By Madelyn C. Jones
Let’s talk about that statement
Pop Quiz: What is your organization’s Diversity Equity and Inclusion statement? Can you recite it? Do you know how you are expected to respond to the feedback you will receive?
You know every lyric (and all 86 background vocal parts) to “Bohemian Rhapsody.” I’ll bet you can commit that DE&I position to memory along with some accompanying talking points.
What should that statement look like?
Nonprofits are by nature benevolent entities. So that statement is likely something along the lines of: “We care about your health. We care about your life. We care about equality. We care about righting social injustices.”
Are we in agreement so far? Good.
A good statement declares the legitimacy of the Pride and Black Lives Matters (BLM) movements. It humbly acknowledges the organizations’ faults. It reveals that your organization is in the process of developing a solution. It is a pledge to do better. Most importantly, it invites your constituents to hold your organization accountable. Shout out to clothing brand Gap, Inc. for their timely, honest, and action-driven response to BLM:
We have work to do. Our Black employees, allies, and advocates spoke up. And came together to set real intentions for real actions…So, we make this pledge to you. We haven’t always been perfect but go[ing] forward, you have our honesty and transparency. We’ll be on our social channels every month with an update on our progress.
Take a look at our own post that shared our position on BLM. Then look at a thousand more. Just do not let fear and analysis paralysis keep you from putting it out there. Speaking of...
Has your organization published their position yet?
It is imperative that these matters are addressed urgently. If your leadership lacks the moral courage to make a statement (if this is the case, please consider employment elsewhere), then at minimum, optics should be considered. From a PR perspective, your organization better have a stance. And that stance better be communicated to the public immediately.
And in case someone is wondering, “Will they notice if our organization says nothing?” Abso-freakin-lutely. This is America right now: 👀 . Everyone is watching. If that super creepy emoji has not convinced you, perhaps our friend Martin Luther King, Jr. will:
“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
Feeling convicted yet? Good. Use that uncomfortable feeling to help you draft that statement. There is a reason we keep hearing the phrase, “Get comfortable with being uncomfortable." We can and need to do more. Revisit the paragraphs above to give you some direction before moving onto the rest of this post.
Congratulations! Your organization has a pulse. You may proceed.
Anticipated Responses from Your DE&I Statement
What sort of reactions should you expect in response to your statement of Diversity Equity and Inclusion? Here are the three you can anticipate:
A verbal response of solidarity may look like, “I’m so proud to call this inclusive institution my alma mater.” A nonverbal response of solidarity is a check in the mail. We know this because thanks to cognitive dissonance, a donor is unlikely to continue writing checks to an organization with which they disagree.
Verbal or nonverbal – they both feel pretty darn nice. So package up these wonderful little warm-and-fuzzy responses, pop them in your pocket for later (not the actual check of course, since embezzling is frowned upon). You will want to remember these pats on the back when you receive the next two types of responses.
Remember how we talked about getting comfortable with being uncomfortable? You admitted that you could do better, then asked your constituents to help you see where you are failing. Those responses of solidarity were great, but they will not help you grow. That is what the call-out is for.
When we invite others to be a critic, we may hope for a response as delicate as, “I’m so glad you asked. I would like to offer that you could change X.” However, don’t be surprised if/when your constituent replies from a place of pain. That call-out may very well be, “You hurt me when you failed to do X, and I now refuse to give to your organization.” Either way, accept the criticism humbly and graciously. Here is a reply that you are welcome to copy and steal:
Dear Mrs. Smith, I so appreciate your honesty. As uncomfortable as it is for us to hear this, we see that this has been even more difficult for you to personally experience and witness. We regret this. We want to be better than this. We’ve put together a task force to discuss our shortcomings and how to address each of them. Mrs. Smith, I’ve personally put your letter on the discussion table. I look forward to sharing with you via [insert communication method like monthly social media updates] how we are addressing your concerns and others. You are important to us. We can’t move forward without candor such as this. Thank you for guiding us. We are determined to make this right and to regain your trust.”
Please be sure not to stop at this carefully crafted response. In early March, we shared a blog post by our very own Sarah Sims. She walked us through the steps of mending a donor break-up. This could not be any more relevant than it is today. Use this as your detailed guide.
Just remember that you asked your friends to hold up that mirror and show you your blind spots. It is not always pretty is it?
So a donor disagrees with your position on Diversity Equity & Inclusion. Good riddance! I genuinely hope and pray that you never encounter such a situation. Front-line fundraisers we have spoken with believe that they are unlikely to encounter such a direct response at this time. Due to social distancing practices, face-to-face visits with donors are not (or should not) be happening right now. After all, how likely is a donor to bring up such a controversial topic in a 40-minute Zoom meeting as opposed to 5-hour visit in the comfort of their own home while sipping their second glass of Chardonnay?
If there are donors who disagree with your organization’s position on Diversity Equity and Inclusion, it will likely be a while before you are confronted with their beliefs. Eventually, your gift officers will be on the road again, and your Research team has likely alerted them to a potentially difficult conversation. So go ahead and pin this post to revisit at a later date to ensure that all front-liners have the same talking points. Just maybe, your least likely donors will even surprise and delight you with their support.
However unlikely it may be to be met with confrontation, one must be prepared. Disagreement may be accompanied by a withdrawal of financial support. That’s ok! Being equipped with an appropriately firm response can help prevent that knee-jerk reaction of apologizing or back-pedaling when a big fat check is being waved in your face.
The message is that you acknowledge the donor's history with your institution but regret their position. Should you say anything else like “let us know if you change your mind?” No. That's called a flip-flop. You don’t like it when politicians do it. Don’t let your organization make the same mistake.
Make this a clean break up. Just like you tell your girlfriend to delete her ex’s number from her phone so she doesn’t “accidentally butt dial him” (Becky, we all know it was on purpose), be sure you code this ex-donor appropriately so that they do not rise from the dead on a future annual appeal mailing list.
The right thing is not always the easy thing to do. If you need a friendly reminder that you are indeed making the right choice, read through these 17 Inspirational Quotes from MLK About Speaking Up When It Matters.
I’m going to throw some buzz words your way. Authenticity and vulnerability are critical now more than ever. Please don’t just sound authentic. Be authentic. This concept is perfectly captured in a recent article in Forbes by Senior Contributor and person of color Janice Gassam: “Dear Companies: Your BLM Posts are Cute But We Want to See Policy Change."
Alignment (yet another borderline overused word) must exist between what we say we are going to do and what we actually do.
So who is doing this right? Hell if I know!
Just kidding...ish. It’s too early to tell because we are looking for results here, people. And the results that are worth talking about are going to take time.
Keep your head up and look at organizations of all types, not just non-profits. Follow these entities on various social media platforms. Read comments. Read the organization’s response to these comments. What was the public’s reaction? Subscribe to newsletters. Visit websites and find their Diversity Equity and Inclusion pages (hint: a good one should be easy to locate). Take it all in. Analyze your findings. Keep a list of what to do and what not to do. Discuss it with colleagues and your task force.
Then rinse and repeat. For how long? Well, I would like to say that all issues of injustice will be completely resolved as soon as 2020 stops 2020ing us. Unfortunately, that's not how America tends to roll. Our determination to do better by underrepresented groups should be ongoing. It should have no expiration date. This is not murder hornets. It will not go away when an additional crisis strikes.
Continue to persevere, friends. We see you. We appreciate you. All of you. Together, we can and will make a difference.