Earlier this year NTEN's Tristan Penn, at right, was named Community Engagement & Equity Manager, and co-leads the DEI Taskforce.

NTEN’s DEI Taskforce: The work continues

You may have seen last week’s post about the Racial Affinity investments we made at the 2019 Nonprofit Technology Conference. That work hasn’t happened in a silo. NTEN’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Taskforce continues to meet regularly and help the organization advance our goals for creating a more just and engaged world. This post is an opportunity for us to share some of what we’ve been working on in the last seven months since the previous update.

One important update is that Tristan’s role was redefined with racial equity at the center. When Tristan came on board in the fall, his title was Community Engagement Manager. Recognizing the role that racial equity has for us as an organization and our efforts to center racial equity in our work with the community, it felt right to all of us to elevate that work in his job description and in his title. As of February, Tristan is the Community Engagement & Equity Manager, and co-leads the DEI Taskforce with Amy.

The DEI Taskforce has changed how we meet to better support our internal work styles. We meet twice each month, with one meeting serving as a tactical meeting that is only 30 minutes, and the other a 60-minute meeting with bigger discussion and exploratory agenda items. A few community members have offered agenda items, asked for information, or requested to participate. All of those options remain open all the time – you can email us at dei@nten.org to share feedback, ask questions, or coordinate to join a meeting.

Since the last update to the community, we have:

  • Revised and updated the policies included in our Equity Commitment: As a full staff, we reviewed all of the policies and evaluated how they were serving staff, community, and our mission in practice. Through this evaluation we found ways to strengthen and improve them so that they were as clear to activate as possible.
  • Evaluated Scholarships: We offer scholarships to the NTC, for our online courses and professional certificate, and for membership. Scholarships in these instances mean free access (no NTC registration costs, no course fees, and no membership dues). Acknowledging that financial barriers are not the only barriers that exist for our community and that advancing racial equity takes more than an assumption that financial barriers exist or only exist for communities of color has meant we’ve spent time as a Taskforce and with the whole staff to evaluate our current models and explore alternatives. We don’t have a new solution in place but continue to work on finding ways to broaden what a scholarship may mean and other non-”scholarship” investments we can make that help us better serve our goal of racial equity.
  • Provided intentional speaker guides: NTC presenters and our online courses faculty have speaker resources that are hosted on the NTEN website and include tips about preparing great content and engaging the audience in appropriate ways. There’s a lot in those resources that supports our Equity Commitment, and we wanted to do more. We created a one-page reminder document that included tips very specifically in support of racial equity. These tips included awareness of who was being called on to ask questions in a session, the images and case studies used in the presentation, and the language presenters use to talk about/to their content and the participants. We sent these additional resources to NTC speakers via email and printed them as reminders in every session room at the conference.
  • Updated NTC evaluations: The sessions evaluations at the NTC are an important way for us to hear feedback that participants don’t share with staff since there are so many sessions and some feedback is more likely to be shared anonymously. In the past, session evaluations were as simple as they could be in the hopes of getting the highest number of responses. That meant that unless folks thought to mention something in the one comment box provided, there wasn’t a consistent feedback loop around the way sessions/presenters may support our expectations around diversity, equity, and inclusion. This year, we made the session evaluation slightly longer and included a question specifically about the way the presenters created an inclusive space. Asking this question in this way resulted in lots of great feedback from attendees (1,296 ratings and 362 comments specifically on this question in the session surveys) that will help individual presenters learn and improve, and help us understand how to continue building resources to guide them.
  • Brought in racial equity facilitators: There’s only so much work we can do by ourselves without running into our own biases. To keep us moving forward, we hired trainers from ResolutionsNW to lead staff, board, and our Digital Inclusion Fellows in racial equity sessions. These sessions were separate for each group and based on the work and context appropriate to their roles with the organization. These sessions were grounding and transformative at the same time. We plan to continue partnering with the ResolutionsNW team and others to ensure we have perspectives that aren’t ours, and are challenged to see our own biases and dominant structures.
  • Developed a communication response scan: This set of questions will help any and all staff evaluate a situation – whether something in the news or an announcement they see on Twitter, etc. – to understand if and when the organization may respond, how to look for community members to listen to and amplify messages from, and on which channels.

DEI resource selections from NTEN staff

One outcome from our intentionality with and investments in racial equity is the visible diversity of the NTC’s main stage. We heard from many attendees that seeing so many people of color on the stage – presenting and receiving awards – made a difference for how they saw the community and how they saw themselves in it. To make our learning a shared process, here are some of the books, newsletters, and other resources that NTEN staff have been engaging with recently:


Online courses

  • Layla Saad’s Parenting & White Supremacy course
  • Layla Saad’s Dismantling Feminism course


Future plans

Outside of the taskforce, the full staff and board have been working to evaluate our membership model and are preparing to make some important changes to how our membership is structured inline with our racial equity and DEI work. Right now, we are in the process of conducting community interviews to gather additional feedback and perspectives on the proposed model. If you would like to be included in that process and share feedback with us about membership, we encourage you to let us know right away (you can email amy@nten.org and she will get you scheduled with the appropriate staff member). We will share more publicly after the community interview process is concluded and we have integrated that feedback into the plan.

We’re very excited to hear from many of our community members reaching out to us for guidance/help/support regarding their own personal or organization DEI journey; we are still learning as well and we are happy to provide our insights from our personal and organizational DEI journeys to help assist in theirs. The response has been overwhelmingly inspiring.

Looking ahead, the taskforce has a number of projects underway or planned, including:

        • Investment in hiring and onboarding: This is something we spend a good deal of time reflecting on, discussing, and making changes to. We are hiring right now so will be putting some of the latest improvements into place and reflecting with new hires on the process to continually improve.
        • Vendor contracting: With another NTC ahead we have many more opportunities to live the policy and continue to strengthen it when we partner and contract with sponsors, vendors, and exhibitors.
        • Community survey + demographic data: For a number of years NTEN conducted a community survey every year. We stopped doing it a couple of years ago because we discovered that we had other ways of asking the questions it included. But, we’ve found ourselves wishing we still had the annual check in with the community on new and different topics. We are working to create a new community survey that helps us hear from community members who we may otherwise not have talked to and to better understand the demographics of the community serve. Without taking the time and courage to actually ask questions about demographics, including race, ethnicity, gender identity, and even professional challenges, we can’t hold ourselves to our own equity commitment and improve.
        • Speaker selection and support: Since the next NTC session submission process will open in a few months, we are working on updates to both the session submission form as well as the speaker guidelines. Feedback from attendees and speakers at the recent 19NTC are helping to inform these changes as well.

We hope this summary is effective in providing insight into the conversations, topics, and changes going on inside the taskforce and NTEN as a whole. If you have questions, ideas, requests for topics for us to explore, or the desire to join a meeting with us, we welcome it – please email dei@nten.org any time!

Amy Sample Ward
Driven by a belief that the nonprofit technology community can be a movement-based force for positive change, Amy is NTEN’s CEO and former membership director. Her prior experience in direct service, policy, philanthropy, and capacity-building organizations has also fueled her aspirations to create meaningful, inclusive, and compassionate community engagement and educational opportunities for all organizations. Amy inspires the NTEN team and partners around the world to believe in community-generated change. She believes technology can help nonprofits reach their missions more effectively, efficiently, and inclusively, and she’s interested in everything from digital equity to social innovation.