Building a more racially equitable organization is an important goal, but not an easy process. A recent Chicago conference, Envisioning Equity: Strategic Planning for Inclusive Organizations, discussed those challenges and developed these four takeaways to help nonprofits begin.

Get Educated

Keynote speakers Tamara Winfrey-Harris and Pamela Ross of Central Indiana Community Foundation said the first step to creating racial equity was to “get smart.”

“When dismantling racism at your institution, the time to act is not when you become aware, but when you have taken the time to educate yourselves and plan,” Ross said.

Nina Sanchez, director of Enrich Chicago, said her organization started with promoting diversity, but moved toward promoting racial equity.

“Racial equity is more than checkboxes,” Sanchez said. “It is fundamentally about our orientation mindsets and disposition towards everything we do.”

The Envisioning Equity website describes racial equity as “the condition that would be achieved if one’s racial identity no longer predicted, in a statistical sense, how one fares.”  Center for Social Inclusion in “What is Racial Equity” describes two neighborhoods currently facing racial inequity. It also describes what racial equity would look like for the neighborhoods and four strategies the organization adopted to achieve racial equity.

Start the Conversation

The idea of talking about race with board members and staff can be daunting. “If you are not having hard discussions internally, you sure as hell not having them externally,” Harris said.

Harris said talking about race can be difficult for everyone. It is especially hard for people of color who might have to see their white counterparts at work after intense conversations. However, Central Indiana Community Foundation found these conversations useful in order to focus on its overall mission.

Sanchez said leaders willing to work toward racial equity and must be present with staff when dealing with racial issues in order to challenge one another.

In the panel discussion, Caronina Grimble of Woods Foundations said one time during an annual meeting talking about racial equity, the foundation found themselves going in circles.

“It wasn’t until at least 45 minutes into the discussion that we found out we were not using racial equity in the same way,” she said.

Grimble said the meeting started the learning process on racial equity as they set up a series of trainings for board members, staff and grantee partners.

To help others avoid conflict when addressing issues surrounding race, Aorta provides tips for addressing systemic power. Not only is there tips on what to do when harm is caused, but also when being facilitators of change or communicating in the workplace.

Hold Each Other Accountable

It can be a huge step trying to create a plan and tackle a big issue. However, Sanchez said using the relationships built can help organizations go a long way.

“We want to hold each other accountable…because when you mess up, and you will, it’s those relationships that will get you through that missing gap,” Sanchez said.

Speakers emphasized throughout the conference how mistakes will be made during the process of trying to be more racially equitable.

“The biggest risk that we take when we innovate is not being perfect,” said Niketa Brar, executive director of Chicago United for Equity. “Well, congratulations, we’re already not perfect.”

While the task may be challenging at first, a team that holds each other accountable will be able to help brainstorm how to make the mission better. The “Continuum of Being an Anti-racist Multicultural Organization” chart provided by Association of Educational Service Agencies describes what a fully inclusive anti-racist organization would look like. One of the key points include having the entire team as participants.

Make a Plan

There is a pressure to go big or go home, but Sanchez said it is better for organizations to take smaller steps instead of trying to solve racism in a day.

“Instead of thinking about how you can fix 100 percent of the problem, think about what’s your 15 percent solution that you can offer,” she said.

One way to starting a strategic plan for racial equity is to use the Racial Equity Impact Assessment in order to determine where the organization is headed. The assessment is used as a framework that assesses how racial groups will be impacted by a decision.

Brar and Candace Moore, strategic partner for CUE, talked about how they used Racial Equity Impact Assessment to help keep the National Teacher’s Academy opened. The assessment helped the group reflect on what was happening and how it could impact communities.


Tianna McDade is an intern at Public Narrative and also a journalism student at Columbia College Chicago.