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In Honor of Juneteenth: Lessons Learned in DEI

This Sunday, June 19, we will celebrate Juneteenth. Officially made a national holiday in 2021, this date recognizes the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States (June 19, 1865 in Galveston, TX). If you'd like to learn more about the history of Juneteenth and how you can celebrate this monumental day in our nation's history, check out

As an anti-racist and a person who has been on their own journey with DEI for more than 25 years, it's especially poignant this year to see Juneteenth celebrated. But this, much like the election of the first black president, isn't the solution to our issues surrounding race and inclusion in America. We have much more to do and our journey is just beginning.

Since we started offering DEI content more than three years ago, my hope for the future of the nonprofit space has been lifted higher and higher. Seeing many attendees taking steps to help make fundraising a more equitable space is inspiring. Some of you are making small strides and some of you are insisting on giant leaps for you, your organizations, and the donors that support them.

One of my favorite things about the people closest to me is how they hold me accountable. We're now doing this with our donors and organizations. It's one of the ways to show we care. The more we are accountable in our industry and actions, the better we will all be. Juneteenth isn't about one day to remember and take a day off— it's a reminder that we need to be conscious of our behaviors around inclusivity at all times, not just a few days a year.

As you take the day to reflect or rest or whatever you choose this Juneteenth, perhaps take a moment to watch "Black-ish." They have an amazing episode dedicated to Juneteenth—Season 4, Episode 1. And maybe this Juneteenth you can make a list of ways you can hold yourself and your organization accountable for DEI. Even if you list just one thing, one very small step, it will be a step in the right direction. Each of our DRG group members reflects here on their own journey in DEI this past year. I hope you join them in the comments.



Sarah Sims, CFRE

I hired many new positions in the last 12 months and am now acutely aware of DEI influences in the recruiting space. Leaning into creating safe and nurturing interview settings is very important to me as I bring people into a diverse and growing team. Things I have been very cognizant of include:

  • Transparently talking about salary levels and expectations

  • Exposing candidates to staff members at all levels

  • Encouraging questions and information sharing regarding our culture and team dynamics

  • Candidly exploring growth opportunities

  • Coaching my staff on interview dynamics and potential biases

Our organization is also developing a formalized training for all staff members who are involved in panel interviews to educate on DEI best practices.

Also, having a very new team, I'm aware of the different work and conflict management styles of all my team members. We're working to foster better collaboration with Division team members and that must start with the internal team dynamics. In our meetings, we encourage a lot of group problem solving and healthy identification of challenges. We work through our own processes to create positive working relationships so that we can then take that out into the Division and act as good role models for inclusive and collaborative working relationships.

Matthew Helmer What I've learned about DEI this year is that there is still so much more to learn. While I was fortunate to be exposed to my own privilege and introduced to DEI concepts as a teenager, this is a lifelong journey—and the commitment to "know better, do better" mustn't cease. Every day I'm able to learn something new simply by engaging in the moment, challenging my own assumptions, and creating a safe space for others to be themselves and share their experiences. I can't always "walk a mile in someone else's shoes," but I can show up, seek to understand by listening, and genuinely care about the lives of others. Only from that place of greater empathy can I hope to be part of creating positive change.

The other thing I've learned to keep in mind is to truly understand the origins of common words and phrases before using them—and to know that we won't always get it right, even while being mindful. Even with the best of intentions, there can be language we use that is rooted in oppression, ableism, racism, sexism, homophobia, and more. Think before you speak has never been more of an imperative—and maybe Google before you speak is a more helpful approach. At the same time, we need to give ourselves and others grace along this journey. We're not going to get it right every time. What's important is that we continue to learn, grow, and do better each day, actively working against the systems of inequity and oppression we've been led to believe are "the right way." They aren't.

Angie Joens I've learned that we all have our own biases. Some of it we know and some is unconscious or implicit bias—judgements we make without even knowing we do it. We have conditioned ourselves to sort all of the information that comes at us all day long and by doing so we form shortcuts and stereotypes about certain situations and people. I participated in a 6-part series on unconscious bias this year and learned so much about myself. I learned that over my life I have compartmentalized people based on what they do, where they are from, and how they speak—and I didn't even realize it. So now I check myself as I make a judgment or decision and ask myself is that fact or what I have conditioned myself to believe.

The other huge lesson I have learned about DEI is to be intentional in how I communicate. What I say or write can have different meanings to different people. There are certain words or phrases that have negative connotations and can be hurtful or taken the wrong way. There are words that are inclusive and other words that exclude. We have added a new level of review and scrutiny to any communications we send out from our organization. It began with our position descriptions and postings and now includes all internal and external communications. We created a writing and style guide to ensure we are using inclusive language. We are being intentional and—while still not perfect—we are making progress.

We'd love to hear about what your organization is doing to recognize Juneteenth and what you've learned on your own DEI journey in the comments below.


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