March 1, 2018

Making our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion real

A case study in creating a statement and policies

In 2017, NTEN revised our Vision and Mission to read as follows:

We envision a more just and engaged world where all nonprofits use technology skillfully and confidently to meet community needs and fulfill their missions.

We support organizations by convening the nonprofit community, offering professional credentials and training, and facilitating an open exchange of ideas.

One critical piece that we added was the word “just.” As a capacity building organization, we want to be clear that our work is not only to teach and build skills for nonprofit staff. It is to teach and build skills so that nonprofit staff are better able to effectively, efficiently, and rapidly make real change and meet their missions. We want a better world and we know that nonprofits are out there helping reach it, but they need our help to do the best they can. And we know that access to technology tools and the internet, and the skills to use them to reach goals, is a social justice issue.

In tandem with updating our Vision and Mission, we also created a new set of Values. NTEN staff and board (and, we hope, community) have worked to build systems and processes that regularly ask if we are working in line with our Values. We found, though, that the values listed on the website were no longer serving our goals or our community, and we were regularly redefining what they meant to keep them relevant. The new Values were created with contributions by all staff and were immediately put into place helping guide decisions and influence our work.

This foundational work was important for NTEN to prioritize. It did not, however, fully address all areas of commitment. Since I joined NTEN, we have had definitions and shared understanding around our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion especially as presented publicly with our scholarships, speaker guidelines, and other recruitment and selection criteria for contributors. But without more explicit and public comments on those topics, staff were consistently challenged to justify or explain decisions that felt good internally but lacked policy and public understanding.

So, in 2017, we also started this very important work around diversity, equity, and inclusion. And, inline with our Values, we want to hold ourselves accountable to you, our community, and both document our process and ask you to join us on this journey.

How we worked

We expected this work to engage all staff, but also knew that like all of our other projects, teams, and committees, we needed to have a smaller group of staff serve as the core project team who would meet more regularly, carry the work forward, and bring in the rest of the staff (and board and community) as appropriate. Our team included staff from across the organization: Ash, Bethany, Erin, Leana, Pattie, and me. It was important to me that this work be clearly prioritized by all staff and to set that tone as the CEO, I wanted to be part of the work.

As a first step in the process, we created a list of scenarios that had prompted this work and to root us in real examples from our community to guide our expectations. Those use cases included: being able to publicly communicate clear information when providing scholarships, especially those that are reserved as “diversity scholarships;” recruiting and identifying authors and other contributors; and our practices of engaging the community.

In hand with this first grounding step, we also recognized and admitted to ourselves that moving forward with this work would mean we would make mistakes, big and small, but that our commitment to the work and to moving forward was more important than a fear of failure.

We reviewed public statements and policies from other nonprofits and associations, and talked to organizations about the process they used to start and continue all kinds of equity work. Recognizing the budgetary and capacity restraints we had, we decided to prioritize this work without using outside consultants and with an emphasis on establishing foundations for continued work. We would not complete this work in 2017 or truly ever. But we needed to start in earnest.

The committee met every other week and we regularly brought updates, ideas for feedback, and draft language to the rest of the staff in all-staff meetings. The NTEN board has two in-person meetings each year, and draft content as well as information about the goals and continued work was brought to the board in their November retreat. The board discussion resulted in two board members volunteering to join the staff committee as advisors in the short term and to continue on in that role. We also engaged NTEN’s various committees, volunteer organizers, faculty, and board committee for more diverse feedback and engagement.

What we are sharing today

What we have now feels both like a significant piece of work and only a small movement in the direction we want to go. As I said, this was, in our opinion, the final foundational piece we needed as an organization so our Vision, Mission, and Values could work in concert with a clear and public commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. To operationalize this commitment, we also created policy statements to guide our decisions and make clear our intentions with working with various groups in our community.

We do not believe in empty statements. This Commitment is made public so that we can hold ourselves accountable and so you, our community, can join us in that accountability and we can continue to improve. To support that continuous improvement, the committee will continue to meet. We have more on our work plan and will continue to bring that work to the rest of the staff, to the board, and to you as our community. We hope that you will also contribute to our committee agenda. If there are issues, ideas, experiences, or anything else that you’d like to discuss with us or have us discuss, we would love to prioritize your suggestions. You do not have to join the meeting but you can reach any of us at any time with your comments or you can submit anonymous feedback by using this online form.

Thank you to everyone who has contributed to this work: all of the NTEN staff, board members, committee members, faculty, organizers, and other advisors. And thank you to our community for leading us, guiding us, and holding us to meet our own expectations and yours.

We will not transform into the organization we envision overnight. But we believe this journey is critically important. We will continue to move forward so we can better be part of the world we want to see and meet our own vision of a more just and engaged world.

What’s next?

Now that we have our articulated Commitment and the associated policies in place, we have identified the next work we want to do and also anticipate work emerging that we have not thought of. As we make our work more public and start actively seeking input and feedback, we know that the community may also identify work that we need to prioritize.

On our near-term agenda for the committee already is the creation of guides and questions that staff and committees can use to make the Commitment and the policies more tactical and practical for everyday decision making and integration into regular processes, including recruiting and selecting content contributors (authors, speakers, etc.). We will similarly review and refine the NTC session submission process and guidelines so that when session submissions for the 2019 Nonprofit Technology Conference open this summer, you will see the impact of this Commitment helping steer a more inclusive and equitable process that includes even more diverse voices.

We welcome your feedback, ideas, input, and examples from your work—anything that can keep us moving in the right direction.

Amy Sample Ward
Amy is dedicated to educating and supporting organizations in using technology to create meaningful community engagement and make lasting change. Whether it is by connecting individuals, organizations, campaigns, or possibilities, Amy hopes to facilitate the nonprofit technology sector transitioning into a movement-based force for positive change. In addition to serving as NTEN’s CEO, she is a speaker, author, and trainer having worked with groups and spoken at events around the world. In 2013, she co-authored Social Change Anytime Everywhere: How to implement online multichannel strategies to spark advocacy, raise money, and engage your community with Allyson Kapin. She previously co-authored Social by Social, a handbook in using social technologies for social impact, and has contributed to various other publications about social change and technology. After opportunities to live and travel around the US and beyond, she is happy to be back in her native state of Oregon. Offline, Amy is hiking, biking, or exploring with her husband, son, and dog, with a preference for Oregon’s coast or wine country.