do not believe that it is or those who are pleased with their unearned position in the racially-based hierarchy of power and privilege.
- Most corporations have always done what is best for their brand and sales figures. It is just in the last few years that we see an increasing number of companies taking a stand about anything other than product sales. Patagonia was ahead of the curve in using their brand to help identify causes of and solutions to environmental issues for the past 40 years. Within the last five or so years, Target has taken a public stand supporting the LGBTQ+ community (at the risk of losing some shoppers, but with the probability of gaining others). It is happening in 2020 that there is a tsunami of corporate recognition of and the beginning of action regarding racial injustice and inequity, both in the country at large and within their own workforces.
Regardless of how the various groups mentioned above came to the altar of realization and activism this year, the important thing now is harnessing and sustaining that awareness and desire to take action. It will be necessary to keep the country’s foot on the proverbial gas pedal when it comes to educating white America and pushing for change at every level. That effort doesn’t fall to communities of color; it requires symbiotic interaction between people of all colors. It necessitates that white America listens, acts and listens more in an infinite cycle of improvement.
For change to be pervasive and lasting, decisions cannot be made in a vacuum by those who have always held the power. And, white America and corporate America must accept that the long-accepted cultures of boardrooms and communities will inevitably change and evolve.
Check back next week to read part two of this series.
Tracy Vanderneck is president of Phil-Com, a Florida-based training and consulting company where she works with nonprofits on fundraising, board development and strategic planning. Tracy has more than 20 years of experience in fundraising, business development and sales. She holds a Master of Science in management with a concentration in nonprofit leadership and a graduate certificate in teaching and learning. She is a Certified Fund Raising Executive and an Association of Fundraising Professionals Master Trainer. Additionally, she designs and delivers online fundraising training classes and serves as a Network for Good Personal Fundraising Coach.