What Does Getting Commitment from the Top Look Like?

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Perhaps one of most pressing questions from people who are working on best practices for diversity and inclusion is “what if we do all this work – collecting information and making recommendations for change – and nothing happens?”  For volunteers and staff who are members of diverse groups, this means, “hey, if you want me to put a lot of time and energy into this, I want some reassurance that the organization is actually going to implement the recommendations once they are made.”  There’s a fear, usually based on one’s real, lived experience, that suggestions and recommendations for change will not be heard or prioritized by organizational leadership.

And they’re right.   Sometimes that happens.  Sometimes the best laid plans are all for naught.  There’s a reason people are fearful.  Sometimes, when push comes to shove, organizational leadership deems the recommendations too difficult or time-consuming to implement.  They might say, “Why should we prioritize this issue – we need to focus on raising money.”  Or, “We have a mission and that’s our priority.”  Or even, “Isn’t this just catering to ‘fringe’ groups?”

The last thing you want to happen at your organization is for these fears to be realized.  Not only could it undermine the whole process, but it will damage your organization’s reputation on diversity and inclusion.  It will make it much tougher to successfully do this work in the future.

It’s important to set the stage early, before you do the work, to ensure commitment from each critical person whose approval will be required to move the recommendations forward once complete.  In the case of a small nonprofit organization, this means securing commitment from the board and staff, at a minimum.  It could also include key volunteers – people who will be charged with implementing action items.

Within Affirmations’ Multicultural Advisory Committee (MAC), the group had established a base trust and had identified a solid model from which to work – the Denver Foundation’s Inclusivity Project.  Once the committee laid eyes on the 300+ page guidebook, there was a pause.  No one was ready to commit to that depth of work without ensuring that the board and Executive Director would back a completed plan 150%.   This was stage two of building trust – asking the leadership of the organization for a commitment to accountability, in advance of doing the work.

It was an important step and solidly prepared the way for future work to be completed.  The Multicultural Advisory Committee (MAC) asked the Board of Directors to make a formal resolution supporting its work.  In a May 2009 meeting, the Board acted on that request, putting the resolution in writing, documenting it in the public minutes of the board record.  That resolution was then brought back to the MAC at their next meeting and presented to the full committee by the President of the Board of Directors.  This record was kept in the committee and board member files.

For groups that come together from a painful experience, this action provides a much-needed support and trust base from which to work.   This may not be the case for all organizations, and not all organizations may feel they need to gain this level of formality around their efforts, but it can also be a preventative step that protects the work from being derailed in the future.  This formality provides a measure of organizational accountability when board members or Executive Directors leave the organization and establishes a measure of expectation for their replacements.

After working diligently for two years, during which time there was  a whirlwind of change at the organization including the 10-month appointment of an interim executive director and the hiring of a new executive director, doubts arose about whether or not Affirmations should finish the work of the Multicultural Advisory Committee.  The board resolution and the Statement of Inclusiveness Principles (which will be discussed in the next blog) were the two documents that kept the work moving forward.

Read Part 6: Beyond Diversity Programs: Planting Seeds for Systemic Change

More articles on getting commitment from the top:
Expanding Diversity Requires Executive Commitment, Speakers Say.  Jeff Elder, Digits Tech News (Dec. 10, 2014)

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This is one post in a multi-part story documenting one historically white organization’s journey toward becoming racially inclusive.  The series seeks to document the challenges and successes faced along the way in an effort to provide a learning tool for other nonprofit organizations who wish to do the same.  For a complete copy of Affirmations’ “Blueprint for Change” visit www.GoAffirmations.org and click on About Us.Kathleen LaTosch at NCRC Annual Conference 2012 
 
Kathleen LaTosch is a consultant specializing in diversity and inclusion planning for nonprofit organizations.  She worked at Affirmations, Michigan’s largest LGBT organization, from 2002-2011 and served as Chief Administrative Officer from 2007-2011.  While there, she was responsible for facilitating a broad-based racial diversity and inclusion initiative.  For more information about Kathleen’s work and availability, email her at klatosch at gmail.com