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DEIJ: More Than a Concept

In this installment of CMF Community Voices – a special edition as part of our year-long 50th anniversary celebration – Lisa Jones, program associate, health and human service initiatives at Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan and a 2023 emerging leader from CMF’s Leadership Development and Mentoring Program, explores how philanthropy can continue to advance diversity, equity, inclusion and justice (DEIJ). Jones shares actionable ways to embed DEIJ into organizational practices for the future of the communities we serve and our sector. 

Lisa Jones, Lisa Jones, program associate, Health and Human Service Initiatives at Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan

CMF Community voices

CMF Community Voices features a series of conversations and insights from leaders across our community of philanthropy. This curated collection of blogs and Q&As lifts up inspiring voices from changemakers providing reflections in the areas of Equity, People, Practice and Policy, with equity at the center.

DEIJ: More than a Concept

By Lisa Jones, program associate, health and human service initiatives at the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan and a 2023 emerging leader in CMF’s Leadership Development and Mentoring Program.

In a world where diversity, equity, inclusion and justice (DEIJ) have become a growing area of work for organizations, particularly since the 2020 murder of George Floyd, our efforts must continue to move the conversation forward to address what a commitment to DEIJ looks like in practice and what strategies can be successfully implemented to make it all possible.

More specifically, how can we in philanthropy, advance DEIJ work? The answer to this question is much simpler than we may think, though it may not be a popular answer across the philanthropic universe.

Inviting a more diverse group of individuals into “the room” is wonderful. Since the national reckoning for racial justice in 2020, many new individuals received a title that allowed them into “the room.” However, inviting people into the room where decisions are made and allowing them a seat at the table where their thoughts and ideas can be spoken and heard are two different concepts. The former allows organizations to check a box that says they are DEIJ accepting.

What some of those same organizations don’t publicize is that this individual does not have a team, and DEIJ is a concept separate from every department, including human resources. And, they don’t publicize that non-management level individuals who identify as persons of color, female, LGTBQ+, disabled or with mental health needs (who are all part of DEIJ technically) do not feel supported within the organization.

The real answer to philanthropy addressing DEIJ urgently is to not only create a seat at the decision-making table for individuals who don’t currently have a seat, but also ensure it is a safe and authentic space where they feel empowered to use their voice. These leaders also need opportunities and the necessary power to enact change not only within their organization but also within the communities the organization supports.

The second part of the answer to addressing DEIJ involves the ways we engage externally. As funders, we should feel like we belong to the communities we serve. The communities that receive money to make a difference are our communities. There should be an obligation to make an impact—beyond the dollars on the checks that are written.

A commitment to DEIJ avails philanthropists the ability to provide opportunities, some of which don’t cost money.

For example, if an organization knows the local school district in a community they serve does not have sufficient resources to expose students to career possibilities, why not create a summer internship for high school students for every department at the organization? Mentoring students costs little more than time and patience.

The same can be said for supporting grassroots nonprofits in the community. Many of these organizations may never grow beyond where they are, but accomplish more than organizations that receive high levels of funding. These are also the organizations with their pulse on the community. Again, mentorship to support their capacity building costs nothing but a little time and patience.

For the past three years, we in philanthropy have passed out titles and “promotions” under the auspices of DEIJ. That is old news. It is time to advance beyond DEIJ as a concept and actually put the work behind it.

Too many people at the decision-making table look alike, attended the same schools and possess all the same privileges. Create inclusive spaces for those who better represent the communities we serve. Grant recipients want to see people they believe are writing their grant checks to look like them. Grassroots organizations need to see someone sitting at the funders’ table fighting for them and their communities. Inner-city students need to be exposed to the industry and see people employed from the same neighborhoods where they live.

DEIJ is more than a concept or a short-term movement caused by temporarily feigned outrage. DEIJ is about leveling the playing field—in every aspect. Three years later, it should now be part of our DNA and work culture. It is up to the philanthropic society to be the leaders of this change.