Tag: diversity

Tomorrow the Supreme Court will hear arguments that call into question the strength and breadth of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The question before the court is simple. Is it legal to fire an employee because they are gay or transgender?

Twenty-one states, as well as Guam, Puerto Rico, and Washington D.C.,  have laws that further specify the protections related to Title VII by articulating a definition that includes sexual orientation and/or gender identity. That’s good, but that’s less than half of the 50 states. This means roughly 44% of the LGBTQIA population in the U.S. relies on the federal Title VII definition for employment protections. Without the Supreme Court deciding otherwise, Title VII can include these broader and realistic definitions.

NTEN’s office is in Portland, Oregon, a state with explicit workplace protections. That’s important to me personally as a queer CEO. It means NTEN’s board can’t fire me for joining an LGBTQIA kickball league. That sounds like a ridiculous reason to fire someone, yet one of the plaintiffs in a case before the court claims joining a gay softball league was the reason he was fired for “conduct unbecoming of a county employee” instead of the reasons he was given.

NTEN has several employees who work from their homes in other parts of the country. Not all of those staff live in states with the same protections as Oregon. We have employee handbook policies and an organizational culture that reassures staff that discrimination will not be tolerated. Unfortunately, the government where they live can’t say the same thing. (You can easily research your state’s protections from Movement Advancement Project.)

For a sector focused on providing services to diverse communities, advancing policies that enfranchise and invest in our communities, and creating a better world, there is no option but to demand these protections. Title VII impacts everyone in the sector, even if you do not identify as LGBTQIA. We can’t meet missions, design effective programs, serve community members and create that better world if we don’t have inclusive and diverse teams. And we can’t have those teams without policies that ensure everyone at your organization has equal protections under the law.

This year alone, we’ve seen the dismantling of protections for trans folks and hate crimes against LGBTQIA people. When we acknowledge race in this conversation, we see the impact on LGBTQIA folks of color is disproportionately higher. It is not surprising to see these cases being heard now, but it is disheartening. Being vocal is needed, and it matters. Here’s how you can help:

Check-in on yourself and your staff. Don’t assume that you know the sexual, gender, or trans identity of your employees unless they’ve told you. The way these hearings, and the news coverage of them, could be impacting your staff is as diverse as they are. Having space to talk about it, or not be in the office even, may be necessary.

Start conversations in your organization, your family, and your community about the need for these protections. If you identify as cisgender and straight, then your voice especially matters. Those most affected by these laws should not be the only ones speaking up about them.

Learn more. 

For members of the LGBTQ+ community, the current political climate has been turbulent. Now more than ever, the community has taken to the internet to make and encourage change in the world. Nonprofits play an essential role in supporting LGBTQ+ communities through advocacy and resources to effect social change. There is a huge opportunity for nonprofits to use their non-partisan positioning to support this community and others that are stigmatized through their content and interactions.

Here are six best practices for digital content and collecting feedback to make sure your spaces are more inclusive, especially when working with stigmatized audiences.

Digital Content

Make it a necessity to collaborate with members of the community you want to reach. Collaboration not only ensures that your organization has the support of the community, but it also means that your organization has verified knowledge about the community. Having this information can mean a lot for the comfort of your audiences, and makes it clear that you aren’t targeting this population for your own gains.

An excellent solution for this is to make sure that your organization is incredibly diverse. There has been plenty of research done that proves diversity makes a team smarter and stronger. It could also make it easier to connect with difficult-to-reach communities.

If you’re looking to reach a community that no one on your team is personally involved with, you should strive to connect with advocacy groups for that group. Be prepared to explain what you’re doing exactly and why you’re doing it. Make sure you want to reach this community for the right reasons. If anyone feels like you’re trying to tokenize a specific population, chances are they won’t want to help you. Being prepared and able to speak clearly about your goals will allow advocacy groups to vouch for you and your work.

Avoid stigmatizing language and labeling. You aren’t trying to ‘other’ any population. You’re working to bring everyone into the conversation and normalize their existence. Make sure that the language you’re using doesn’t have a negative history. While some LGBTQ+ people use the word ‘queer’ in their personal vernacular when speaking with others from the community, it’s understood that there is a significant and negative history around the word, so it’s a word to avoid when working with the LGBTQ+ population.

Avoid adding unnecessary descriptors. Sometimes, in an effort to be inclusive, organizations will call out groups that don’t need special attention. A website with medical information, for instance, might have a section labeled LGBTQ+ Health. While this doesn’t necessarily seem problematic, it adds an exclusionary tone and asserts that folx in the LGBTQ+ community have to worry about their health separately from everyone else. Creating these lines of separation between the health needs of audiences creates an assumption that LGBTQ+ folx have “other” health issues they need to worry about, which typically isn’t the case. All people have bodies and health concerns; there is no need to distinguish between healthcare and LGBTQ+ healthcare.

Content that is specific to LGBTQ+ folx in some way (i.e., hormone replacement therapy or gender-affirming surgeries) can have relevant metadata to make sure it appears in a search, rather than using explicit labeling that creates dividing lines between populations.

Recently, Apple announced its new menstrual cycle monitoring in its WatchOS update. Apple did a great job using inclusive language in its announcement. Without stating it outright, the company acknowledged that women aren’t the only people who experience menstrual cycles. Nowhere on its site does it say that this feature is for women; the language (“Gaining insight into your menstrual cycle,” for example) is incredibly inclusive. Apple mirrors this language across all of its content, and in doing so is continuing its inclusivity without making a big deal out of it. You don’t have to announce inclusivity for it to be noticed and impactful.

Find unbiased ways to address people. It’s important to neutralize how you talk about and to people. Instead of using gendered pronouns or phrases like “he” or “she” use a neutral pronoun like “they.” If you want to take it a step further, you can avoid pronouns altogether and use descriptive phrases, like “the participant,” “the external stakeholder,” or “the sales-clerk.” And then there’s the most neutral descriptor: to use someone’s name.

When addressing a group of people, it’s good practice to stay away from saying things like “ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls” or “you guys.” Take a page out New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s book and try saying, “Attention, everyone …” This neutralizes the language and truly addresses all people. In more casual settings, you can say things such as “friends,” “y’ all,” or “people” instead of “guys.” Use of this language is habitual, and shifting your mindset will take time, but people will recognize the effort and appreciate it. This practice of neutralizing language should be mirrored in your company culture and in your personal life. The phrases “practice what you preach” and “practice makes perfect” apply here.

Collecting Feedback

Be inclusive when collecting survey feedback to gain an accurate representation of your audience. If you want a true understanding of all your audiences and external stakeholders, you need to open up to genders that fall outside of cis-normative culture. Only using “Male,” “Female,” and “Other” will turn away potential participants who don’t feel welcomed into a survey based on the limited options. This common oversight means you aren’t getting an understanding of your entire audience. In surveys and screeners, offer the following options:

  1. Male
  2. Female
  3. Non-Binary/Third Gender
  4. Prefer Not to Answer
  5. Another Option We Haven’t Thought Of: ____________________(open this field to allow participants to include their own gender option. Thanks to Lynn Boyden for this suggestion.)

Most survey platforms don’t allow you to change the word “Other” to something more inclusive, so it’s incredibly important to make sure that field is open to allow participants to insert their desired gender option.

You can also allow participants to select their pronoun instead of gender, although that does assume that everyone knows what a pronoun is.

When collecting face-to-face feedback, make sure your participants feel comfortable with the moderator. People who belong to stigmatized audiences sometimes need additional assurance that they will be safe in new situations. When collecting face-to-face feedback, it is crucial to make sure that the participant doesn’t feel uncomfortable, as this could lead to biased or inaccurate responses. For example, trans people may not feel comfortable talking about transition-related topics with a cisgender person, no matter how much of an ally they claim or want to be. This type of mindset applies to any stigmatized, underserved, or difficult to reach population.

Another example would be women who have survived domestic violence. They may not feel comfortable talking to someone who resembles their abuser. You should gather this information in a screener beforehand to make sure that when it comes time to conduct feedback sessions, you are prepared to speak with them in the most empathetic way possible. Ask screener questions like, “Our researcher identifies as male; would you feel comfortable speaking about this sensitive topic with a male-presenting person?” or “Our researcher is cisgender, would you be comfortable discussing transition-related topics with a cisgender person?”

As for many stigmatized populations, the internet has historically been a safe space for the LGBTQ+ community. If we all make these small but impactful changes in our organizations, we can make sure that the digital world continues to feel safe and welcoming to everyone. With this knowledge, we hope that organizations everywhere can make these necessary and important changes in language and practice, which will, in turn, encourage these changes in the “real world.”

Are you passionate about diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) with a focus on racial equity? Are you doing DEI work in your organization or community? Do you have lived experiences that inform the changes you want to see in the NTEN community and the world? Then we’d love to have you join our new DEI Committee!

DEI has played a vital part in NTEN’s evolution over recent years. Additionally, our commitment to equity has been crucial to how staff and community meet our mission. Community members have provided valuable feedback on our DEI work, and this new committee formalizes the feedback process.

NTEN’s internal DEI task force will work with the committee in quarterly virtual meetings. The first meeting will decide how the task force and committee will work together and share updates to the community.

At NTEN, it’s incredibly important to us that the community we serve is an active part of our work. Because we value inclusivity and centering members in our decisions, we’re excited to introduce this new forum for discussion.

The call for community members to join this committee is closed; however, if you’re interested in learning more about NTEN’s DEI work, please email me.

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!

At last month’s 2019 Nonprofit Technology Conference, we included Racial Affinity spaces specifically for attendees of color to connect and communicate together. This was the first time we designed spaces for racial affinity within our conference and we learned a lot in the process. We have also received a number of requests to share how we planned it.

There are many organizations that have done far more than NTEN with regards to investing in and building space for racial equity — this is not a blog post to claim we are leaders, but to share our process in our continued practice of learning.


As a foundation for decisions big and small at NTEN, we have our mission and vision, our values, and our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Specifically, our understanding of and commitment to equity acknowledges racial inequity as the base and basis for all equity work. We focus a great deal on accessibility, in many forms, at the NTC. Recognizing and honoring our commitment to racial equity requires us to find ways to include goals related to investing in and supporting attendees of color as well.

After the 2018 NTC, we had a few attendees of color who shared feedback with us about harmful experiences they had during our event. None of those experiences were, unfortunately, things they hadn’t experienced before or even regularly. But the frequency of microaggressions, white dominant culture behavior, and inequitable access to professional development doesn’t negate the potential to diminish and eliminate those things with intentional planning and action. We started having frequent conversations with those folks, as well as engaging a number of other community members of color of varying identities as well as experience levels with NTEN and the NTC.

This group of a dozen or so individuals provided feedback to NTEN at least three different times, each time we would share an update on our thinking and plans, listen deeply to their feedback including questions and concerns, and then we would integrate their feedback and update our plans before another round of sharing. This iterative approach worked for us because it dispelled the common, white dominant notion that an organization can have a meeting and plan something and have it be “finished” or “right”. It also allowed us to test our plans and the communication around them ahead of more public sharing to ensure we were providing information in a clear way to the community. It also, obviously, helped us evaluate our plans through the perspective of actual participants (which is inherently different than the biases or assumptions we make as organizers).

The plan

We recruited a team of four facilitators that had different racial identities and had a comfort facilitating conversations about race, white supremacy, and nonprofits. The recruitment of facilitators was not an open process but included direct conversations and invitations with community members that we already knew through a combination of the community feedback process, NTEN programs, and personal networks. The facilitator team included: Lindsey Watchman, Melissa Chavez, Raj Aggarwal, and Vanice Dunn.

The facilitators understood that this was not a general education session like the rest of the agenda, and that the space would be clearly labeled as a session only for attendees of color. There was no pre-set agenda or presentations, and they were there to support the flow of conversation, any smaller group discussions, or other format that attendees who joined the space wanted. They were essentially available as needed in the room.

It was important to us that we recruit and confirm the facilitator team before we went too far forward with our plans or our public communication about them because it was important to us that folks leading/facilitating the space/s have a chance to inform the plans before they were finalized. Once at least some of the facilitators were confirmed, we shared the plans and made additional refinements from their feedback.

We held one of the session rooms in the first breakout session time as a racial affinity space. Yes, this meant it was in competition against other sessions (the educational sessions we know many attendees come to learn from) but the overwhelming feedback from community members was that putting the RA space outside of session times meant it was a burden and barrier on attendees of color – making it a competition with lunch, networking, access to exhibitors, or with personal time.

We also reserved one session room on the final day of the conference but did not promote it in advance. Instead, we wanted to reserve it in our logistic plans but wait to see if it was of value to the community. The facilitators knew that it was available and would offer it as additional space as desired by attendees.


Plans for 19NTC were communicated publicly in a few ways. First, we added a page to the 19NTC website specific to Racial Affinity at the NTC. This page outlined our reasons for making direct plans to racial affinity at the NTC, resources for folks who wanted to learn more about racial affinity spaces specifically or racial equity generally, information about the specifics of what would be offered at the NTC, and ways to communicate with us (both directly and anonymously).

Next, we sent a direct email to all registered attendees that provided a short version of some what was on the website, including some explanation of the importance of the RA space, link to the page for resources, basic plans, and two buttons: one to indicate that the reader was an attendee of color planning to join the session (so we could get an early estimate of attendee numbers), and the other directed attendees of color to a short survey to get input on potential space logistics, anticipated topics of conversation, and other ways NTEN could support their participation. The feedback from this survey was shared with the full facilitator team and informed their plans for facilitating content and conversation in the space.

Information about the session was included in the online conference agenda as well as in the conference app, just like all of the general education sessions, so people could see the room location, see who the facilitators were in advance, and easily review the reminders that this was a facilitated session and not an educational session, that the facilitators were available to support attendees but would not be making presentations, and that it was exclusively for attendees of color.

We also tweeted about the plans and linked to them in other attendee emails.

We received several messages — a mix of direct and anonymous — expressing their anger at our plans. We anticipated that some folks wouldn’t like this explicit investment in attendees of color — it can be uncomfortable for folks who have never had to think or talk about race to have it presented so prominently. Our feedback and stance on their push back was to redirect them to the information we already provided on the website about why we were doing this and to the resources listed there for further learning and reflection. Layla Saad’s Me and White Supremacy – The Workbook is a tremendous resource that we recommended to attendees and encourage anyone embracing racial equity work — at an individual, organizational, or systems level — to use.


We had roughly the number of attendees join the session as we anticipated based on the pre-conference email poll. There was one attendee who seemed to miss the information that it was an affinity space only for attendees of color but they removed themselves once that was made clear. At the end of the session, attendees and facilitators confirmed they wanted to use the additional space we had reserved, so we added it publicly to the agenda and app (and announced the addition from the stage). There were some folks from the first session who attended again on the final day, but it also meant that new folks were able to join who couldn’t previously.

Learnings and future plans

Process: In debriefing the full process as a team (as staff and with the facilitators), we felt really happy about how it went for the first time doing something like this. Not everything was perfect, as nothing ever is.

We saw throughout and after places where we could have done small things differently. Mostly, this was timing and planning. Nothing happens in a vacuum, and we came to realize that we would have had to pause the general conference planning to “figure everything out” first. The successes we had were due instead to our commitment to a process: that racial equity in general is a process, that there would be no “final” plan as we were constantly in communication with the community about how to make it what was needed, and that we anticipated challenges or mistakes, so any that came up felt expected.

Community: None of this would have been possible or successful without an engaged community that was willing to share feedback with us and co-create something together. We are so appreciative of the community members who gave so freely of their time, energy, and experience to support us in putting resources into a racial affinity space, including folks who were not even at the NTC this year! There’s really no way to imagine successfully investing in racial affinity spaces of any format (or racial equity work at all) without doing it in deep collaboration with the community. We are still in conversation with those folks — and even more — to keep our planning centered around them.

Facilitators: We found it valuable to have facilitators onboard early and will do the same in the future. Along with that, we found that having a facilitator team in the room was valuable because it took the pressure off attendees to participate in dual roles when the purpose of the space was to enable them to connect with others (and not be mediating the space for others). Of course, not having a set agenda meant some folks found it to be great and other attendees wanted more structure. This is something we’ve debriefed with the facilitator team about to inform planning for the future.

Communication: Our use of various channels — website, email, social media, etc. — helped us reach people and offer clear ways for folks to offer feedback. Next year, we can have it listed in the agenda as soon as that portion of the website goes live in the fall so it is visible to folks evaluating their decision to attend.

Space Logistics: Thanks to feedback from participants this year, we are considering what it would mean to have the RA space be a resource onsite like our prayer and meditation room, quiet room, or even the lactation room — all spaces attendees use to form community, with connections that we know lasts beyond the conference. Removing it from the agenda would mean that attendees would either need to opt out of a session (already the expectation if it is in the agenda as a competing session) or opt out of other networking or personal time to join, but it would come with the benefits of not having time-specific boundaries, providing multiple ways for folks to use the space, and offer an as-needed/in-the-moment outlet for community.

What’s next

Planning for 20NTC is already underway. We have a number of folks who we have heard from and that we know want to be part of the planning conversations for next year, and we are so grateful for their support and input! If you would like to be part of that group or otherwise want to connect about racial affinity at the NTC, please let us know.

Additionally, if you were at 19NTC and an attendee of color that was not able or chose not to participate in the racial affinity sessions, we’d also love the opportunity to talk to you and hear your experience.

If you have thoughts, experience, or feedback about running an RA space at your events or through your work, we’d love to hear from and learn from you. If you’re open to sharing your reflections and ideas, or want to discuss our process in more detail, we are happy to set up time to connect.

For any of these things or for additional feedback, you can reach us any time at dei@nten.org.

We’ve heard from numerous partners and individuals within the NTEN community interested in learning more about our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. As our CEO Amy Sample Ward noted here, “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.”

If your organization is preparing to take similar steps, here’s a helpful outline below for planning and structuring your workplace goals.

This article was originally published by The Management Center. It is republished here with permission.

Goals are a concrete way to drive results, but how can you be sure to do it equitably? Introducing… SMARTIE goals! Adding an equity and inclusion component (that’s the IE part!) to your SMART goals is like putting avocado on a sandwich—come for the health benefits, stay for the life-changing impact (and don’t ever go without it again)!

For a goal to be effective in driving an organization’s performance, it needs to be:

Strategic – It reflects an important dimension of what your organization seeks to accomplish (programmatic or capacity-building priorities).
Measurable – It includes standards by which reasonable people can agree on whether the goal has been met (by numbers or defined qualities).
Ambitious – It’s challenging enough that achievement would mean significant progress; a “stretch” for the organization.
Realistic – It’s not so challenging as to indicate lack of thought about resources or execution; possible to track and worth the time and energy to do so.
Time-bound – It includes a clear deadline.
Inclusive – It brings traditionally marginalized people—particularly those most impacted—into processes, activities, and decision/policy-making in a way that shares power.
Equitable – It includes an element of fairness or justice that seeks to address systemic injustice, inequity, or oppression.

Here’s an example of a SMART goal turned SMARTIE:




By incorporating IE into your goals, you can make sure that your organization’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion is anchored by tangible and actionable steps. There’s a fine line between inclusion and tokenism. What’s the difference? Power. In most cases, it’s not enough to tack on “…and x number of volunteers/new hires/spokespeople should be people of color” unless the people you’re trying to include will be able to influence the work in a meaningful way.

SMARTIE goals are about including marginalized communities in a way that shares power, shrinks disparities, and leads to more equitable outcomes.

Want to get started? Download this SMARTIE goals worksheet.

As we shared back in March, a group of NTEN staff meet regularly as a diversity, equity, and inclusion taskforce. The work of this taskforce is to identify opportunities to make changes and implement them, big or small, to get us ever closer to living our values and DEI commitment. It is important to us that we are accountable to you all—our community—in this work. And to support that accountability, we want to provide some transparency into both the process of this work and the outputs.

The taskforce has been busy! We meet twice a month and have adjusted our meetings to have one long (60 minutes) meeting for new topics and discussion and one short (30 minutes) meeting for updates and final decisions. This has already proven to be a valuable change for our working styles and gives us time to dig deep into topics, identify work to be done outside of the meeting, and be accountable by reconvening to review and approve the work and next steps.

We’ve had some valuable conversations both as a taskforce and as a full team that haven’t resulted in tangible outputs yet but will continue to shape and inform our thinking and decisions to come.

These include conversations about feedback from community members illustrating the relative ease we have had at publicly championing conversations and actions around gender—and the challenges we’ve had in identifying or leading in similar ways around race. We aren’t, for example, going to put ribbons out at our conference and ask people to identify their race the way we do with pronoun ribbons. But we are committed to finding more ways to elevate racial equity.

Here’s a recap of some of the specific decisions and actions that have come from this work:

  • For a few years now, we have included pronoun ribbons for attendees at our annual conference, provided all gender restrooms, and so on. But we had not taken the important step to make some of those actions visible as staff year round. We now have a pronoun page on the website with information and links to resources. Staff are encouraged to include pronouns (and a link to that page) in their email and online community signatures..
  • Our DEI Commitment and associated policies guided us in identifying more opportunities to make our NTC session proposal, submission, and voting process more inclusive. It also informed the process we used for recruiting and selecting this year’s Session Advisory Committee. We received 785 total session submissions this year, over 200 more submissions than last year!
  • To be more transparent about the benefits we provide to staff, support potential job applicants in knowing whether working here would meet their needs and goals, and model our belief that all organizations should make their benefits public, we created a Working at NTEN page on our website.
  • We updated our Code of Conduct based on the DEI Commitment, to be consistent across these documents about the ways we reference diversity and make clear our community engagement expectations.
  • All of our Nonprofit Tech Club and online group organizer charters now include the DEI Commitment and the relevant policies.
  • Staff are better positioned to communicate our policy about participating in panels or events only if they are diverse—which has been a practice for longer than our stated policy—by now having the policy publicly listed on our website.
  • The NTEN Job Board now provides information about why including a salary range is important. This is a first-step measure to start educating job posters about this topic, recognizing that many of people posting the jobs are not necessarily the ones to make the decision about including that information. Our hope is that we can equip them with the right information to change their own internal practice around including salaries in job postings, and that we eventually change our job submission form to require a salary be listed.
  • In the past, we provided 10 paid holidays each year (in addition to paid time off) but the dates of those holidays were decided to match the federal calendar. Telling staff that they need to take December 25 off, whether that day has any significance to them or not, and that other days in December were not an equivalent holiday, was not aligned with our values nor our Commitment. Staff now have 10 holidays they can take each year (still in addition to PTO) but they are entirely flexible and can be used on any day of the year.

Some of the topics coming up in the next month or two for the taskforce include:

  • Continue working to normalize the use of pronouns in public ways like on the staff page, board page, in the online community, and in presentations.
  • We gathered great feedback from staff at our summer all-staff planning meetings about the policies included in the DEI commitment now that they had been in use for a few months. We will use that feedback to make edits and additions.
  • Outside of the taskforce, we are forming an Accessibility Committee for the NTC. Applications will be accepted until September, 28. The taskforce will support the committee and looks forward to learning from them, too.

Community members are welcome and invited to bring questions, concerns, feedback, or ideas to us anytime, and are invited to attend a meeting whether you want to add something to the agenda or not. You can contact us by phone (503-272-8800) or email (community@nten.org) at any time, or you can submit anonymous feedback by using this online form.

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, in line 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.

Recently, I had the unpleasant experience of being turned down for a job interview. I overheard the interviewer tell a colleague that I lost out on the interview because he objected to the sound of my name. Undeterred, I went to a competitor of theirs and was successful in getting an interview there.

We all have our own ideas of what diversity means; but why is it so valuable to have diverse teams within our organizations? What kind of value does a diverse colleague contribute when working on a team? While there is much research out there that supports the value of diversity, and why it should be embraced, I decided to interview Cheryl Yanek and Adrienne Smith, members of the Information Technology Division I lead at the Special Libraries Association, to get their thoughts on diversity.

What is your definition of diversity? 
Cheryl Yanek: Diversity is including everyone as part of the table, including race, ethnicity, age, sex, sexual orientation, religion, marital/parental status, age, gender identity, nationality, and more. It helps with recruitment, retention, engagement. Diversity just makes sense all around.

Why is diversity important?
Adrienne Smith: Diversity is important for organizations with missions that depend on or cater to diverse consumers. Unless your target demographic is extremely narrow, it makes sense to enlist a diversity of employees in order to best represent and meet your consumers’ needs.

How do you work with your organization to reach their diversity goals?
Adrienne: Our team’s core responsibilities combined very disparate skill sets—information retrieval, linguistics (both traditional and computational), project management, and customer service. Therefore, we made an effort to recruit across academic disciplines and used the 80/20 rule, meaning that we acknowledged no one candidate would have all the desired qualities, but someone with 80% could be trained to get the remaining 20%.

How can organizations get their diverse employees to stay?
Cheryl: One problem a lot of organizations have is that they hire lots of diverse candidates, but the people don’t stay. Why? It often has to do with culture. Is it an up-or-out culture? Is the culture not very inclusive to working parents? Is there a lack of diverse role models at the top? Ask people WHAT they want, and be prepared for some brutally frank answers. That’s the only way to change things.

What advice do you have for management or organizational leaders who are interested in building both a both a diverse and inclusive team?
Adrienne: Building a diverse team requires, to an extent, disregarding the traditional recruitment handbook by paying attention to how strictly you rely on requirements for a position. If you’re overly focused on this academic degree or that professional experience, it’s easy to overlook a candidate who doesn’t necessarily check all your boxes but would bring a new perspective to your team. While it sounds cliché, it’s valid to try and think outside of the box in your diversity efforts.

Another strategy is to conduct group interviews with your team. This allows you to compare how similar or different team members are to one another, and potentially to see where new perspectives can spark a productive discussion and new ideas. If your team is composed of essentially the same type of person, it’s very easy to have groupthink and stalled innovation, versus a team that is not afraid to disagree and debate the merits of different approaches. Look for candidates who come to the table with both questions (“Why are things done this way? Have you considered this? What about trying that?”) and are not immediately dissuaded; this can indicate that a new team member will represent a diverse opinion that can make the group stronger.”

For those who are looking for more information on how they can help build their organization’s own diversity and make it a more inclusive environment, check out these resources:

Employers who shun diversity may find that diverse talent will instead work with and strengthen your competitors. What are you doing to advance diversity in your own organization?

English, as the mother tongue of all things digital, has filtered into most of the world’s vocabularies by default. Purists all around have tried in vain to steer the masses towards their own languages when talking about the newest gadget, but little can be done against the overwhelming velocity of new technology. This, however, hasn’t diminished people’s preference for their own language when it comes to communicating online. The truth is, if what we want is to prompt some behavior on the web, the safest bet we can make is to talk to people in their first or native language.

“Can’t Read, Won’t Buy”

In their 2006 survey titled “Can’t Read, Won’t Buy: Why Language Matters on Global Websites,” Massachusetts-based market research company, Common Sense Advisory, found that people are overwhelmingly inclined to buy products if the website, and product description, is in their own language. A 2014 version of the same survey had similar conclusions. In these surveys, with over 3,000 participants from over 10 countries with different languages, a strong majority of respondents (75% in 2014) said they were more inclined to buy products in their native language. A significant amount also revealed they rarely ever bought from English-only websites.

This research may only explore buying preferences, but there is no reason for these findings not to apply to any other behavior or preference, particularly in the age of information. This is certainly not limited to convenience. There is an element of familiarity and reliability to a product, person, or institution trying to facilitate others’ understanding of what’s being sold, done, or needed. Efforts like adding language preferences to your website or app or using your constituency’s common tongue for outreach or recruiting build trust and loyalty.


In some instances, however, there is such thing as trying too hard. The term Hispandering popped up more than any other time before at the start of the 2016 election cycle. With this combination of the words “Hispanic” and “pandering,” some presidential pre-candidates of both parties faced criticism for trying to appeal to Hispanic voters not simply by using Spanish to deliver their message, but for trying to relate to Hispanic communities and their experiences by making use of, or imitating, nuances of the language that get lost in non-native speakers without cultural referent.

This time of constant innovation has brought plenty of tools to get our message through a language barrier with translation software and online tools, but none has the capacity for a foolproof delivery. Even a useful, intuitive, and free tool like Google Translate can only offer so much before looking botched. Colloquialisms, idioms, and grammar variants can ruin an otherwise acceptable translation. If we choose to use it, we should try to be short, simple, and straightforward. We run the risk of presenting ourselves in an unfinished or unprofessional way otherwise, which can be perceived unfavorably by speakers of the target language.

Trying to expand our message to reach the world’s diversity, whether locally or globally, is clearly an asset to whatever we try to do. The key, just as if we were talking to someone in our own language, is to use the available tools to the best of our abilities and recognize when we’re falling short. When in doubt, it never hurts to ask for help from people you’re trying to target. We’d be happy to tell you saying something is “no bueno” is not a thing.