Toward Our Common Understanding
A Message from Kyle Caldwell, president and CEO of CMF
In our sector, we often highlight that philanthropy speaks with one voice, that we are all united in a common cause. Certainly, there are core beliefs we hold about the value and role of philanthropy in society and the power of a strong and vibrant network that we are able to celebrate and maintain in Michigan. What we have sometimes failed to highlight with the same pride, though, is all the ways we are not alike. The vibrancy of our network is not despite our difference, but because of it.
Our community of philanthropy represents Michigan, and Michiganders have diverse views. Whether reflecting on the pandemic, the recent election or the ways we approach solutions to address systemic racism, there is so much to be gained by listening, by creating space for honest dialogue that models inclusivity, ensuring diverse views are not only represented at the table but also heard and respected. It is that approach ─ celebrating and embracing diversity ─ that will enable us to collectively advance from polarization to shared solutions.
At any other time, we might think about how we could convene different voices for powerful face to face dialogue. After all, our community of philanthropy represents and has access to the full spectrum of conservative, moderate and liberal political points of view as well as all of “Main Street” – from M-1 to M-21 to I-94 to US-2 and all highways and byways in between. While the pandemic has hindered our traditional approaches to engage, what we experienced first-hand with our recent Annual Conference is affirmation that we can build inclusive environments in a virtual environment. We can engage in difficult and productive conversations online, in the midst of overwhelming challenges.
We are coming into the season of Thanksgiving during a climate of extreme crisis, isolation and hyperpolarization. Normally we would come together and set a table for all to gather, but families and friends across Michigan are forced to think differently about how we gather during a crisis. In the same way, it is critical we find a way for community conversations to continue through new and creative avenues, so we see truly each other in authentic and genuine ways.
Our community of philanthropy has a unique opportunity, and some may say responsibility, to help knit our fraying communities. It is hard to imagine any other sector in Michigan that has the tools, potential and mission-driven purposes we collectively possess to meet this challenge. Michigan foundations, donors, volunteers and nonprofit partners give us unlimited connection to a wide array of voices and views. Imagine partnering with fellow foundations in our community of philanthropy to host such dialogues; the diversity of perspectives can be even further deepened. As we work to determine the right course and see new opportunities, we must leverage our diversity to advance our missions.
Looking to the future, it is increasingly difficult to predict where the prevailing winds provide the greatest opportunity for impact—a place where philanthropy normally shines. In addition to continuing our effective support for COVID-19 response, perhaps the unique role for Michigan philanthropy is to provide the table for differing views to share and develop understanding in the midst of the turmoil. For our community of philanthropy and CMF, we may be reminded of the wisdom of Booker T. Washington, “Success is measured by the obstacles which we have overcome to reach it.” Every day the pandemic is placing greater burdens on those least able to fend it off; there are indeed significant obstacles we must overcome.
Supporting and leading conversations around our most vexing issues, and providing data, stories and leadership toward healing and solutions can be some of our most meaningful contributions during this time. We must continue to champion equity, promote and celebrate diversity and inclusively chart a new course toward our common understanding.
We welcome and encourage you to share your stories with us as we travel this journey together.
Rural-Serving Community Foundation Hosts DEI-centered Community Conversations
As philanthropy seeks effective ways to advance equity, the Fremont Area Community Foundation (FACF) is taking the lead on hosting critical community conversations in Newaygo County.
“Diversity has always been a part of the fabric of our community, but there is not a high level of recognition or awareness around issues of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in our area,” Carla Roberts, FACF president and CEO said. “We want to start conversations around diversity, discrimination, and challenges for marginalized people and then we can talk about the systems that have been put into place that have created a lack of opportunity.”
Conversations around DEI began within the foundation’s executive committee after the groundswell of civil rights action across the country after the murder of George Floyd. Foundation leadership began to think about the role their organization could play to start a dialogue about inequities in the community for many groups while also highlighting the ways differences can enhance a community.
After some internal conversations, the executive committee boiled down their goals to a key question: What if we lifted the voices of local people from diverse backgrounds?
The foundation first partnered with the Michigan Department of Civil Rights for internal training of staff and board, and from there formed a committee to discuss how to engage the community with stories from diverse perspectives.
“We all have a story,” Jessica Folkema, FACF’s director of marketing and communications said. “For some in our community, it’s a story of belonging. For others, it’s more complicated. By creating a safe space to hear the stories of our neighbors, we hope it will help our community begin to shift perspectives and listen to all voices.”
This led to the creation of the Stronger Together Series, community events designed to explore identity, difference and the stories that shape the lives of Newaygo County residents.
The committee in charge of the events developed four goals they hoped to accomplish through the series:
Create a safe space for individuals to tell their stories.
Amplify marginalized or overlooked voices.
Encourage listeners to consider perspectives other than their own, broaden the basis for critical thought and promote cultural understanding.
Explore the ways differences enhance the community and ultimately make it stronger.
“We want to create meaningful opportunities where we can listen and learn from each other,” Folkema said.
The foundation partnered with the Michigan Humanities Council to host the first event, “Beautifully Different,” on November 5. During the live stream—which was viewed by 120 people—Newaygo County natives Razel Jones and Daniel Abbott read excerpts from their book Wounds: A Collaborative Memoir in Stories and shared some of their experiences growing up in Newaygo County as Black and white men (respectively), followed by a question-and-answer session with Roberts. Attendees were able to ask questions of Jones and Abbot, and foundation leadership was pleasantly surprised by the amount of engagement.
“We’re equipping allies,” Folkema said. “We’re giving our board, staff, and attendees tools and points of reference to have these conversations in their own families, workplaces, churches and the broader community.”
The foundation is in the process of planning future events for 2021. They hope to open the door for community members to not only participate in these conversations but to start them as well.
To aid in this effort, the foundation commissioned a study guide for Wounds and has begun conversations with local libraries and book clubs to keep conversations going after the event. Every attendee of the first event, along with the foundation’s staff and board of trustees, was mailed a copy of the book.
The foundation acknowledged that while these conversations provide a great deal of opportunity for growth, they may also become more challenging as time goes on.
“Ours is a community that is predominately white,” Folkema said. “When you are in a majority group, it can be difficult to look at our identities and understand that we have been given certain privileges that others have not. There’s a reckoning for those who engage.”
Roberts added, “It can also be difficult for marginalized people to speak up and say these things in a public forum because oftentimes they have been taught to keep their heads down and fit in.”
Still, foundation leadership believes that by opening the door to empathy and understanding, the conversations around systemic inequities in Newaygo County can move forward.
“We are learning that DEI work is like the work of philanthropy itself: we’re planting seeds,” Folkema said. “This is a long-haul endeavor. The fruit of this work may not be seen for years to come, but it’s by persisting and making small incremental changes we can make a difference.”
For Roberts, this series is the first of many efforts to create a community of changemakers and advocates for equity.
“Early on, one of our trustees said that ‘change happens at the speed of trust,’” Roberts said. “You have to build relationships to create openness towards new perspectives. The way we’re choosing to build that trust is through listening to the stories from our community.”
Check out Wounds: A Collaborative Memoir in Stories by Razel Jones and Daniel Abbot.
CMF’s Role in the National Nonprofit Infrastructure Investment Advocacy Group
CMF continues to work in close concert with our state and national partners to advocate for policies that support our communities and our nonprofit partners working on the frontlines, and leverage the power of philanthropy in the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.
Earlier this summer as part of our ongoing work, CMF joined in partnership with more than 20 sector leaders and organizations in participating in the newly formed Nonprofit Infrastructure Investment Advocacy Group (NIIAG) convened by Independent Sector (IS) and KABOOM! NIIAG engages a community of diverse leaders from across the charitable, nonprofit sector to identify and advocate for the essential federal investments needed to rebuild the nation in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, economic crisis and racial injustice reckoning of 2020.
IS shares that NIIAG prioritizes “investments in and through nonprofit organizations that strengthen civic bonds across the country, put people back to work rebuilding our communities, and provide – at a national scale — the critical resources and services nonprofits need to accomplish their missions. Our aim is to rebuild the nation to a place better than before, prioritizing investments that advance equitable outcomes for the Black, Native and communities of color that have borne the brunt of the coronavirus pandemic and deeply embedded structural inequities.”
The NIIAG has engaged Senate leadership in investment priorities relating to COVID-19 relief legislation and in advocacy around Census 2020.
Last week IS sent a memo to President-Elect Joe Biden’s transition team, noting it was the result of a collaborative effort of members and partners including NIIAG. The memo highlights the power of the sector to affect transformative change and asking their administration to consider “more permanent structures to create a formal relationship between the nonprofit sector and the executive branch of government.”
The proposal outlined the following opportunities for the incoming administration to leverage the capacity and partnership of the sector:
Presidential leadership. A staff person with direct access to the president with responsibility and similar staffing in relevant executive branch agencies.
Policy knowledge. Greater nonprofit policy expertise and experience among both political appointees and career staff in the White House and at agencies.
Prioritized investment and job creation. Significant investment to strengthen organizational capacity, workforce and national service/volunteer programs of nonprofits, particularly those closest to communities in greatest need, small organizations and those led by and/or serving rural, Black, Native and other communities of color.
Permanence. A lasting federal structure, perhaps reinforced with legislation, to support cross-sector collaboration and advance policies that improve sector health.
The memo states in part, “Our nation can never become its best self without the engine of independent and robust nonprofits. No other sector has the credibility, expertise, or reach. However, although past presidents of both parties have worked with the sector in various ways, none has maximized the power of nonprofits as true partners in the work of governing and leading.”
In addition to engaging with the incoming administration, Dan Cardinali, president and CEO of IS shared that in the short-term IS will also be focused on advocating for funding for increased broadband access, the U.S. Postal Service and for our child care field as part of the NIIAG coalition work.
We are seeing Michigan representation in President-Elect Biden’s transition team, including from our own community of philanthropy. Melanca Clark, president and CEO of the Hudson-Webber Foundation and CMF Board of Trustees chair-elect, is volunteering her expertise with the transition team at the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). Clark previously served the DOJ as chief of staff of the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services. She was also a senior policy advisor with the White House Domestic Policy Council, convening foundations and key stakeholders and strategically aligning philanthropic and private sector investments during former President Barack Obama’s administration.
The Detroit News recently reported on Clark and other Michigan leaders volunteering with the transition team including Robert Gordon, director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS).
Read the full memo.
Learn more about NIIAG.