05 Apr A Quick Take on Diversity
Recently I participated in a facilitated conversation about the revisions proposed to LTA’s Standards and Practices. The participants were engaged, questions and comments thoughtful, and the conversation spirited. I commend LTA on their process.
The question by which I was most engaged was the question of what to do with Community Engagement. In my opinion, the issue deserves its own standard – but a thirteenth standard seems clunky and awkward. Instead the issue is jammed (in a clunky and awkward way) into Standard 1 – Mission and Ethics. And even then, the related practices are about building “relationships with elected officials” and developing “an organizational culture that respects and welcomes diversity.”
So let’s talk here about what that organizational culture might look like.
Most often, I see diversity discussed in the language of organizational values. And whereas I see no real debate about it at that level, too often I see organizations translating the value into just gender and race. (And even then, it’s often disingenuous.) Moreover, it’s even more rare that I see a focus on the “developing an organizational culture” part at all.
Assuming we all agree, what can we do to develop our culture? Here’s one way to look at it:
It comes down to “access.”
If I email you, or leave you a voice mail, and you respond in kind, you could say that I have “access” to you. I actually have access to lots of people. Maybe hundreds. Maybe more than I really know. You might say that some of these people represent one or more “communities” of interest, geography, professional skills, politics, and so on.
Now let’s say that I serve on a Board of an organization. And assume that one of the “communities” I represent is one that the organization needs for some reason. To the degree I am willing to “use” the access I have to benefit the organization, my access is valuable.
My peers around the Board table each bring their own “access communities” to the table as well. Together we can be said to have a collective access. To the extent we all have the same access, to the extent we are redundant, our access might be deep, but it’s not very diverse. This is not how most of our Boards are actually built – people already on the board invite their friends, colleagues, and others who are just like them.
On the other hand, to the extent we all represent access into different parts of our community, we become increasingly diverse – and organizationally resilient.
But let’s talk about what that actually means. It means we don’t need “token” people of color on our Boards as much as we need people who can connect us in meaningful ways to communities of color and agree to do so. It also means we need to look beyond just skin color and gender and connect to communities based on education, wealth, business, age, politics, and relationship to land – among others.
Last year, I worked with a land trust client on the west coast to develop a starter list of communities that would be considered important to their land conservation work. It didn’t take long to generate an impressive list:
- Land Owners
- Farmers and Ranchers
- Timber Industry
- Corporate & Community Funders and Foundations
- Educators/Schools & Children
- County Commissioners/Government Agencies
- Individual Members and Donors
- Scientists/Wildlife and Habitat Experts (bio, social, demographic)
- Native Americans
- Natural Resource Workers (as distinct from owners)
- Existing communities of identification & towns within our service area
- Business Community/Leaders
- Recreationalists (birders, canoeists, hikers, bikers, etc.)
- Politically Conservative Communities (i.e. potential door closers)
- Younger Generations of Adults (i.e. 20-30 year olds)
- Communities of Color
What would your list of communities look like? And how do you go about building your organizational culture of diversity?
I think about this a lot with fundraising and development. I want to work with a board made up of people who are committed to reaching out into their communities on behalf of the organization and its mission – to connect people in their “access communities” to the mission. I don’t want people to “represent their community” on the Board. I want people to be ambassadors for the organization back in their communities.
If we can do that, we won’t worry so much about diversity. AND we’ll raise more money.
PS: The Connecticut Land Conservation Council has decided to incorporate formally as a 501(c)(3) organization. Rather than retrofitting a diverse culture onto their Board and organization at some point, Executive Director Amy Paterson is committed to starting off with an organizational culture that respects and welcomes diversity. Their experience in the next few years will be worth watching.
Photo by Srivatsa Sreenivasarao courtesy of Unsplash.com.
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Will I see you there?
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Here’s what I’m thinking about for April. What are YOU thinking about?
Getting My Files Organized: I am – admittedly, and proudly – an “old fart.” I still use paper files and I still depend on them, even though I get better every year at finding things electronically. Regardless, April is a good month to get whatever-files-you-have organized. Take the time in April to get your files (be they paper or electronic) in order. Start with your board members and former board members. Then work on your top donors. Pretend that no one who knows this person is still around. How can you organize the information in such a way that a relative newcomer can learn it quickly?
Renewing Lapsed Members: My basic system for renewing members was to send them a sequence of an email, four letters, and a phone call (usually resulting in a message left on a machine). Still some people simply did not respond at all. And that group represented an important audience for me because wooing them back was easier and cheaper than replacing them with someone new. But how to woo them back?
Donor Screening: Second only to formally soliciting your Board Members to make their own gift commitments, Donor Screening is probably the most important tool for getting Board Members started with major gift fundraising. And April is a great month to do it. For more information about donor screening, look on my Resources Page for the Donor Screening fact sheet.
Spring Appeal: If you’re doing a Spring Appeal this year (and I recommend it) you should send it out in April. I like sending Spring Appeals out to members and donors asking them to help with something other than operations; like money to buy a stewardship truck for example, or to raise the closing costs on a spectacular new preserve. To maximize results, you’ll want to pay attention to all the rules of direct mail marketing, and you’ll want to send out at least one follow-up letter. So – mail the first letter toward the end of April and one the week before Memorial Day.