This beautiful photo is by chrisjfry.
I’m doing a podcast (my second) today with my frolleagues Holly Ross, Executive Director, NTEN (Nonprofit Technology Network) and Allyson Kapin, Founder, Rad Campaign. The podcast will introduce our session at this year’s NTC called Diversifying Your Tech and Online Communications Teams and is meant to be a teaser to get you there. Shireen Mitchell of Digital Sistas and Ivan Boothe of Rootwork will join us in Atlanta. Here’s a full description of the workshop, below.
When we create technology, we develop it for the masses to consume. When we create online advocacy campaigns, we develop them to reach hundreds of thousands of people including women, men, people of color and a wide array of ages from Gen Yers to Baby Boomers. But, how diverse are your tech and online communications teams? And, do your teams’ demographics impact your advocacy success? Join Allyson Kapin of Rad Campaign and Women Who Tech, Shireen Mitchell of Digital Sistas, Jocelyn Harmon of Care2 and Marketing for Nonprofits, and Ivan Booth of Rootwork for a thought-provoking discussion on how and why you should consider diversifying your tech and online teams in order to maximize your nonprofit advocacy, marketing and fundraising goals.
1. Why diversity in your tech teams will make your nonprofit communications, fundraising and organizing stronger.2. How nonprofits can recruit diverse tech and online communications staff.3. Tools and strategies for nonprofits looking to broaden their appeal to a more diverse audience of supporters.
Diversity is a nerve-racking topic. Definitions seem like a good place to start because people have different ideas about what the term means. Does it mean including more black folks in your community, organization or network? Is it about being “gender-blind," less homophobic? But, wait. I’m getting ahead of myself.
The idea for this session was born last year when I attended the NTC in San Francisco. Walking the halls of the Hilton, meeting old friends and new, I found myself dismayed by how homogenous the group seemed (at least based on externals). It was mostly white tech and marketing types. While I was trying not to judge, I wondered, in particular, why there were so few people of color at this REALLY important conference about how nonprofits can use technology to change the world. (So now you see my bias. When I think about diversity, I’m usually thinking about adding more black folks to mix.) I mentioned my observation to Lynn Labieniec, the chair of NTEN and she said, “Well, will you help us to think about this?” So here I am a year later, ready to dive in.
Maybe you’ve had a similar reaction in relation to your own organization, conferences or neighborhood. Maybe you haven’t. Still, here are my questions. Do you ever worry that your posse (online or offline) is too homogenous? Do you worry that your organizational staff does not reflect the people it serves? Are you concerned that a lack of heterogeneity might mean that you’re missing something? Or on the other hand, do you feel guilty, discouraged or otherwise sick of this conversation?
As a black woman, who grew up in a white family, my story (like yours?) is pretty complicated. I grew up knowing that I wasn’t white. And, like many black folks, I often felt conspicuous, even excluded, in all white communities. On the other hand, I grew up with a lot of economic privilege and that sometimes separated me from the black folks in town. It was hard to straddle two worlds.
Lest you think that this post and my interest in this topic is just a way of working out my own issues (in part it is), let me try to tie it back to nonprofit marketing, organizing and fundraising.
At the most basic level, all nonprofits are trying to change something in the world. Whether it's empowering more women to take on leadership roles, electing new candidates or saving endangered species, we're all bringing various stakeholders together to make a switch. It goes without saying that how we go about organizing, communicating and fundraising and whom we engage in our work can have a dramatic impact on our outcomes. There are many variables, which hinder or accelerate success; but part of our performance (or lack thereof) hinges on who we attract and engage in our work. In addition, in my mind, part of our performance is also driven by how open or closed we are as communities.
Let's face it, we all wear blinders. We all have a place we don’t go and a person we don’t “get” and that obscures our reality. Thus, as world-changers, community organizers and leaders, we have to ask important questions and push ourselves to be more curious and self-reflective. For example, if our organizing efforts are stalled, instead of focusing solely on tactics and technologies, we might spend some time talking about who is missing from our conversations. Who aren’t we connected to? Why aren’t there any people of color on our staff or board? On the other hand, if a new fundraising or advocacy campaign really takes off, we can reflect on what we're doing different. Are we reaching new audiences? Using new messages? Why is this campaign resonating and for whom?
In The She Spot: Why Women are the Market for Changing the World and How to Reach Them, Lisa Witter and Lisa Chen report that many political campaigns have ignored women donors because they are slower "buyers" than men and tend to give fewer dollars. However, this oversight comes at great expense. Because while women may take longer to cultivate than their male counterparts, once engaged they are some of the most loyal and generous donors around!
The good news is that diversity in both organizing and staffing is now easier to accomplish due to the gift of technology. It's clear that (at least conceptually), the Internet affords us a great OPPORTUNITY to connect with people with rich and varied experiences across space and time. In other words, we're no longer confined to socializing in our own backyards. But technology's democratizing promise relies entirely on us. It’s still the humans behind the browsers who have to seek, connect and engage across well-worn boundaries.
This isn’t easy to do and I’m not suggesting that I have all the answers but I'm glad we're having the conversation. I hope you’ll join us and share your thoughts, suggestions and concerns.
- What does diversity mean to you?
- What segments of the population are missing from your organization, coalition and conversations? How does this affect your ability to advocate, fundraise and generally advance your cause?
- Would reaching different folks and incorporating more diversity into your staff or community change the composition of your work, and how?
- What are the pitfalls of bringing new people with different experiences and identities into the fold?
- What are the pitfalls of staying the same?