An individual is colored in a multitude of different colored paints, signifying diversity, equity, and inclusion.

There is much untapped opportunity to talk about equity, inclusion, and racial justice—even in the nonprofit space where organizations are motivated by mission-driven work.

On February 22 in Washington D.C., 60 individuals from local nonprofit agencies convened with a shared goal to build their organizations’ capacity in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). Hosted by the Chicago School of Professional Psychology and sponsored by the Alliance for Nonprofit Management and organization development consulting firm Brighter Strategies, DEI Convening was a powerful one-day summit with a lasting impact.

Attendees represented a variety of races, ethnicities, generations, and roles—including high-level decision makers such as CEOs. The diverse group was united in its singular desire to achieve four outcomes:

  • Increase engagement of capacity builders in racial equity work within their focused areas of practice and influence
  • Create a shared understanding and language around concepts and terms related to diversity, systemic and structural racism, racial equity, white privilege, and white supremacy
  • Introduce and explore the concept of capacity builders as social change agents for racial equity
  • Increase knowledge of practice tools and intervention strategies for helping organizations address racial equity issues.

These objectives were reached through seven hours of learning and networking punctuated by two panel sessions, three table top discussions, and one keynote presentation.

Brigette Rouson, co-founder of the Insight-Incite consulting collective, kicked off the program with her keynote address. She asked attendees to consider what they must understand about capacity building for racial equity at this historical moment, and what attention and action is needed for organizations to be more effective in advancing equity.

DEI Convening conference planner and attendee Tessa Riley appreciated how Rouson encouraged participants to acknowledge history and not shy away from difficult conversations. “Conference evaluations scored the keynote presentation an average of 4.7 out of 5,” Riley reports. “Attendees were impressed by Rouson’s presentation because she addressed DEI capacity building as an issue that is important for every person in an organization to address.”

Subsequent panel presentations broached the topics of “effectively integrating a racial justice lens in capacity building” and “perspectives from the funding landscape.” Table group discussions followed each keynote and panel session, allowing participants time to transfer new knowledge through discussion and application.

Barbra Kavanaugh, another Senior Consultant, Brighter Strategies, stated: “For me, the important message that emerged from DEI Convening is that this is a process, and we must commit to it.”

One of my greatest takeaways at DEI Convening: Every nonprofit represented had its own challenges and roadblocks, and each individual attendee was on their own journey to equity. For example, one of the panelists, George Jones, who is African-American and the CEO of Bread for the City, explained how he felt disconnected from some of the DEI issues in his organization because of his privilege in a position of power.

Nonprofit leaders can determine to bring these ideas and discussions to their whole organizations. Creating a racial equity strategy is as important as annual business strategy planning and succession management. If agencies want to see real DEI change, a focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion should be deliberate, consistent, and ongoing.

For additional capacity-building conversations, join Brighter Strategies and Alliance for Nonprofit Management at the 2019 Capacity Builders Conference.

Check out this brochure to learn more about Brighter Strategies’ approach to DEI practices.