Sunday, February 21, 2010

Diversity, Community, Technology and You

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?
Warmest regards,


Amy Sample Ward said...

Thanks for starting this conversation! I really hope I can make your session at NTC, though know there will be so much to catch :)

When I read through your questions, the first thing that came to mind in my experience is the work we do with our NetSquared Local groups around the world. We relinguish a lot of the control to the organizers because they know what is best for their local community far better than we could. Why? Because we are a small team (less than a handful of people), we all come from a fairly similar background (obviously have our own stories, but we are all American, white, etc.) and want to create a global network of changemakers that is truly and authentically representative of the members of the network. That means not just that we hope and support local organizers to select speakers, events, topics and so on that are of interest to the local community, but that they will in turn come back to us as the global organization and provide insight to how we can deliver programs, guide the community and create value that responds to their needs.

It's a tricky issue to tackle, but I think the only way to start is by trusting the community around you (around you as an individual, as an organization, or a sector) to be invested together in tackling it. Share the responsibility and the reward.

Thanks again!

Geoff_Livingston said...

Wow, you bring a lot of interesting perspective to bear based on your upbringing. I grew up as the only Jewish family in an Irish Catholic neighborhood in Philly. We got beat. A lot. It was very traumatic, and we ended up moving to avoid persecution.

I ended up becoming what I hated most, someone who could not stand Christians, and in particular Catholics, and I hated Irish people for a good part of my teens. Worse, I hated my own people and faith, because they got me beat. There was much growing and forgiving that I needed to achieve. I still do not practice Judiasm, but have grown to appreciate all of the parties that I hated out of vengeful ignorance.

Bigotry exists in many ways and forms, and I am always surprised by friends who don't know that I am Jewish (by blood) who say some really horrific things off hand to me. It can only be addressed by drawing it out into a relatively safe conversation and addressing it in real dialogue.

I believe in love, and I know that fear and hate is in all of us. Genocide and racial tension can exist in any community. So when I think of something like this, I wonder if quotas and forced thinking make sense. But I would rather see mindful approaches to the problem then lack of thought, which often leads to backwards movement.

Due to a heavy travel schedule, I won't see your panel at NTEN, but I think it will be a great one.

Jocelyn said...


Thanks for your comment. I think using the intelligence of the community and letting the community drive programming is key to developing more inclusive and successful organization. Kudos to NetSquared!


Jocelyn said...


Thanks for sharing your thinking! I also love learning more about you as human being. I agree with your concern about quotas and forcing people to "get along." I think you're right that this can cause backlash. Also, staffing up via hiring people who look different but don't have different experiences isn't always helpful. That said, it's really important for people to SEE people like themselves in prominent organizing/leadership roles.


Heather Mansfield said...

Hi Jocelyn. This is a very important subject... and one I am pretty disconnected from these days in person. I am living in the 6th whitest city in the country. Also one of the most conservative. Pretty dull in terms of culture... and I definitely miss the diversity of the Big City.

A little side note and related to democratizing the Internet. I created this page last week:

Promoting it on Twitter and MySpace... and of the folks that are ReTweeting and promoting it on MySpace of their own free will... 95% are folks of color... and it's the most diverse Fan Page I have managed on Facebook which is very refreshing. Those that are rude and slam president are almost always - 99% of the time - middle-aged white men from the South. They are pissed off about something and just outrageous in their anger. Not all middle-aged white men from the South of course, just the tiny fraction that become fans of the page just to say something mean. They do get reported and blocked BTW. Always feels good. :)

I may not interact with folks of color on daily basis anymore or have much to say about diversifying nonprofit staff, but online... it's pretty fascinating how race comes into play in terms of online personalities and issues.

Thanks... and keep up the good work.

lisawitter said...

Amy: Thanks for the shout-out about political campaigns missing the spot on women. Women are twice as likely to pass on information than men so if you engage a loyal woman you can engage her as an evangelist for your campaign...this, I believe, will result in more donations in the long-term.

Saying that, women are less likely to give to political campaigns than men are. Why? Well I believe that they don't see politics working for them and they aren't as fired-up about the transactional nature (back-scratching) of the gift. I hope that women begin to see investing in politics as a path way to political power waged for good.

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