write-up from Diversity in the Nonprofit Sector at Rollins
Simple Living Institute enjoys a membership with the Rollins Philanthropy & Nonprofit Leadership Center. Because of this, our board allowed me to attend their Leaders Series Luncheon titled Power & Privilege: Diversity in the Nonprofit Sector. This sumptuous event was sponsored by Rollins Philanthropy & Nonprofit Leadership Center and by AFP, Association of Fundraising Professionals.
Sumptuous because the meeting room is well appointed with portrait paintings of many civic leaders leaders, lush carpet and fresh flowers adorned the circular tables laden heavily with brightly colored lunchables, tuxedoed attendants pouring iced tea with lime. Lake Fairview on this warm October day beckoned from the very large windows.
Every seat in the room was filled with fellow workers and leaders from nonprofits of all sizes, shapes and persuasions. The panel invited for discussion came from 4 different and quite influential sectors of the nonprofit arena. The topic, sumptuous in itself: diversity. All of this combined to make an afternoon that filled my heart, head and stomach to beyond capacities.
The moderator began with a bold statistic. Orange County Schools have more kids who speak different languages than any other county school system in the state. More than Seminole, more than Dade or Broward counties. Wow! So what does that mean to us? This statistic reveals that our kids are in their math class sitting next to someone who might not speak English or even Spanish as their first language. It means that we all must embrace diversity with both arms! Our kids are!
The panel was asked to, one by one to define the title of this luncheon Power and Privilege: Diversity in the Nonprofit Sector. The 4 did not disagree much on exactly what diversity is. The Webster's definition prevails. The juicy discussion was exposed when they spoke of inclusion. They explained that the challenge for nonprofits is to walk the talk. Yes, they must include language in their grant proposals that states they "embrace diversity" by hiring non-whites, gays and women or accept their volunteer efforts. But when it comes right down to it, these people are do not become board members. No they are janitors, or leaflet distributors or day care workers. Monies are granted because the mission statements of most nonprofits are aligned with the high idea of inclusion. After all, many nonprofits serve the very people we are talking about.
So how can change be brought about? One panelist spoke at length about perspective, our own perspective! She urged us to consider ourselves first. The eyes we look through are greatly influenced by our own experiences or lack there of. This made me think of when I was a kid, my dad worked closely with the Special Olympics. At their events I saw special needs kids clamoring for my dad, running up to him and hugging him! I grew up jealous of these kids! I didn't realize how much he enjoyed it. I do now, but I still give a person in a wheel chair a wide berth when I pass one on the street. Can you see how our own perspectives could be a handicap?
When asked about power and privilege, all 4 panelists agreed that the power and the privilege in the nonprofit sector lies within their boards. They all spoke of how difficult it can be to deal with board members whose actions or beliefs are not in alignment with the lofty goal of embracing diversity. Discomfort arises when tender subjects are brought up and there is misinterpretation that blame is being laid. The panelists said a lot of time is spent here, smoothing feathers.
In truth there is no blame, they said, and that all Americans were at sometime the minority that immigrated here. It just seems so much more scary now because many people who make up this "diversity" are not European. And some still are unnerved, because after all we've been through together, in some circumstances, blacks don't enjoy the recognition they deserve.
Solutions? Yes, solutions had their moment in the (abundant, natural) light. The panelists threw out a call to action! They suggest that we do a little self searching and prepare to speak about our own prejudices. They urged us to reach beyond our centers of influence, maybe even way beyond and talk with people to ask questions. One panelist complained that when he holds a "multi-cultural" event, there are no white people!
Everyone wants to tell about their needs and wants and to convey those of their families'. Filling the need to be asked and the want to be heard would go a long way to help everybody to "embrace diversity". The panelists assured us that we'd find a wide swath of expertise hidden with those who seem so different. They promised that there is much more of a commonality between us all than we may have thought.