Nonprofits need the best and that’s why we turn to Neon One’s ecosystem of partners for expert advice. Today we’re hearing from Heidi Massey, whose specialty is strategic planning through an anti-oppression lens.
Nonprofit organizations do some of the most important work in our communities. But because nonprofits, like the rest of society, are built on racist systems, they are sometimes causing harm instead of doing good. Organizations are finally beginning to do the work of becoming anti-racist and anti-oppressive. However, trying to remove the oppressive structures and systems is like trying to remove the flour from a batch of cookie dough after it has been thoroughly mixed.
I believe the best way to effectively combat this challenge is to work on strategic planning, which many organizations are already doing, through an anti-racist lens. In fact, I believe building in the anti-racist components to strategic planning makes it a better process.
For each step in strategic planning, there are ways to move in the direction of becoming an anti-racist organization.
Planning The Process
Planning the process includes timing and who will be involved and at what stages. It can be a challenge to bring in those who are most impacted by the organization’s work. Marginalized people might experience a significant burden when asked to participate in this process without any sort of compensation. And compensation can be used negatively as leverage to elicit answers that are favorable to those already in power.
Many organizations have no staff or board members who are people of color. And to complicate the conversation, people of color aren’t all marginalized to the same degree. African Americans and Native/Indigenous people have experienced a long history of oppression in the United States. And people of color who are disabled, part of the LGBTQ community, or other marginalized identities have experiences that further add to their oppression.
These layers are all important to take into consideration. Engaging and centering those who are most marginalized throughout the entire process is critical to building anti-racist systems.
Initial Discussion Of Values, Vision, and Mission
The core of any strategic planning process is what the organization says are its values, vision, and mission. All other decisions should stem from that framework. Having conversations about racism is a part of every stage of this process. However, at this stage, it is critical to engage in the fundamentals of how racism works, the history of racism, how it intersects with power, and individual versus systemic/structural racism. This early learning sets the stage for future decision-making, which requires a more complex understanding of how racism works.
A critical piece of this learning should include accountability partners. It is easy to talk theory about racism. It is far more difficult to actually be anti-racist. It means being anti-racist in everything we say and do. We need to get out into the community and support businesses owned by people of color. We need to donate money to organizations run by people of color. We need to read books written by people of color. And we need to attend events run by people of color. And as organizations, it means finding other similar organizations led by people of color and finding ways to support their work through our organization.
When we take these steps, a number of changes are likely to occur. We will begin to learn more about different communities, which will lead to more understanding and compassion. We will be exposed to viewpoints that are different than the ones we might previously have heard. And we will also likely begin to develop caring and loving relationships with people in those communities. That is when we start to feel a deeper commitment to this work because it actually impacts people we know.
Internal And External Environmental Scan Or SWOT Analysis
An environmental scan or SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) provides an opportunity to prepare for the future. A complete assessment of the present and the potential (good and bad) of the future helps to create a clear picture of the organization’s value proposition and the core competences required to achieve that value proposition.
Part of that assessment includes taking a very close look at the ways in which the organization perpetuates racism. There will likely be some resistance from those with power within the organization. However, this speaks to the importance of having those individuals fully engaged in the learning from the previous step. Marginalized people involved in this process are the ones most familiar with how the organization has participated in and perpetuated racist practices. However, it is frequently through the collaborative work of the entire team that the root causes of those practices can be discovered, uncovering the ways in which racism hides from easy view.
Identifying Key Issues, Choices, Questions To Be Addressed
The next step is to use the results of the environmental scan/SWOT analysis to make some decisions. The conversation centers around the key issues, choices, and questions to be addressed if the organization is to achieve transformational outcomes. For organizations aspiring to be anti-racist, there is an opportunity to look at the work they are doing, frequently as saviors or out of guilt, and reframe it to center those who they are serving. Asking people what they want and need instead of assuming facilitates a list of truly transformative outcomes, instead of outcomes that are created by those in powerful positions.
Reviewing Values, Vision, Mission And Updating If Needed
It is quite possible that the values, vision, and mission of an organization are steeped in racism and promote racist practices. This step provides an opportunity to review the values, mission, and vision to confirm that they are indeed lined up with what the organization aspires to be.
Listing The Goals And Objectives Of The Organization
Goals and objectives are far more concrete than some of the previous steps. Goals focus more broadly on what the organization hopes to accomplish and objectives are the specifics of those goals. Ideally, some of the goals created would involve being an anti-racist space that is continuously growing in its ability to be a welcoming space for all people.
Determining Key Areas And Processes/Systems To Be Improved
Once it is clear what the organization wants to accomplish, it is time to look at the mechanisms through which that will happen. This is the center of the strategic planning process. It includes mapping out the current processes for each part of the organization and determining which parts are working and which are not.
Whether it is creating a process for decision-making or deciding how board members are selected, everything plays a role in conveying to others who is who is valued at the organization and who is not. And many times the only people who are not aware of this are those who are in power. If those in power continue to make decisions based on their own experiences, then nothing will change.
Creating An Implementation Plan
To increase the likelihood that an organization will take the steps outlined in the strategic plan, many organizations create an implementation plan of who will do what and when. Ideally, the anti-racism focused tasks are not placed solely on the shoulders of people of color. In fact, it is critical that white people with power in some way lead the charge by being an example to others. And the implementation plan should also include steps for ensuring the continuation of learning about being an anti-racist organization. Anytime an individual or organization stops pushing this process, complacency will set in. For an organization to be anti-racist, there must be structures set in place that provide for ongoing learning opportunities.
Creating An Evaluation Plan
A plan should be created that clearly sets out metrics for success and how the process will be evaluated. Including voices that don’t traditionally yield power in the organization are critical to determining what should be defined as success. And those voices need to be listened to again when embarking on the actual evaluation. Collaborative conversations from all stakeholders are likely to provide the most accurate results in any attempt to evaluate the organization’s work. And then those results should be utilized in designing future organizational efforts.
Nonprofit organizations have the potential to bring about positive outcomes that benefit the entire community. However, until organizations do the work to become anti-racist, benefits from their work will be overshadowed by the harm they are doing. So many people in this country do not have a good understanding of systemic racism. And the same is true for those leading our nonprofit organizations. I remain hopeful that the current rising enthusiasm to do this work will continue to spread to the nonprofit sector and will be embraced and prioritized by a growing number of funders and by organizations.
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