On Race, Business, and COVID-19: Eight Questions for C. Marie Taylor

C.Marie Taylor with Montgomery County first responders during the April 2020 Leadership Montgomery Core Class Session

Like many in our community and around the world, Mission Partners and Leadership Montgomery made the decision to postpone our annual Spring Convening, The Business Case for Race Equity. The rescheduled event will now take place on October 6th at AMP by Strathmore. To keep this important conversation going between now and October, Mission Partners will share a monthly racial equity blog featuring interviews with business leaders and community members embedded in this work. 

Here’s the first blog in our series featuring an interview between Carrie Fox and  C. Marie Taylor, President and CEO of Leadership Montgomery. 

Q1. Hi C. Marie. Just a few weeks ago, the topic of race equity was pressing on the minds of many major corporations and foundations across the U.S.  But here we are now during a global public health crisis, where no community and no company is immune to the challenges of COVID19. Companies have shifted their efforts to the crisis of now: Keeping their doors open, doing the best they can to keep their employees on payroll, and protecting their customers and clients from COVID19.

At a time like this, when the world is wrapped up in surviving COVID19, why can’t we afford to let down our guard on issues of race equity?  What happens if businesses only think about the health of their bottom line over the health of their workforce?

Thanks, Carrie.  As you’re talking about keeping businesses open, if you think about the frontline workers who are doing that work, they are usually people of color. If you don’t think about race equity, soon you won’t have the staff to keep businesses open. All of this affects what is happening with the economy. It starts from the one person that is giving you the Uber Eats all the way up to Marriott closing its doors. It’s an entire system we have to think about. 

You can’t stop thinking about how all this plays out to the bottom line because when we rebound, who is going to buy your product? There could also be opportunities to change how you’re doing your work but you’re missing those key voices at the table. If you’re not thinking through an equity lens and have the frontline worker standing next to the person that has all the shares — and saying well here’s how we could do business differently — you’re missing all that opportunity by putting it to the side. 

Q2. Related, what kinds of questions should employers and business leaders be asking themselves now, and what outcomes should they be working towards?

They should be asking who is on the frontline, how are we protecting those on the frontline and what systems do we have in place if, God forbid, they get sick. We can’t keep our business going if they don’t have healthcare or access to public transportation. Many frontline workers have to take public transportation, which is almost at a halt. Am I paying them a wage where they can afford to drive to work or have a car? As we’re taking a pause you have to think about transportation, housing, healthcare, even your marketing – you have to look at it through an equity lens because you’re missing an opportunity to learn how to show up after this crisis ends. It would be amazing if business owners could think about, “Well if I was back on that frontline, is this how I wanted to be served as the employee?” If you take off your president hat and look through an equity lens and think I am Bob who is working at Safeway next to Susie with no protection and really back healthcare, is that how I want to be treated? So here is your chance to pause and put yourself back in that position through an equity lens. 


Q3. I know the Kellogg Report, The Business Case for Racial Equity made a big impression on you, and you saw quite a bit of applicability to our community here in Montgomery County. Tell me more about what resonated with you about that report, and why it’s so important to be driving messages of race equity home in Montgomery County.

There are a bunch of things that spoke to me, but one of the big things is how the inequities in healthcare show up and cause a huge burden on the rest of the system. That is completely timely right now. If you think about the three big pillars of the Kellogg report, they talk about housing, education, and healthcare and the gaps in these areas – those are all showing up right now. To tie this back to the economy, if we have the opportunity to do some drastic changes around those inequities now, then perhaps for the next crisis, if there is one,  the economy will be better equipped to not need so many bailouts because there is more equity across the system. Now I don’t need as much, because you gave me more. If you think about these trillion dollar bills that are passing, those resources were there all along but if we had spread it out a little differently and thought through an equity lens, perhaps we wouldn’t need so many of the bailouts that are happening. It will be interesting to see how the bailouts trickle across and down. 


Q4. Montgomery County made history not too long ago with its racial equity bill, but there has been a lot of skepticism in the community about if that will amount to much in terms of real change.  What does having that racial equity bill in place mean to you, and what does success need to look like as a result of the bill?

What success looks like to me is hope for the future and being pragmatic about it. We have leaps and bounds to go. In terms of where we are as a county, it goes back to that point I was making before. We have $5.5 billion in this county in terms of resources. And it’s not until we got to this crisis mode that we start thinking about distributing those resources differently. If we had done that through an equity lens 20 years ago we would have figured out all the pockets of need — or areas kids need laptops to drill down to one specific thing — and they would have already had them. Now you’re scrambling to get them, when we knew all along there are kids that don’t have access to food, laptops, internet, healthcare, eyeglass and now we’re running around trying to figure it out. From this point forward, here’s our opportunity to make a change. Are they going to have voices at the table who are completely affected so they can think about how they do the work? Are they going to talk to parents who don’t have internet, who don’t have laptops, who don’t have cars to get to the food that’s being distributed and figure out how to have a different system so it’s not as hard to get this work done. 

Q5. You work with hundreds of leaders every year, across all sectors. What are some of the themes you hear year after year in LM classes about issues of race? Where do you see progress being made, and where do you think progress needs to happen faster among our region’s leadership?

The number thing I hear is “I didn’t know.” And that speaks volumes to what information has been given to us as children, as adults, or what information we seek — I’m speaking particularly around race, racism, equity, diversity, and inclusion. And particularly these are typically non-people of color who are saying I didn’t know this or I didn’t know that. And then my question is why didn’t they know that; I know all of these things. So what are we doing to help them figure that out?

The thing that gives me a little bit of hope and where I see some change now is there is more willingness to talk about it. People are saying I didn’t know and I’m willing to talk further. And then after there needs to be collaboration, dedication and investment to action. It’s one thing to say I don’t know race is a social construct, but what are you going to do to learn more about that? Or what are you going to do to take it back to your office, educate yourself more, educate your staff and show up a little bit differently. That’s what I would love to see. I see it individually with some companies and I stay hopeful. 

Q6. When it comes to race in the workplace, it seems that we’re often talking around the issues, but very often companies don’t feel equipped to take on the issue. Talking from the perspective of an employer and organizational leader, how have you faced this within Leadership Montgomery, and what guidance or tools would you offer to those who are working to build equitable and inclusive organizations?

We’ve developed an entire body of work called Leadership in Action, it can take organizations from having a two hour conversation about race to a two day conversation about race. We are trying to meet people where they are at the “I don’t know” statement to really investing and changing their organizational culture. We started this work within. We looked at our staffing, business values, core statement and worked with Mission Partners on strategic messaging and planning. So we started internally to figure out what work we needed to do on equity before we took it externally, and from there have been able to launch this work based on the lessons we learned and what we hear are Leadership Montgomery’s core strengths and the community needs. 

Q7. What needs to go into a race equity plan before you put it into the world?

The first thing is that there has to be internal commitment to seeing the work through. There has to be atual dollars and investment, group buy-in from everyone in the organization and you have to have someone from the outside come in and help you. They can take a critical lens to see where there is buy-in or push back to help marry the two. And I think by having someone like Mission Partners or Leadership Montgomery help them figure out that work, they can as a collective body show up differently. This work is sticky, hard, people don’t get it, and there are moments of vulnerability that leaders don’t want to talk about. But on the other side you get a beautiful work product that can help you show up differently and by having an external person or organization they can help you wade through that and really map it out so you don’t feel stuck. For us, we tackled it head on and we brought it outside people to help with this intneral work. 

Q8. We can say culture is formed anywhere, but inside an organizational culture start at the top. It is the tone that we set, the actions we take, and how we talk and engage that others will follow. As we think more about this time of pause, how can leaders show up as it relates to equity and set a culture of vulnerability and inclusion?

As we’re home and trying to figure this work out, it would be great for leaders to start with their gratitude. I’m grateful for great healthcare, that I can work at home, and that I can talk to you through the internet and computer. If I take that gratitude and then unpack it and say who doesn’t have these things? Who can’t work from home? Who doesn’t have access to the internet? Who doesn’t have great healthcare? And then say what is my role in helping in that as a leader? Let’s talk about the internet. I have the internet and I know other people don’t. One thing I can do practically is send information about how you can get access to free internet. I’m on a board and lending them our account so they can continue to conduct meetings. One practical thing you can do in terms of equity — the easy thing right now — work from a place of gratitude, figure out the things that you have and who doesn’t have that. In your business and personal goals, what are the one or two things you can start to tackle? 

Well, it is hard to sum up such a full conversation but the three lessons I have learned talking with you, C. Marie:

  • To start and lead with gratitude
  • To be willing to face what you don’t know and do something about it
  • To use this pause as a place from which to grow

I really appreciated our time together, and the practicality of your insights- especially in this moment of time.  Thanks for all you do, C. Marie.

Thank you, that was an excellent summary!

For additional resources visit: The Meyer Foundation, The Kellogg Foundation, Mission Partners, Leadership Montgomery

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Sticking Together, While Staying Apart

People walking together but sepeaated by distance

Is it just me or is 2020 turning out to be much more complicated than any one of us could have imagined?

It’s Tuesday, March 17. Our kids should be in school. Our employees should be in the conference room. Our restaurants and retailers should be open for business. Instead, we’re doing everything in our power to make our daily routines as uninterrupted as possible in a world where nothing is normal anymore.

COVID-19 will challenge us on many levels in the coming months. It will challenge us as parents, as business owners, as foundation and nonprofit executives, and as individuals who need to keep work going even when everything around us feels like it’s come to a screeching halt.

What I know for sure is that our community is a profoundly kind one and that each of you have the grit, perseverance, and resilience to guide your organization, your colleagues, and your community through this time of unknown.

The reality is it’s hard to know what to do, and how to stay focused when the situation is still unfolding.  So, while you’ve had no shortage of coronavirus messages in your inbox, I wanted to share a few of the most impactful tools I’ve seen come through, should they be helpful to you as well:

  1. On shifting your team to remote work. Last week, I made the decision to move Mission Partners to a remote working policy through at least March 27th. For those considering the same, I’ve offered a link to our announcement, as well as our health and safety best practices should you find the resource helpful.  I also wanted to pass along the amazing crowdsourced resource that Amira El-Gawly of Manifesta shared in her newsletter, which really helped my team develop the above health and safety best practices document.

  2. On managing well while remote. It’s one thing to make the decision to go remote, and another to manage well in a remote working environment. I loved this article from our friends at the Management Center with excellent tips for staying connected even while apart. Read their tips.

  3. On communicating through crisis. The awesome team at CommNet has started a Coronavirus Crisis Comms Triage Kit — an Open Google Doc to share and crowdsource best practices, resources, and examples of effective crisis comms covering many of the tasks you’re attending to. Access the kit.

  4. On helping where it’s needed most. There will be no shortage of community nonprofits who can benefit from support, but if you’re looking for a group to help now, we hope you’ll donate to Manna Food. For the estimated 63,000 people who regularly experience hunger and food insecurity in Montgomery County, COVID-19 presents unique challenges. Families with limited means, particularly seniors on fixed incomes, often don’t have the resources to stockpile groceries and supplies, and they don’t have the ability to weather the self-quarantine that the CDC recommends as a crucial step in preventing the spread of COVID-19 in the community. And the 3,000+ kids who rely on free and reduced-price meals are in danger of not having that food resource over the weekends with schools now closed. If you’re fortunate enough to be able to help someone else through this public health crisis, I invite you to donate to Manna, and contribute to #foodforall.

  5. On pro bono support. And finally, if there’s anything you need through this crisis, related to communications, crisis, or fundraising strategy, including the virtual facilitation of meetings and media trainings, I hope you’ll turn our way. We are offering our services at significant discount through May, including up to 5 pro bono engagements to help nonprofits, foundations and associations with messages, materials development, donor communications, and crisis strategies related to COVID-19. Schedule a call with me here to discuss your immediate communications needs.  And if you’re in need of a service beyond what we can provide, turn to this terrific DC-area small business list first- a collection of small businesses who greatly benefit from your business in these trying times.

I’ve built my business on a commitment to using business as a force for good, and I don’t intend to stop now.  Sending you strength, health, and good things to come.

Carrie Fox (she/hers)
Founder and CEO
Mission Partners, A Benefit LLC

Edited to Add on 4/6/2020: Since the original publication of this article, our business is now remote until at least April 27th. While we have also already reached capacity on our pro bono engagements, we are still continuing a discount through May 2020 for COVID-19 support. If this message resonated with you and you would like to learn more about how we can help with your own messaging to push your organization through these unprecedented times, please contact us today.


Just Business

When we’re asked what it means to be a Certified B Corporation®, we often tell people that our business model sits between that of a traditional for-profit business and a non-profit organization. As a Benefit LLC in the state of Maryland, we are legally held responsible for considering people, planet, and profit in every decision we make. And as such, we have a heightened sense of responsibility about our actions to ensure that we build a business that is equally good for our employees, good for our clients, and good for our world. 

It’s one thing to say that, and another to dig deep into what it means to say that.  

We are not only a Certified B Corporation, but a founding signatory of We The Change, a movement led by fellow women-owned B Corporations, who believe as we do in building a radically inclusive and richly regenerative economy.  That is to say: an economy where business can work for everyone, and for the long term. 

Building a business like this requires deep analysis of the systems, structures and institutions at the core of traditional business and employment models to ensure we foster an environment that supports our commitment to justice and racial equity, and that is in line with our stated values.  Because if a business commits to being a force for good, it must also be deeply committed to challenging barriers that inhibit equal outcomes in business. It must be committed to actively identifying and eliminating racism, sexism, classism, ableism, anti-semitism, ageism and heterosexism by changing systems, organizational structures, policies and practices and attitudes, so that power can be redistributed and shared equitably. It is those -isms that have supported and maintained the long defined societal norm in North America (white heterosexual male leaders who are Christian, living without disability, and who have access to wealth, resources and networks), and which limit a society’s ability to achieve true equity among its people.

It’s been an especially interesting journey given the work we do. As strategic communications consultants working at the intersection of policy, philanthropy, and public relations, we’ve been at the decision-making table with dozens of nonprofits and foundations as they have taken on issues of race and gender in their work: in grantmaking, Board development, hiring and recruitment, all the while pushing our company along the same complicated, often uncomfortable, but necessary path.

Yet, for all the work we do with foundations and nonprofit organizations, many of whom have begun to document their race equity plans as well, there is far less of a barometer for business leaders, especially for small businesses like ours.

And so, over the last few years, members of our team—including current and former employees and contractors across the business—have worked to identify, disrupt, and address policies, systems, and situations where we see signs of white privilege and power and other inequities at play. 

It has not been easy. Shifting power to an envisioned end state of distributed power and racial equity—when race or immigration status is no longer correlated with one’s outcomes and when everyone has what they need to thrive—requires a willingness to get messy. It requires a vulnerability to try even when the right words aren’t easy to find, and a commitment to wholly transform how business operates, knowing that the end result of employing high impact practices through an equity lens is a business model that works for everyone, and for the long term.

As this journey requires regular reflection, accountability and continuous commitment, we wanted to share some of our practices for those going through, or considering, a similar process. We share this framework as a tool for other businesses, and as a public barometer and internal accountability reminder to ourselves that there remains a long way to go within our own practice. For those who are interested, you can also email Carrie or Arron to request a complete copy of our Race Equity Action Plan, which will be released in the coming months.

What follows are some of the commitments included in our plan, and a sampling of the actions we are taking to advance and realize equity:

  • Build a racial equity lens into our organization’s strategic planning policy, priority setting process, and issue area strategy and implementation work. We have long deployed a high impact model of project management, but in 2020, we intentionally added a race equity lens to every project we take on. Our Equity Accountability Practice includes team members from across the organization who bring diverse perspectives and experiences, who are being trained in a shared language of equity, and who will hold fellow team members accountable to using the most racially equitable processes in our planning, research, client service, project management, materials and campaign development.  This commitment requires continuous learning and will never come to an end.
  • Remove bias from the hiring process while building equitable pathways to wealth-building opportunities and senior leadership roles for all employees. In 2019, we re-engineered our hiring practices, organizational chart, and leadership team to ensure that every member of the organization can realize a path to leadership, including opportunities to build ownership stakes in the business. We understand that having a diverse staff is itself an essential goal as minorities become the majority and as a lack of diversity increasingly has a business cost. Research shows that employers with more diverse workforces experience better rates of innovation and, as Neilson reported recently, “with 43% of the 75 million Millennials in the U.S. identifying as African American, Hispanic, or Asian, if a brand doesn’t have a multicultural strategy, it doesn’t have a growth strategy.”
  • Eliminate adverse outcomes and barriers caused by the systems of oppression within our work and communities. We take seriously our role as an employer and good community partner. We create an environment for all to thrive by offering a robust healthcare plan, flexible work from home policies, and paid parental leave, as well as a cash benefit to offset travel to the Mission Partners office. While most small businesses do not offer a 401K, we offer a plan that guarantees a minimum 3% investment to all employees after one full year of service, including access to impact investing funds that are in line with our company’s core values.
  • Actively challenge policies and systems, internally and externally, that perpetuate oppression, discrimination and inequities.  For years, we have led with a person-first approach to communications. We believe that the words we choose and the way we use them characterize our identity, manifest our belief system and join us or disconnect us from those with different identities. As language changes, we adapt and change to ensure we are using the most thoughtful and inclusive language possible. We do not always get it right but we are determined to keep learning. We center inclusiveness in our language and counsel our clients on how to reframe their communications to remove instances of discriminatory, stereotypical or biased language while creating messages and materials that enable everyone to feel that they are being reflected in the work.   
  • Support the efforts of organizations that serve those most affected by inequity and strengthen our role as an effective partner to those organizations. We are intentional about the clients we support which creates an even greater imperative to achieve, model, and spread equity as a company and partner to these important allies. Through our work with AIDS United, we helped raise public awareness and Congressional support for HIV/AIDS funding in the Deep South where there is a disproportionate number of African Americans living with HIV/AIDS due in part to limited access to quality health care. On another project, working as an evaluator for Slack, we helped establish a blueprint for replicating an apprenticeship pilot program to shift perceptions and eliminate stigma about the workforce potential of formerly incarcerated individuals. And, our work with the Family Independence Initiative helped elevate the importance of access to choices, capital and social connections to help families lift themselves out of poverty. 
  • Prioritize Black and Woman-Owned Vendors. We are proud of the alliances and partnerships we’ve built that support our equity vision. More than 65% of Mission Partners vendors are women-owned businesses including five organizations identifying as Black-led, African-American-led or Person of Color-led (PoC-led). In 2020, we will further diversify our team of faculty to support Mission Forward webinars and programming, supporting our commitment to elevate and promote diverse talent.
  • Create an ongoing dialogue to explore key concepts including cultural, structural and institutional racism, white privilege, and community partnership, especially within the content of our issue areas. Our Mission Forward series of events is both a platform for us to convene leaders on key topics as much as it is a platform for us to be in conversation and relationship with those most impacted by inequities. We conduct quarterly employee surveys to check in on our progress towards a more racially just and inclusive company, and since 2014, we’ve hosted community gatherings, workshops and trainings to learn and grow as a team and to build more equitable communities.

It is our intent to hold ourselves accountable to these goals and actions and to adhere to these values. As such, we invite you to join us for an upcoming conversation on this exact topic when we convene on March 27 for our annual spring convening on The Business Case for Race Equity, which we are hosting in partnership with Leadership Montgomery.

If you are working through a race equity plan for your business, or if you have expertise that you can share, we hope you will consider joining us on that day.  You can learn more and reserve your seat here, or reach out to us if you’d like to set up a conversation to talk more deeply about what it means to build an inclusive economy, together.

Carrie Fox and Arron Neal


Living Our Core Values

As a purpose-driven B CorporationTM, our values are the heart and soul of our company. They drive our growth and inform our hiring processes.  But it’s easy for those words to become empty promises if we’re not holding ourselves accountable to them.

So, this fall, we decided to go a layer deeper on the values that guide our work. We led our staff through a process we often do for our clients.  And in doing so, we were able to solidify certain key values while strengthening others. I’m proud to share them with you here:

  • We value people first.We are more than what happens during our office hours. We are people first, and we strive to show a deep respect for human beings inside and outside our company.
  • We value equity. We acknowledge that our current social, economic, and political systems are unjust, predominantly due to a history of racism and oppression. We marshal our resources to advance equitable opportunities and outcomes for all.
  • We value integrity. We are honest, open, ethical, and fair. People trust us to adhere to our word, and we work hard to earn and maintain that trust.
  • We value kindness. We are guided by gratitude, and we take extra measures to appreciate one another.
  • We value courageous leadership. We act with courage, challenge the status quo, and find new ways to grow our company and each other.
  • We value progress. We are continuously moving forward, innovating, and improving.  We do this work because we believe in it and we allow that belief to inspire our actions.

We know with certainty that when we live these values—fully and universally across our team— we can achieve our greatest impact, and 2019 was a solid reminder of that.

  • We supported more than 30 nonprofit organizations, foundations and social enterprises who are advancing breakthroughs in children’s health, housing, education, journalism, technology, and the workforce, and who share our commitment to building a more just and inclusive society. Read more about our work here.
  • We re-engineered our own financial investments to be impact-oriented, in line with our core values and with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
  • We hosted a powerful community conversation on the soaring maternal mortality rates among Black and Brown women in the United States—led by and featuring the experiences of Black women. Learn more about Hear Her: A Call to Action on Maternal Mortality.
  • We created communications tools designed for social impact professionals to lead systems change efforts through an anti-racist framework. Stay tuned for opportunities to access these tools in 2020.
  • We partnered with Slack, The Last Mile, and W.K. Kellogg Foundation who trusted us to document the findings from their inaugural cohort of Next Chapter, a bold and transformative initiative to help formerly incarcerated individuals secure wealth-building jobs in tech. Read their powerful story in this week’s edition of The Atlantic.
  • We launched an application-based Social Impact Fellows program at Loyola University Maryland. Ten students agreed to a year of vulnerability as we worked together to identify inequities where we live, learn, work, and serve, and then spent the rest of our cohort year using Design Thinking to address and advocate for more equitable programs and policies within their institution. Learn more and listen to the students closing presentation here.
  • We cemented our commitment to build a more just and inclusive society by joining on as a founding signatory of #WeTheChange, 400+ women leaders of certified B Corporations and other purpose-driven enterprises who share our belief that capitalism should work for everyone, and for the long-term. Read more about our commitment to building business as a force for good at wethechange.net.

The work we do each day— on behalf of our clients and partners— is at its most powerful when we live these values. In 2020, we intend to go deeper still, working to align our business intentionally with the UN Sustainability Goals, and further advance our commitment to high-impact initiatives that lead to a more just and inclusive society. If you’re interested in doing the same, I hope you’ll drop me a line (carrie@mission.partners) so we can take on this important work together.

To each of our clients, and to every one of you, I thank you for your impact and for the purpose you bring to our work, every day.

Wishing you peace and love in the New Year.

Carrie Fox

On behalf of our clients, friends and colleagues, Mission Partners has made a monetary contribution to The Next Mile and The National Birth Equity Collaborative for their transformational impact on us, and our year.

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12 Ways to Effectively Engage an Advisory Board

People shaking hands after a meeting

By Susanne Pirone

Time. Talent. Treasure. If you lead or manage a nonprofit board of advisors, you’re likely very used to those three words. At the broadest level, these words set shared expectations for what board members are expected to bring to their board position: how much time they’re expected to spend on or in support of the organization each year, what professional talents they’ll be able to lend to the advancement of an organization’s mission, and what level of financial treasure they’re expected to give or get through fundraising efforts.

The trouble, however, is that many board leaders and executive directors don’t take the time to qualify these terms much more specifically than I just have, which can leave board members with uncertainty about their commitments, or not fully engaged with the organization—leading to much less effective boards in general.

At Mission Partners, we spend a lot of our time guiding organizational leaders in building and growing their board relationships. We know that turning friends and allies into champions and ambassadors can be the most surefire way to advance an organization’s mission.  But it takes time, talent, and sometimes a bit of treasure from the organization as well. As I’ve reflected on our experiences from this year, I wanted to share 12 important tips to make more of your board engagements in 2020:

  1. Do your research. Invite participants who have a personal, or institutional commitment to your organization or issue area.  Participants who have had involvement with the issue before, or work for organizations who have supported the issue area through volunteerism, grants, or event support in the past will be your warmest leads.
  2. Recruit for diversity. Build a group of advisors who are different from each other and bring different strengths to the table.  Think of diversity from various perspectives – industry, professional expertise, age, race, gender, background.
  3. Have end goals in mind. How will this advisory board help you advance the mission and goals of your organization?  Build your board with your end goals in mind, and ensure that you have committed people sitting around the table with the skills needed to advance your goals.
  4. Know their role. Have a very clear vision for the role of your advisory board, and be able to consistently and clearly communicate it to current and prospective members.  Draft a volunteer job description for members, and ask them to sign off on it each year.
  5. Make meetings count. Your board members are busy and their time is valuable.  Craft strategic, action oriented agendas.  Advisory board meetings should not just be “report outs” on what your organization has been doing.  Consider structuring your advisory board with sub-committees, where members are in charge of advancing the work, and reporting progress when your group gets together.
  6. Expect their involvement. Members of an advisory board are your leadership volunteers in the community.  They should be present at your events, active at your meetings, and consistently helping you advance your goals and the work of your organization.
  7. Provide visibility. Provide your advisory board members and their companies visibility in as many ways as you can.  List them on all materials, websites, and advertising supplements, as appropriate.  Engage them as spokespeople for your organization.  They can tell your story just as well as you can, and it has more weight coming from a third party than coming from a staff person.  Showcase their companies as leaders in the community, and provide a platform to elevate them as leaders within their place of business.
  8. Make clear, in-person asks. Don’t bury action items and asks for your advisory board in a blanket email.  Don’t even rely solely on mentioning your action items and asks during your meetings.  Make your requests in person, make them specific, and tie them back to your overall organizational goals.
  9. Leverage their involvement. Leverage advisory board members in other ways/roles across your organization.  Engage them at your community and fundraising events.  Let them help you with staff development goals.  Give them a clear role in identifying and recruiting their peers as corporate prospects for your organization.
  10. Seek their feedback. Set an annual time to meet individually with each advisory board member.  Find out if they feel that they are effectively contributing to the organization.  Ask what they would change about the meetings and/or the kind of work they are being asked to do.  Determine if they think they have distinctive competencies that are not being utilized that could be of benefit to the organization.  Solicit their ideas for additional people to bring onto the advisory board.
  11. Have a plan. Make sure you have a succession plan for your advisory board.  Even the most committed and engaged volunteers will eventually need to step down from your advisory board.  New members and new ideas are critical to the forward movement of an organization.  Set a term of service for members, and have a pipeline for bringing new leadership volunteers into the fold.
  12. Don’t lose key volunteers! When a member sunsets from your advisory board, make sure you have ways to keep him or her involved.  This is an opportunity to transition these key leadership volunteers into other roles within your organization.

Above all, if you want to have an effective board, take the time to show gratitude, and not just at the end of their board term.  Small acts of gratitude, such as handwritten personal notes, go a long way in recognizing someone’s contributions to your organization, especially your volunteer advisory board members. Build into your organizational goals a plan for recognition and appreciation of these leadership volunteers.  Together, with the tips above, we are certain you’ll see a more effective and impactful board of advisors in the year ahead.

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Getting More out of Giving Tuesday

By Bayonia Marshall and Amira Barre

It’s mid-November and we can tell by our incoming emails that a big day (some would say the biggest day) in philanthropy is near. 

With subject lines like “Save The Date for #GivingTuesday” and “Giving Tuesday is just around the corner,” charities across the country are gearing up for the single largest giving day of the calendar year. 

And for good reason, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy:

“Giving Tuesday held each year on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, began in 2012 as an inspirational idea to counter the consumerism of Black Friday and promote charitable giving. The one-day event has grown every year and serves as the kickoff to year-end fundraising for many groups.”  According to WholeWhale, it is predicted that $502M will be raised across participating nonprofits this GivingTuesday.  

While there’s no shortage of tips on how to fundraise on Giving Tuesday, there’s less information to be found on how to ensure your Giving Tuesday campaigns are inclusive and equitable. So, we’ve gathered insights from experts here at Mission Partners to help you center equity and increase your impact on #GivingTuesday. Good news is, these are not “one and done” tips–they’re proven strategies that can take your fundraising efforts through 2020 and beyond.

Giving Tuesday Tip 1: Center Equity

Giving Tuesday has the potential to set your organization up for great success as you head into a new year. Ultimately, the messages your organization shares on this national day of giving can and should set the tone for the rest of the charitable season and beyond. But have you stopped to consider how your messages might be including some and alienating others?  

  • Pull out your upcoming Giving Tuesday email blast and read it against the tips that Carrie Fox outlines in her recent blog, “Was it Your Mail I Opened?”, such as “Have you compensated the individual(s) featured in your appeal letter, and “how have you invited those featured in your appeals to review and edit their stories for accuracy?” Keep in mind that if you’re sharing a story other than your own, you need to ensure that the person featured has the same opportunity to review for accuracy as your Executive Director would.
  • Consider the way you speak or write about your role in the community as you create a campaign around your appeal letters. Some words can carry bias and create divides, even though they may be used with good intentions. For example, the phrase “we serve” creates a hierarchy that portrays people or organization as saviors and takes the focus away from the residents, participants or community members that use your services. Instead, use “we work alongside” to foster a sense of collaboration and togetherness. Read more about inclusive and asset-based language in Elena Hilton’s latest blog, The Words Matter.
  • Go beyond the words and take into account visuals, as well. Visual elements can help or harm how your message is not only received, but perceived, so make sure that the intended values are communicated to your audience. As our Graphic Designer, Eleni Stamoulis explains, we are all faced with inclusive and equitable design choices whether designer is in our job title or not. One way to incorporate inclusive design is by using diverse images to challenge stereotypes and bias. 

Giving Tuesday Tip 2: Put Your Community First

At Mission Partners, we acknowledge that giving monetarily is not a privilege afforded to all people. Due to the systems in place in our society, some people have easier access to upward mobility, wealth, and resources, and therefore, have the economic means and financial security to donate to the organizations and issues they care about. Create opportunities for everyone to be included in your campaign, including those who can not support financially.

  • Start by putting the focus of your organization’s campaign on people first. Our founder and CEO, Carrie Fox, suggested in this recent fundraising roundup that  “you have to think about who is delivering and who is receiving the message.  The pitfall is that many organizations talk about their community versus creating a platform for their community to tell their own story.  The best condition for success is to think about who is delivering the message and is it truly inclusive about the community you are working to advance.” 
  • Get creative in the ways people can give. Create a pledge for volunteers in your neighborhood or partner with a local organization to help spread the word about your services. If you multiple chapters or locations across the United States, gather some of your most trusted ambassadors and host a potluck dinner to raise awareness and build supporters for your cause. And be sure to create experiences that appeal to high school and college students, perhaps even creating opportunities for them to create their own experiences within their school or campus communities. Of the current Gen Z population, 30% percent have already donated to an organization, and 26% have raised money for a cause.

Giving Tuesday Tip 3. Get Specific On Digital

Beyond email, think about how you engage with your donors and prospects across digital platforms. Mission Partners’ consultant and CEO of Positive Equation, Dana Bakich, suggests that you should spend a week or two priming and educating your audience around a single issue before presenting your ask. By December 3, your current and potential donors will be able to visualize and understand where their dollars are going. “Record or use live videos to capture what your organization is trying to solve for from start to finish,” says Dana and “don’t try to cram tons of information in the content you create.” Stick to one specific area around your cause that you want to ask for, and attach a dollar amount to it. For example, Dress for Success, a global nonprofit that provides professional attire for low-income women, primed and educated their donors by breaking down the suiting process, and attaching a dollar amount to it.: such as “For $20, you can provide a woman with her first career counseling session.” When you roll out your ask, people will remember the stories they heard, better understand their impact and feel compelled to give. 

Giving Tuesday is just around the corner, so don’t let this powerful day of giving go by without getting the most out of it. As you go forth with your campaign, remember: Lead with equity, center your community and get specific on digital. 

Want to perfect your giving strategy in 2020 or create a year round action plan? Contact us at connect@mission.partners to schedule an information session or click here to learn more about our Communications Planning + Activation services

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The Words Matter

By Elena Hilton

One of my favorite movies of the past few years is Arrival, which stars Amy Adams as a linguistics professor who’s recruited to figure out how to communicate with aliens that have landed on Earth. I’m not one for sci-fi stories, but as a writer, I love how the movie centers on the role that language and communication play in expressing who we are, how we think, and how we view the world. Words are more than just letters strung together. They shape our ideas, how we process information, and how we form judgments. And they are among the most powerful tools we have.

During my first month at Mission Partners, I took part in Mission Forward’s Race and Identity Training. I learned so much valuable information during that one-day session, but the activities around equitable and inclusive language stood out to me most. Prior to the training, I thought I had the tools to incorporate equity into my work, but it’s less about knowing everything, and more about continuing to learn and question the systems as I know them. In the workshop, we addressed our own identities, where we hold power and privilege, and where we are often pushed to the margins. My identity as a white woman in the United States allows me certain unearned privileges because of my race, while my gender means I must navigate the effects of sexist cultural values and policies. 

To that end, I wanted to share some tips I took away from our Race and Identity training, and continue to use in my day-to-day work at Mission Partners. Hopefully they will spark some a-ha moments for you, too:

  • Labels don’t apply to everyone.

Our brains are constantly searching for ways to categorize information through labeling, but certain words and phrases that might be embraced by some, could be shunned by others. When thinking about how to describe individuals and communities, it’s important to remember there are no “one-size-fits-all” labels. As a white woman, the most important thing I can do is ask, listen, and research, because my identity means there are many community experiences I don’t know firsthand. When discussing communities, I make a concerted effort to determine how those communities refer to themselves. When discussing individuals within communities, I’ve found the best course of action is to ask what terms they’re comfortable with, listen, and adapt to people’s preferences.

  • Think twice about the word “empower.”

“Empower” seems like a bold, positive word, doesn’t it? I definitely thought so, but during Mission Forward’s Race and Identity training, I learned to think about it from a different perspective. When we say an organization or a movement is empowering people, what we’re really saying is that those individuals don’t have power or agency on their own and require help from outside forces. Of course, that’s not true. Instead of using the word empower, consider using “support,” “offering tools,” or “working together to achieve a goal.”

  • Say what you mean.

Racially-coded language is embedded in so much of our day-to-day communications, you might not even realize how certain words have contributed to bias and discrimination. When writing, take a step back and think about what your words imply, paying careful attention to common phrases. One of the most commonly used terms when talking about young people who live in under-resourced communities is “at-risk.” Ask yourself, at-risk of what? Living in a certain area doesn’t make you a risk. A young person living in an under-resourced community shouldn’t feel like they are to blame for the institutionalized barriers impacting their life. 

Don’t be afraid to call out systems of oppression. A word that gets avoided a lot is racism, especially in reference to statements made by people in positions of power. If something is racist, say it’s racist. Don’t say it’s “racially charged” or “inappropriate.” In fact, many news outlets, such as NPR, have explained their decision to label some of President Trump’s tweets racist. By explicitly calling out racist tropes, NPR listeners who weren’t familiar with the history of the phrase “go back where you came from” had an opportunity to learn. So, let’s call racism what it is so we can work to address it by offering solutions on how we can move towards combating it.

If you, like me, are always searching for ways to make your communications materials more thoughtful and inclusive, I’d encourage you to check out this resource that’s been enlightening for me: SumOfUs.org’s Progressive Style Guide.

  • When in doubt, use statistics.

Data is your friendwhen used correctly. Words alone pose a challenge in crafting a complete, accurate narrative. “Aggregating” data by lumping groups together usually is not the right course of action, as it can erase identities. For instance, think twice before saying you have statistics on “Hispanic women.” Categories like this are typically far too overarching and likely can’t fully depict the individual cultures and backgrounds that fall within them. Disaggregated data ensures that people in communities are not viewed as a monolith. 

To offer some ideas, data points and research could be used to dispel the myth that the racial wealth gap is the result of individual actions. Or you could use data to show how racism causes higher Black maternal mortality rates and many other health-related problems. Just keep in mind that research, like language, can hold biases based on how its compiled, so do your due diligence to ensure the statistics and data at hand aren’t worsening or ignoring existing disparities. 

  •  Use people-first language.

The simple way you place a word to either be an adjective or a noun can make all the difference in how your audience thinks about the person you’re describing. Instead of saying “homeless person,” reframe your syntax to say a person experiencing homelessness. Instead of “foster child,” say child in foster care. People are so much more than their situations and environments. 

  • Continue learning.

What I am learning here at Mission Partners is using equitable and inclusive language doesn’t happen without effort. It requires an intentional commitment to continually learning about intersectionality and applying that knowledge on a daily basis. Above all else, know that communication has the power to shape our thinking and our culture at large. When you mindfully choose inclusive and equitable language, you’re helping to encourage a more inclusive and equitable world. 

Interested in learning more about how you can bring equity and inclusion to the forefront of your work? Reach out to us for a cup of coffee, or join us at Mission Forward’s next Race and Identity Training on December 11. 

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The Power of Equitable Design (And 3 Tips to Become a More Inclusive Communicator)

By Eleni Stamoulis

“Design creates culture.”

One of my professors from grad school said this to my class when teaching us about the ethics of graphic design. He then showed us national campaigns he designed that sexualized women or encouraged young people to smoke. He was not proud of these successful designs, but shared them with us to show what our responsibilities were as young designers. It was the first time I realized that my work as a graphic designer has a much larger impact than simply conveying information in a visually appealing way.

Since starting at Mission Partners, I’ve been able to see first hand the impact design has on how messages are received and audiences are engaged (or left behind). Every day, we think about these intended and unintended consequences in our work, realizing that there’s design in everything we do and every decision we make—whether designer is in our title or not. We practice inclusive marketing and equitable design, which works to create social change through design and reflects our diverse world. In essence, it is “design for good.

We are a visual society. With the explosion of social media, the visual literacy of our culture has only increased. Think of how many platforms are purely image-based and why social content with images produce 180% more engagementImages are a common language we can all understand. But, if you were to go through today building a collection of all the images you see on social media and in digital advertising, what do you think you’d find? And what—or who—might be missing? In inclusive marketing and equitable design, the images and graphics that are being put out into the world should reflect the diverse and accepting world we want for the future—a world with less hate.   

As I reflect on my own growing practice of equitable design, I wanted to share the top three tips that I think can benefit all communicators—including those who don’t have “designer” in their title: 

1. Be more intentional about stock photography. 

It’s important to show a variety of races, cultures, genders, sexual orientation, ages, abilities, and body types. But also be aware of the positioning and context of the photo. For example, in a recent project, a coworker sent me this photo to use. The image depicts a brainstorming session in a workplace, with a mature, white man in the center writing on the glass wall, with a Black woman on the right and a white woman on the left. While it’s a great photo, it shows the white, male figure as the leader, consequently putting both women in a subordinate role. The image subtly perpetuates the societal notion that white, males are the leaders in the workplace. Instead I sent my coworker two alternative images to use—both are similar brainstorming sessions with sticky notes on the wall. The first shows an Asian woman at the front of the group and the second photo, a Black woman (actually the same Black woman from the original photo). These two images conveyed the same message, but a woman of color was in the leadership position. While this may seem subtle, it’s a small way to challenge existing assumptions and stereotypes. My favorite sites for diverse, free stock images are Unsplash.com, Pexels.com, Burst by Shopify, and Nappy.co. (If you can invest some money into stock imagery, I suggest PhotoAbility.net and RepresentationMatters.me for great photos of people with differing abilities and body shapes, respectively)

2. Make your design accessible for people with differing abilities. 

Don’t forget that inclusive marketing materials and equitable designs don’t just consider what goes into the final product, but who will see and read them. It can feel overwhelming to think about all the accessibility issues that need to be addressed, but your social media is a great first place to begin. Start by adding alt text to your images so people with visual impairments can enjoy them as well. Alt text, or alternative text, is used to convey the information that the visual represents when it cannot be seen by the user. For people using screen readers, this is the text that is used to explain the photo or image. Adding it is slightly different for each platform so simply Google “How to add alt text on [insert social media platform]” to find out how. Other ways you can ensure accessibility in your designs is to run graphics through a colorblind simulator or add captions to a video. 

3. Make sure the images match the words/message. 

When all is said and done, words are unbeatable in their ability to be precise and detailed. It is important that your message is consistent across both the visuals and the written language. Not only will the message be clearer for your audience, it will be a more powerful, memorable, and lasting message.The visuals of a project are often dictated by the message, so it’s important to make sure your message is clear/provides a solid foundation to build on. If you’re interested in creating a message centered on equity or in getting more tips on the good work you’re already doing, register for one of our Mission Forward® workshops on equity. We host two separate workshops that can help you be more equitable in your language: 

  • Race + Identity Workshop works on building shared language for addressing and reducing harmful environments at work, providing guidance on effective practices and the latest language around diversity, equity and inclusion. Our two-pronged approach addresses both institutionalized racism and oppression as well as the interpersonal racism and oppression. 
  • Equity + Design Thinking Workshop helps you work through your stickiest communication challenge. You’ll learn how to apply a human-centered, equity lens to very specifically to your communications materials, messages and process. Our team will help you work through your current or upcoming communication materials to make sure you are communicating through an equity lens and finding the right solutions to the problem.

As Antionette Carroll, founder and creative visionary of Creative Reaction Lab has said, “Design is the intentional and unintentional impact behind an outcome.” And, as we often remind our clients and workshop attendees, we are ALL designers, even if we don’t have the degree or title. Every decision we make, every message we develop, has consequences and can easily reinforce or break long held stereotypes and biases. There’s great power in design—and equitable design ensures that you can use that power for good.

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Why Listening to All Sides Matters

group of diverse people covering their ears

By Carrie Fox

Last weekend, I was listening to a radio program when I heard a fascinating interview. Truth is, I can’t remember the name of the individual being interviewed. I can’t even remember why he was chosen to be featured in the story.

But I remember very clearly what he said.

The radio interviewer asked this individual—an immigrant from Peru and small business owner in Texas—about derogatory language that has been used by the President specifically in reference to Hispanic and Latino immigrants: “When you hear those words,” she said, “you don’t hear him speaking about people like yourself?”

“You know,” he said, “the way I see it is, he speaks his mind. And I take from it only what I want to hear.”

When the interviewer pressed him, asking again whether he agreed with the President, he said:

“You know what? I don’t pay attention to it.”

Taking only what I need to hear? Not paying attention to it?

I wish I could say that this felt unusual when I heard it (it certainly felt uncomfortable), but it’s not all that different from what I’ve heard many times in interviews and conversations over the last few years.

This individual had every right to feel the way he did, but it might not have been the best approach.

Here’s why:

In politics, philanthropy, or professional settings, it’s common to “hear what we need to hear,” and to conveniently disregard the rest. In fact, a study published by the American Psychological Association found that people were twice as likely to select information that supported their own point of view rather than consider an opposing idea.

Science confirms: we hear what we want to hear and we disregard the rest.

It’s this issue exactly that led me to write about the troubles of like-mindedness recently, and why Mission Partners now hosts regularly sold-out workshops on how to bridge cultural and communications gaps in and out of the workplace. It’s why we train on how to build healthy, inclusive, and racially-conscious work environments, and—I suspect—it’s why we’ve seen a significant increase in requests to conduct perception research. Rather than traditional market research on a key issue area or brand, we’re conducting research on how organizations—and their leaders—are seen and perceived by others. It’s the perfect tool for organizations who are ready to fill gaps in understanding, and organizations who want to hear the whole story, especially after they’ve too long prioritized hearing only what they wanted to hear.

But, what’s interesting is that organizations aren’t necessarily calling us to ask for perception research. They’re calling because they want to understand why their donations are dwindling, why their membership numbers are falling, and why their subscribers are leaving. (Sound like a question you’ve wondered, too?)

The reality is, in nearly every case, it’s because at some point, the organization simply stopped listening, and started hearing only what they wanted to hear. The good news is: conducting a perception audit can give an organization exactly what it needs—including what it needs to hear—to build a powerful comeback.

Simply put: There’s great value and power in understanding what’s being said, even if you chose to disregard it the first time. And while hearing the information might not be easy, it’s also not out of reach.

Consider this:

  • The next time you’re in discussion with someone you disagree with, don’t try to “win” and don’t try to convince anyone of your viewpoint. Instead, sit quietly, listen, and keep an open mind. Ask them to convince you and see what you can learn from their point of view.
  • Or, the next time you feel compelled to share a link on social media about current events, ask yourself why you are doing it. Is it because that link brings to light information you hadn’t considered? Or does it confirm your currently-held world view? Instead of posting that news link, consider tracking down an article that makes a counterpoint and engage your network in an entirely new perspective.
  • And, as I shared in my like-mindedness post, vary your listening habits. Instead of listening to the same morning news program every day, consider trying something completely different. See what you can learn when you simply listen to a different perspective.

Whether we like it or not, we all tend to believe that our opinions are very well-informed and valid, even though we often don’t know why we think the way we do. It’s simply easier to believe what we want, or what we’ve always believed. But there’s no knowledge or power in that. Instead, work hard to listen, and to understand beyond what you believe.

Then, see if your opinion still stands.

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Four Ways that Organizations Miss the Mark on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Efforts

Two people of different races and genders sitting in front of their laptops

By Becky George

It has long been known that there are quite a few gaps to fill in the arena of diversity, equity and inclusion. Often, well-intentioned organizations try to tackle this work in some capacity but, in reality, may not have the resources or people-power to make it as effective as possible.  

At Mission Partners, we have committed to boldly speaking equity and working towards a more just world. We lead with racial equity and steer away from diversity-only conversations. Internally, we model how one might address this in their own workplace and want to share learnings and pitfalls. We have years of experience helping organizations develop their own equity action plans to meet and exceed their goals on diversity, equity and inclusion. 

Our Mission Forward® Race + Identity workshop is an important first step that provides guidance on effective practices and the latest language around diversity, equity and inclusion. Our two-pronged approach addresses both institutionalized racism and oppression as well as the interpersonal racism and oppression. We understand the importance of recognizing how these two levels of oppression cannot be solved without addressing the other. Unfortunately, we have seen this happen repeatedly which prevents progress from occurring. 

Here are some of the ways we’ve seen organizations miss the mark on equity work: 

  1. Hiring a “Diversity Officer” – Without full buy-in from all of senior leadership, staff members who are hired for this type of position may not be set up for success. Goals and deliverables set for this person will likely not be met due to an organization’s competing priorities.
  2. Letting work crises push equity work off the table – In times of crisis, it is easy to let things fall by the wayside to focus on what must happen to end the crisis. However, if equity-based work is not at the center of crisis strategy then the communities who need the support most will likely not be prioritized well.  
  3.  Relying on people of color to own all the “diversity” work – Although it is important for people of color to be key stakeholders and leaders in the work, it is a pitfall when they are the only stakeholders in the work. It is the duty of everyone within the organization to take ownership of the work to move into progress. 
  4. Continuing to do things the way they’ve always been done – If organizations do not take the time to examine their policies, practices and procedures, they risk replication of ongoing inequitable standards. 

The concept at the center of our Race + Identity workshops is to build a culture of empathy as well as develop shared language on racism. We use the time to brainstorm and learn what has and has not worked within organizations to create the next steps on how to implement more actionable equity plans in the workplace. 

| At Mission Forward®, we create transformational trainings that model what is possible in the world. We believe that the future will be inclusive and just. 

Each month, we bring together six thoughtful participants who are ready to tackle racial equity in their workplace and give them practical tools to do the work. As with all of our other workshops, we take a person-first approach in centering equity and justice. Soon, we will be debuting our executive-level Race + Identity workshop for C-Suite leaders and other senior leadership members. Contact us at connect@mission.partners to hear more. 

Our workshops are adaptable and relevant. No matter the industry or the discipline, whether you work on issues of healthcare or housing, to authentically center equity, there must be a willingness to talk about race and center anti-racism in all of our work.

To learn more about Mission Partners’ upcoming Race + Identity Workshops, and to reserve your seat, visit MissionForward.us