Tag: equity

As another summer draws to a close, it’s time to update you on the diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) work NTEN has undertaken this quarter.

You may have read last month that NTEN is making a membership shift this fall. I love this new approach because it aligns so well with our commitment to equity. In fact, the changes were inspired by asking the question, “How is our current membership model not equitable or inclusive?” The conversation generated in the community resulted in an approach that is consistent with our commitment and led to NTEN articulating its core beliefs for the first time.

Also, for the first time, we’ve formalized a monthly plan for our fiscal year specific to NTEN’s DEI work across all programs and operations. It’s an acknowledgment that DEI work is more than just meeting regularly or checking a box on a grant application. It’s challenging and necessary work that must be thoughtfully considered and mapped out if an organization is to institute change for itself and subsequently for the community it serves.

NTEN’s board created a DEI committee to support the staff’s commitment to equity. This team works to ensure that our board will support decision making with a focus on equity. DEI work should be present at all levels of an organization, and we couldn’t be happier to have our board joining the journey with us.

The application forms to join the 20NTC Session Advisory Committee, to submit 20NTC session applications, and numerous program-specific applications were all updated this year with a statement that encouraged folks “who identify as Black, Indigenous, or other people of color, as well as gender nonconforming, having a disability, LGBTQIA+, and other under-represented community members” to apply. It’s an acknowledgment of NTEN’s DEI goals directly at the program level. We will continue to evolve this question as we use it broadly throughout our organization.

Finally, we’re updating the requirements for posting to NTEN’s job board. New job postings will specify a salary or include a range beginning next month. Including a salary range promotes transparency, mitigates the perpetuation of the gender wage gap, and discourages discrimination of people of color during the application and hiring process. “Depends on Experience” will no longer be an option for the salary field as people have a right to know what the salary range is for a job they are applying for.

This has been our summer. What have you done to further diversity, equity, and inclusion in your organization? Tweet us @NTENorg or email us.

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.

Recently, Rainier Valley Corps’ Fellows completed a training on storytelling and nonprofit communication. The training was led by Nikkita Oliver, organizer, educator, lawyer, and poet. I was particularly interested in attending this training myself because of the challenges I face in attempting to share and communicate highlights and lessons learned from the Fellowship Program. Even now, as the second cohort of fellows are halfway into their first year, I am cautious of how we share the stories and complexities of each individual fellow as well as the cohort as a whole.

Nikkita began the training with a question:

How do we acknowledge our multiple identities, both the ones we claim and the ones that have been put onto us?

It was a powerful way to consider the identities we embrace and ones forced on us or the ways others see us impact our identities. The point of this activity was to understand how our identities intersect in relation to others and the world.

For example, I am the daughter of middle-class Ethiopian immigrants who moved to the United States and whose parents were regulated to working-class status. The experiences of my parents have deeply impacted my experience as a first generation person in the US. I don’t have first-hand experience of leaving behind everything I knew and moving to a new, unfamiliar land with hope and enough resilience to overcome the disdain they surely faced as Black immigrants. But I understand and have been impacted by those experiences. It’s one of the profound sources that dictates many of the choices I make, the paths I take, and what led me to commit my time, skills, and passions towards this work.

The nonprofit sector has a long history of exploiting the stories of the people they serve, particularly, people of color. This perpetuates racism and oppression, etc. Known examples are the stories and images you see on TV of “the starving and dying and warring” children and peoples, particularly in Africa. The nonprofit sector continues to struggle with diversity among staff, which contributes to non-people of color telling the stories of people of color.

The great African storyteller Chinua Achebe said, “People create stories create people; or rather stories create people create stories.” When we tell the stories of the people we serve we are creating people in the imagination of our audiences and contributing to their existing biases, narratives, opinions, and idea about the people in the story. We have to acknowledge this power. Words have power. Stories have power. They can be revelations for change or destruction. Achebe also said, “Until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.”

With that said, until there is a radical shift in social, political, and economic power locally and globally, we must be cautious and tell stories that empower people and highlight the strengths, liberation, and self-determination of our communities.

Questions to ask yourself when sharing stories

Here are some guidelines and things to consider when writing or sharing the stories of the people we serve.

  • Think about how your own story (identity) or parts of your story show up in the story you are trying to share. What are the stories and identities you embrace and own? What are the stories and identities that are placed on you? What are those shared stories and experiences?
  • Is this the story that you, as the facilitator of the story, should be telling or can someone else? Are you connected to, part of, or a member of this individual’s community? This, especially, is a critical question for white folks telling stories of people and communities of color, able-bodied people telling the stories of people with disabilities, cisgender people speaking for and telling stories about trans folks, etc.
  • Assess whether the person whose story you’re trying to share is prepared to share their story. If yes, ask for their consent to share. If no, are they open or want to share? If there is openness then how are you providing the technical and emotional support in allowing them to tell their own story?
  • Is their consent informed? Do they know how and where the story will be used? What content it includes? Do they agree with the way you’re sharing how your services have impacted them? Are they able to approve changes and edits? If necessary, do you have written informed consent?
  • Ask yourself if you’re sharing their story with dignity, nuance, and with their humanity intact. Are you oversimplifying or over-sensationalizing their story? Are you prioritizing the voice of the person whose story and experience is being shared over that of the audience or the funders?
  • How can you tell the impact of your organization without exploiting the stories of the individual participants and perpetuating existing narratives about vulnerable or marginalized people and communities?
  • Are you fighting stereotypes and myths or contributing to it? Are you pathologizing them or have you provided sufficient socio-historical and political context?
  • Have you considered who this story helps by telling it?
  • By telling this story, are you showing your organization as a savior?
  • Do you have a process for those who have told their story to have the agency to retract consent/permission? This means if you’ve used their story, they can take back their permission and consent to no longer share or highlight their story.

Lastly, considering putting your money behind your values and convictions and offer to compensate people for their stories. Even if they’re receiving services from your organization. The stories you’re telling are directly connected to financial benefits for organizations. It’s only right those same funds benefit them as well.

I encourage you to create your own guidelines that align with the mission and values of your organization and your personal identities.


This article was originally published on Rainier Valley Corps’ Change-Makers blog and is reprinted here with permission.

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.