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Are You Ready to Hire an Equity Consultant?

As a nation, we have endured unrepentant white supremacy, police violence, avoidable suffering, and economic despair this year. While there is change on the horizon with the election of a Biden/Harris administration, we cannot stop the critical work of incorporating equity into our organizations and communities. While Trump may not be in office on January 22, 2021, his presidency showed us that racism is destroying our country and many Americans are still not ready to face the truth of racism or address our shortfalls.

We are in the midst of a lifelong fight - one that must upend current nonprofit beliefs and practices by resetting the power dynamic. That means rethinking philanthropy, advancing structural change in organizations, and creating accountability frameworks for foundations and endowments - in particular, those who earned their money on the backs of underpaid, undervalued, and unprotected laborers.

With the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, just two of the 1,039 people killed by police in 2020, we saw a reckoning across the country that forced our nation to confront the racism of the past and present. People flooded social media in support of Black Lives Matter, rallied in the streets to protest police violence, removed Confederate symbols, and bought books about white supremacy and anti-racism. Companies and organizations wrote racial equity statements and revised their hiring processes.

Yet, Pew Research found Americans have mixed views of the long-term effects of an increased focus on issues of race and racial inequality. It probably comes as no surprise that more Black adults say the country has work to do to address racial inequality while the attitudes of White adults are mostly unchanged.

Those who say the country hasn't made enough progress on racial equity still are not clear on what actions are needed to reduce racial inequality. Measures included:

  1. More people participating in diversity and inclusion training (48%)

  2. Redrawing school boundaries to create more racially and ethnically diverse schools (43%)

  3. Limiting the scope of policing to focus on serious and violent crimes (40%)

  4. Companies taking race and ethnicity into account in employment decisions (34%)

  5. Colleges and universities taking race and ethnicity into account in admissions decisions (27%)

  6. The U.S. government paying cash reparations to Black people descended from slaves (20%)

If the country is unclear about the most effective measures to take on racial equity, how can a nonprofit know what steps it should take?

It's true. We don't know the most effective way to start righting the wrongs of centuries of oppression. What we do know is that change must happen and, at the moment, we have done little beyond talk. It is time for philanthropic and nonprofit leaders to adopt policies that:

  1. Lean into uncomfortable conversations around equity leadership with our board, staff, volunteers, donors, and other stakeholders

  2. Understand that creating equity means giving up power

  3. Increase the amount of BIPOC voices at all levels of an organization including board leadership, director and higher-level employees, volunteers, interns, donors, contractors, and vendors

  4. Build an organizational culture that embeds equity and is welcoming and supportive of all stakeholders

  5. Increase access to individual, corporate, and institutional donors for BIPOC-led nonprofits

  6. Look at discretionary grantmaking with a racial equity lens

  7. Require donor-advised funds to use a racial equity lens and increase accountability and transparency

Is it time for your organization to move beyond education to exploration and action?

While you may be ready to implement new policies and procedures as soon as possible, it's likely that not everyone at your organization is in the same place. To ensure your organization is able to effectively and sustainably implement equity, consider the following steps:

  1. Secure buy-in among organizational leaders and employees.

  2. Create and train an equity working group that is representative of the community you serve and include the voices of historically excluded groups who have not previously been reflected in organizational decision-making.

  3. Allocate financial and people resources to building a race equity culture. Awake to Woke to Work includes cost benchmarks looking at staff size, initial annual investment, and current annual investment.

  4. Conduct an organizational assessment aka racial equity audit - work with an external consultant(s) who has experience in racial equity work and nonprofit organizational development. Look beyond consultants focused primarily on education to those who also prioritize exploration and action.

  5. Lead educational workshops for key stakeholders and community members - depending on where your community is in their DEIA journey, you may need to start with the basics.

  6. Share the organizational findings and co-create an internal change plan with the help of your consultant(s), equity working group, and organizational stakeholders. Use this plan to operationalize equity in programs, fundraising, human resources, administration, policies, and practices.

  7. Prepare and train individuals who will be vital to implementing the internal change plan. Understand that the plan will take time and may need to adapt along the way. It's important to have a monitoring system in place to incorporate what you learn along the way.

  8. Evaluate progress along the way and celebrate the journey! This is a lifelong process and while the initial change plan may be implemented in two or three years, your organization will need to continue to educate, evaluate, and integrate a racial equity framework into its future strategic planning.

How do you choose a consultant?

There are a number of great organizations and boutique consulting firms providing racial equity work from within the nonprofit community.

  1. Many consultants connect with nonprofits from word of mouth so you will want to reach out to your network to determine which consultants have yielded measurable action and culture change.

  2. While you may be tempted to create an RFP process, many consultants, particularly consultants of color, do not answer RFPs because it costs them too much time to respond, reducing their earning potential.

  3. Understand that while a consultant may do fantastic work, you will want to consider if they have expertise in the area in which your organization works and if their values align with your goals.

  4. This is a long-term process, you cannot expect consultants to work for free. If your organization truly values racial equity then it should be willing to put financial resources into it.

Other Resources to Support Your Journey

If you are ready to have a conversation about building a racial equity culture, Talem is here to help. Our team can help you through the process and work with you from concept to completion. We collaborate with other racial equity consultants, so if we aren't the right fit for you, we will connect you with other like-minded consultants doing work in this space. Connect with us to get started.


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