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From Aspiration to Action: Building Our Capacity for Diversity, Equity & Inclusion

Thursday, July 7, 2022

By Ashley Del Bianco and Shira Hodges

Over the last few months, Philanthropy Network's Board and staff have been digesting what we heard back in March at the 2022 Annual Members’ Meeting, and reflecting on the next steps we need to take on the path toward our aspirational North Star. We wanted to take this opportunity to play back a little of what we've heard from members, and provide a transparent account of where we currently stand and steps that the staff and Board are taking to move us forward.

The North Star: What we heard

Our deep appreciation to everyone who was able to join us at the Members’ Meeting, and participated in the breakout conversations reflecting on Philanthropy Network’s North Star statement and strategic transformation initiative. The event marked the first time we presented this thinking to the full membership, and we’re grateful to everyone who offered their honest reactions and feedback.

As we shared at the meeting, the North Star Statement was established as an aspiration for Philanthropy Network to drive our work forward in a way that centers racial equity in everything we do: our operations, practices, and actions. For those not familiar with the concept of a North Star, we heard confusion about the purpose of the statement. We want to reinforce again that the North Star statement is NOT a new mission for Philanthropy Network, but rather serves as a guiding light that is informing our thinking and planning around our strategic direction.

Attendees at the meeting overwhelmingly expressed support for the aspirations articulated in the North Star statement, describing it as bold, relevant and timely, and said they were “excited by the direction.” Others found the language vague or unclear, called out a disconnect between Philanthropy Network’s words and actions, and had concerns about how the North Star could be implemented in a meaningful and sustainable way. Another theme that emerged pointed toward the need for the Network’s board and staff to strengthen our skill and knowledge in effective DEI practices.

Strategic Transformation: Where we are

While the process of developing an actionable five-year plan guided by the North Star has been underway since last year, it is still very much a work in progress in large part due to the leadership transition. The discovery and initial planning conducted in 2021 with support from consultants at Frontline Solutions has given us a solid foundation from which to build a strategy for the transformation work ahead. Given the importance of the Network’s new leader in shaping the final strategy, the next and last phase of planning will resume once the new president is on board later this year.

In the meantime, as the executive search progresses, we are focusing our efforts on internal, self-reflective work to increase our understanding and skills around anti-racist and anti-oppression practices.  We acknowledge that we have a long way to go to lay the internal groundwork needed from which to support our aspiration toward the North Star and to implement strategies that center racial equity in actionable ways. Building our DEI capacity is an ongoing process that requires attention, hard work and expert facilitation, and we are fully committed and eager to do what is necessary.

Advancing Equity: What we’re doing

Here are a few actions we’re taking to move along this learning continuum:

  • Between February and May, Philanthropy Network engaged with consultants at Just Strategies, who provided in-depth work with the staff to assess perspectives on how race and other forms of identity, equity, and inclusivity play out at Philanthropy Network; how the organizational culture is experienced by differently-positioned individuals; and their vision and goals around these issues and how they might achieve them. As part of this engagement, Just Strategies led three in-depth sessions with the Network team on equity-centered organizational change, including an examination of how white supremacy has shaped philanthropic practice, and identifying opportunities for further exploration and growth.
  • Just Strategies also completed an internal organizational review which included current DEI practices and areas that need attention. Philanthropy Network is committed to working through the action steps suggested in the report. The first will be hiring an internal DEI consultant. We will provide more information about the DEI consultant and their responsibilities soon.
  • Members of the Network’s DEI Committee joined the Board’s February meeting for a listening session where they shared their experiences and the issues and challenges they are seeing with Philanthropy Network’s goal to center racial equity. The Board will engage the DEI Committee for guidance to identify training and development opportunities for the Board and team.  
  • At the May meeting, the Board decided to establish a board-level taskforce that will focus on several of the actions recommended in the Just Strategies report.
  • The Board is planning a retreat for this summer, during which we will identify areas needed for deeper reflection and training to begin in the fall. A discussion about the current Board make-up and what will be needed moving forward will be the main focus.

We want to acknowledge that this work has been challenging, and that many of the challenges we are currently facing are not new. In light of that, we have heard requests from members to slow down, and even take a pause so that we as a staff and Board can do the internal-focused learning and reflection needed to better guide philanthropy in the region. We’ve heard you, and to that end, the staff will pause all external programming in August. We will take this time for team building, staff planning, preparing for or onboard the new President, and engaging with an experienced DEI consultant to guide us through a process of ongoing internal reflection and learning. We believe this will move us towards programming that is reflective of our North Star and that as a staff and board, we are equipped to hold brave and truly inclusive spaces at all levels of the organization.

We will endeavor to be as transparent as possible about what we are doing and learning, including where we are struggling and coming up short. While we expect we’ll make mistakes on the way, we want to reaffirm our deep commitment to the work of centering racial equity within our organization and within philanthropy itself. 

We are grateful to be traveling this path alongside many of you, and hope that we can support and learn from one another through our mutual education. It will be up to all of us to hold ourselves and each other accountable for making measurable progress on our individual and collective journeys toward greater equity and justice for all.

Ashley Del Bianco is Board Chair, and Shira Hodges is Interim President of Philanthropy Network Greater Philadelphia.