We’re a Family: How Can We Be Diverse?

April 20, 2012

During discussions of diversity in philanthropy, family grantmakers sometimes get frustrated. Their thoughts may immediately turn to: “Our board members are family, how can we be diverse?”

No matter your family’s DNA or your foundation’s charter, it is possible (and desirable) to diversify the demographic make-up of your governance structure. But beyond that, your family foundation can embrace diversity and inclusion in virtually all other areas of your work, too.

During last week’s National Center for Family Philanthropy (NCFP) teleconference entitled “Diverse Voices in Family Giving,” panelists shared some excellent, first-hand examples of diversity in action. Judy Belk, senior vice president at Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, moderated the discussion with:

Diversity Within and Beyond the Family
Families grow and change not only with births, but also with marriages. When Kimberly Myers married into the Hewlett family, she joined an already diverse Flora Family Foundation board. The Flora’s may have started out looking like a typical White family, said Myers, but when family members brought their partners into the board room, culturally rich international and multi-racial perspectives were brought to the table.

But even if family members don’t become more diverse, foundation boards can deliberately choose to add non-family voices to the governance mix. Vic De Luca described how the daughters and granddaughters of the founder of the Jessie Smith Noyes Foundation deliberately expanded the board in the mid-1980s. The goal was not so much about increasing racial and ethnic diversity but about including varied viewpoints and life experiences.

Of 16 people on the board, nine are non-family. DeLuca described how the board composition has created an increasingly rich operation that works well with the grantee community.

Said De Luca, “Broadening our board has not changed our DNA. You can still maintain that sense of family – just expand your definition.”  It’s about, he added, expanding your knowledge to be better grantmakers.

Embracing Diversity Not Just about Demographics
De Luca provided ample evidence of how changing board perspectives – and other intentional actions – led to tangible changes in the composition of the Jessie Smith Noyes Foundation grantees (see graphic).

He commented on how inclusion is infused in everything the foundation board and staff does – their language, practices, advocacy and more. Here is how diversity is explicitly called out in the organization’s strategic plan:

We seek out organizations led by people of color and/or working in low income communities. We support efforts to develop the leadership skills of, and foster the participation by, low income people and people of color.

(At the Minnesota Council on Foundations, we have articulated that holistic view in our Diversity Framework, which describes how philanthropists can embrace diversity and inclusion in their four primary roles as: grantmakers, employers, business entities and community citizens.)

Resources to Use at Your Own Pace
All the NCFP panel members encouraged family foundations to move at their own pace, following their own values. Deborah Santana encouraged families to be conscious and open, and to make use of the rich array of available resources.

Judy Belk concluded by saying, “The diversity on the road ahead may look like a huge mountain, but don’t feel like it’s insurmountable.”

Here are just a few of many resources to help you begin your journey:

Join the conversation: As a philanthropist, think about your roles as funder, employer, business entity and community citizen.  What one step can you take today to intentionally address diversity, inclusion or equity in your work?

— Wendy Wehr, MCF vice president of communications and information services

MCF Seeks Director of Diversity, Inclusion and Equity

April 6, 2012

If one chance to work at MCF wasn’t enough for you, we’ve just opened up another. We’re very excited to be hiring our first-ever Director of Diversity, Inclusion and Equity.

The full-time Director’s goals will be closely tied to MCF’s new strategic plan, Leadership for the Future.  Some key goals include:

  • Increasing member effectiveness in a diverse and changing society by strengthening knowledge, skills and connections
  • Promoting increased racial and ethnic diversity in philanthropic governance and leadership
  • Advancing the voices of grantmakers who strive for a more prosperous, inclusive and equitable Minnesota
  • Diversifying membership to reflect and respond to Minnesota’s increasingly complex and growing philanthropic sector

With this new position, MCF seeks to increase its expertise and capacity to develop and implement new diversity, inclusion and equity strategies, and to advance inclusive practices and equity in philanthropy as a whole. Find the full position description on our jobs board and start spreading the word!

(And don’t forget our other open position, Director of Government Relations and Public Policy.  We’re still accepting applications!)

“Us vs. Them”: Shine a Light on Your Own Biases

January 27, 2012

Despite decades of diversity training, have our organizations and our society changed for the better?

Turn on or tune in to any media source, and your emphatic reply would be “No way.” The extreme polarization in our country is more and more frightening every day. The new cultural norm is to not merely express strong points of view but to thoroughly demonize others.

At least one practitioner says it’s time to address this crisis with a new, 21st century approach to diversity, inclusion and equity.

At the University of St. Thomas Diversity Insights program last Thursday, Howard Ross, founder of Cook Ross Inc. and a leading national expert on diversity, leadership, and organizational change, challenged his audience to look within themselves for solutions.

Ross homed in on the source of our animosity toward each other — essentially, primal fears that lead us toward unconscious, visceral negative reactions to cultural, group, individual and institutional differences.

He coached audience members to overcome the “us vs. them” mentality by developing our capacity to observe ourselves. Instead of pointing the finger at others, he said, we should shine a light on our own biases.  Recognizing our own foibles and faults will increase our compassion toward others.

Ross’s points reminded me of conversations we’ve had at MCF about diversity in philanthropy. When we developed our Diversity & Inclusion Action Kit to accompany MCF’s Working Towards Diversity IV research, we deliberately titled the worksheets “My Actions.” We wanted to reinforce that grantmakers must take the first step by focusing on what they can do – not what others should do.

Ross concluded his remarks with some concrete steps we can each take to close the widening gulfs in our organizations and in society at large:

  • Shift your consumption of media to really listen to the other side.
  • Open a constructive dialogue in your organization, focusing not on the issues themselves, but on the way in which you’re talking about the issues.
  • Talk to young people about other points of view.
  • Take “the other” to lunch not to persuade, but to listen.

I haven’t cracked open Ross’s new book “ReInventing Diversity: Transforming Organizational Community to Strengthen People, Purpose and Performance.” But based on his presentation, I expect I’ll find more than a few concepts that are applicable to the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors.

Join the Conversation: When “us vs. them” differences arise in your own organization, what are your actions and reactions? Is there a chasm between grantmakers and nonprofits that could be narrowed by self-awareness?

– Wendy Wehr, MCF v.p. of communications and information services

Photo cc AAskew

A Minnesota Innovative and Engaged Philanthropist Earns Award

June 8, 2011

“John Larsen has made significant contributions in advancing the issue of equity across Minnesota,” says Carleen Rhodes, president and CEO of Minnesota Community Foundation and The Saint Paul Foundation.

“John’s strategic, multi-faceted and outcome-oriented approach to philanthropy exemplifies the work of an engaged philanthropist,” adds Brad Brown, executive director of Social Venture Partners Minnesota (SVP).

For his work, John Larsen will receive the 2011 Engaged Philanthropist Award, a joint effort of Minnesota Community Foundation and SVP Minnesota that recognizes the most innovative and effective engaged philanthropists. The award, launched in 2010 with the late Winston Wallin receiving the inaugural recognition, will be presented at SVP Minnesota’s annual Engaged Philanthropy Conference on June 16, 2011, in Minneapolis.

Larsen is an original funder and a visionary behind Project 515, an organization with a mission to ensure that same sex couples and their families have equal rights and considerations under Minnesota law.  Project 515 has approached the issue of full equality for same sex couples through multiple avenues, including business outreach, education, research, advocacy and media.

Larsen serves as trustee and administrator of the John Larsen Foundation, a member of the Minnesota Council on Foundations (MCF). The foundation is a private grantmaking organization with a mission to better the lives of individuals and families, both traditional and non-traditional.  Program priorities derive from the active, passionate involvement of family board members in their own communities. Primary areas of focus are arts and humanities, community enhancement, education, environment, human rights and human services.

Larsen was a six-year member of MCF’s board of directors, is a current member of the strategic planning committee, and a leader of MCF’s LGBT Funders network. Larsen also serves on the board of directors for Project 515 and has volunteered with the Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus, Headwaters Foundation for Justice and Together Minnesota. Earlier this year, Larsen was recognized with PFund Foundation’s First Annual Power of Philanthropy Award.

– Chris Murakami Noonan, MCF communications associate

What Does It Take to Lead in Diversity and Inclusivity?

May 11, 2011

Who leads? How do they lead? These were among the questions we here at MCF asked ourselves and our members as we embarked on information gathering for our Working Towards Diversity IV research project.

As we learned more about the diversity and inclusion efforts of Minnesota grantmakers, Headwaters Foundation for Justice’s name kept rising to the top. Headwaters strives to be a catalyst for social, racial, economic and environmental justice and supports, through grantmaking and organizational assistance, grassroots groups addressing the root causes of injustice. One of the foundation’s longest-standing leadership initiatives is its community-led grantmaking process in which volunteers from the communities it seeks to support lead all aspects of the foundation’s grantmaking – they review proposals, go on site visits and make funding recommendations to the board.

“What does it take to lead in diversity and inclusivity?” we asked Headwaters program director David Nicholson. Read his full Voices article in our latest issue of Giving Forum, which focuses on “Diversity in Philanthropy: A Portrait of Minnesota.”

Here are some excerpts:

Q: Does leading in diversity and inclusivity require certain competencies?

Being humble is a core competency for any leader. Leaders must also recognize their own power and privilege and understand how to use these in respectful ways. This is critical. We all have privilege; how much changes depending on who’s in the room. The reality is, as foundation staff, we often walk into a room bringing a lot of privilege and thus a lot of power. At Headwaters, we emphasize using our power and privilege “with” rather than “to.” For example, we can convene – facilitating communities and individuals coming together for the common good.

Another competency is working with the “other.” While it is human nature to hang out with people who look and think like us and have similar backgrounds, we must push ourselves to have relationships with many communities. At Headwaters, we believe that difference is an asset that needs to be cultivated. We seek to be intentional about getting to know people and organizations, so we can identify strengths and resources from all communities.

Leading also means bringing people together to find common ground. Leaders also must be interested in advancing systems thinking, to understand how things work in our society.

Q: Is being a person of color a prerequisite for being a leader in diversity and inclusivity?

No. People are people, and anyone regardless of race, creed, ethnicity or sexual identity can have a closed and narrow mind. Your question implies that it is about “race,” when in fact, it is about values. More to the point, it is about ensuring that foundation practices reflect core values.

For example, I believe that gathering diverse viewpoints, people and ideas is critical to developing solutions that will work for more than just a few. The next step is intentionally creating processes that include all differences as equally valuable; that is the process of creating inclusivity. Philanthropy is the research and development labs of our society. When foundations are at their best, they can test assumptions and develop new insights and solutions to the most vexing social ills. To do that effectively, foundations and staff need to lead in diversity (bringing together different and varied parts) and inclusivity (integrating those differences into something stronger, better).

To flip your question is to ask, “How can people from a majority value include minority perspectives?” My recipe for that is rather simple; but it’s hard work. First, develop self-awareness, a deep understanding of your core values, assumptions and beliefs. Then, surround yourself with people who have very different values and beliefs; empower them to challenge you and how you see the world. If you have done your work well, you will truly see and understand “the other”; now you can choose to value it or not. If you choose to value the difference as your own, then the next step – seeking out difference (diversity) and integrating difference (inclusivity) – is easy. If you value the “other,” you will value their perspectives.

 – Chris Murakami Noonan, MCF communications associate

What Diversity Looks Like: Stories of Grantmakers Engaged in the Work

April 28, 2011

The Minnesota Council on Foundations just released its Spring issue of Giving Forum, which reveals key results of our ambitious research study to paint a comprehensive picture of the diversity demographics, policies and practices of Minnesota grantmakers.

Are grantmakers hiring and retaining diverse staff and boards? Do they have diversity and inclusion policies in place, and are they followed? Are grantmakers going the extra mile to build capacity in minority-led nonprofits that can truly make a difference in their communities?

The data in Working Towards Diversity IV answers many of these questions. To bring the data to life, we also gathered stories from Minnesota grantmakers about their engagement in diversity and inclusion work, where they’ve been, where they are now, where they want to be, and how they envision reaching their goals.

Among those we interviewed is Patrick Troska, executive director of The Jay and Rose Phillips Family Foundation of Minnesota. Here’s more:

Grant Recipient Connections Guide Funding Decisions

“Good grantmaking is about being a good listener,” says Patrick Troska, executive director of The Jay and Rose Phillips Family Foundation of Minnesota. So, it is critical that funders actively seek out direct connections with constituents. “At our family foundation, we build our knowledge by asking good questions, trying to understand the nuances of particular issues, and not approaching situations as the experts with the best solutions.”

Listening and learning stretch the foundation’s comfort zone, but yield much more impactful grantmaking. “Honestly, it would be easier if we only funded what we know or are comfortable with,” Troska admits. “When you seek diversity and inclusivity, such as exploring an issue that is not part of our own personal lived experience, the grantmaking can be much more complex.”

In the early 2000s, through work with East Side Neighborhood Services (ESNS) in Minneapolis, foundation trustees became aware of female genital mutilation in the Somali community. Troska was tasked with learning more and determining if there was an education initiative the foundation could fund. After developing a connection with ESNS, an ESNS contact brought together a group of Somali women willing to discuss the topic. “This issue isn’t even discussed between Somali men and women, much less between a white male and Somali women, many of whom don’t speak English,” Troska notes.

Despite being an uncomfortable situation, the group talked for three hours with the help of a translator. “I just listened to them tell their stories and asked only a few questions,” he recalls. “We learned that female genital mutilation was culturally embedded and that, for the most part, women make the decision, not men. A small grant was not going to make a big difference in changing cultural norms, but information could be provided to women about the medical and physical aspects of the practice.”

This led to a grant to ESNS for Somali Women in Minneapolis (SWIM) focusing on support groups for Somali women. Troska explains, “The focus was not to say female genial mutilation is wrong, but rather to provide a safe place to learn and share, so that women could make decisions informed by medical, as well as cultural, knowledge.”

Troska emphasizes that only reading about this cultural practice would not have been sufficient to make an impactful grant. Fully understanding the practice by learning directly from those affected honed in on a focus for foundation funds that was not immediately obvious and underscored that successful grantmaking requires engagement with constituents.

Visit Giving Forum online to read more Giving Stories based on interviews with Minnesota grantmakers and MCF members, including General Mills Foundation, Grotto Foundation, Jerome Foundation, Marbrook Foundation, Minnesota Community and The Saint Paul Foundation, Otto Bremer Foundation, Northwest Minnesota Foundation, Travelers Foundation and West Central Initiative.

Join the conversation: Have you, as a Minnesota grantmaker or a nonprofit working with a grantmaker, had success in diversity and inclusion work? Or has your organization been involved in the work, but not had the hoped-for outcomes? What were the challenges? What was accomplished? Will progress continue? What did you and/or your organization learn? We invite you to share your stories.

– Chris Murakami Noonan, MCF communications associate

Gain Traction for Your Board’s Diversity and Inclusion Efforts: BoardSource Grant Applications Due Nov. 15

November 5, 2010

Don’t miss a terrific opportunity to participate in BoardSource’s pilot “Diversity in Action” program offered exclusively to Twin Cities’ nonprofits and foundations. With resource grants provided by Target Corporation, participating organizations will have the opportunity, at no charge, to assess their board’s diversity and inclusion practices and receive recommendations and resources to help the board affect the desired changes in policies, practices, and board culture and dynamics.

During her talk at the MCF 2010 Annual Convening during the plenary “Leveraging Diversity and Inclusion As Assets for Innovation,” Vernetta Walker, director of consulting and senior governance consultant with BoardSource, invited Twin Cities nonprofits and foundations to apply to participate in this pilot.

Find more information and the simple grant application on the MCF website.

Applications are due Nov. 15.

Participants in the pilot will:

  1. Complete a confidential survey, which takes about 15 minutes, to provide individual perspectives about board practices and dynamics that impact diversity and inclusion.
  2. Receive a data report with survey results and an interpretive memo with key findings.
  3. Receive a step-by-step toolkit with templates and exercises focused on policies, practices, board culture and dynamics, to help guide the board in its transformation to becoming more diverse and inclusive.
  4. Best of all, strengthen your leadership and enhance your ability to serve your organization’s mission, promote dynamic decision-making and a culture of inquiry, and thoughtfully craft a board development plan of action for 2011 and beyond.

BoardSource is dedicated to increasing the effectiveness of nonprofits by strengthening their boards of directors and trustees. Its products and services mobilize boards so that organizations fulfill their missions, achieve their goals and increase their impact and external influence. BoardSource is a 501(c)(3) organization.

– Chris Murakami Noonan, MCF communications associate