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Welcome to the Fit Fundraising Podcast, where we bring you game-changing fundraising topics, direct from our meetings with major donors and nonprofits nationwide. While most consultants are busy giving advice, Fit Fundraising stays on the front lines with nonprofits and major donors. This podcast is a glimpse into our world of work with non-profits, as we get on the field with them and successfully model fundraising. Get ready to get Fit with the hottest show in fund development, Fit Fundraising.

Roy Jones: Hello, thank you for joining the Fit Fundraising Podcast, we’re so glad you joined us today. I am so excited. This is Roy Jones here the founder of Fit Fundraising and today I’ve got a special friend. You’re going enjoy meeting her, Amira Barger. She is a strategic communications and marketing counselor working at the Nexus of Health Equity, DEI and employment engagement to aid organizations in addressing society’s most pressing public issues. She’s an executive vice president of DEI advisory and communications at a firm, as well as she works in her spare time as a professor at Cal State University, East Bay, Amira, thank you so much for joining us today.

Amira Barger: Thanks for having me, Roy it’s an absolute pleasure to be back in a room with you, a virtual room, but a room nonetheless. Thanks for having me. 

Roy Jones: It has been a few years, we were just talking about believe it or not, 15 years ago, first meeting you and just it really is pretty amazing to just see your journey and just see how you have moved into leadership, not just at the firm you work for but really on this whole diversity, the DEI issue as a whole nationwide and my agency, we really have a burden for, what’s going on right now and as it’s a big concern to me that so many organizations, so many companies that raised their hand and said we’re all in, we’re for diversity and inclusion, we’re for empowerment, we’re going to step up, we’re going to help and guess what? They’re putting their hands down now.

Amira Barger: That’s right.

Roy Jones: And some of them are eliminating diversity positions and I find the most troubling thing to me as a non profit leader is, of the more than 2 million non profits across the United States. I won’t say a million of them, but certainly tens of thousands, possibly hundreds of thousands of non profits embrace DEI, brought people of color onto their boards, and then accordingly staffed up. And now what I’m seeing across the country is they brought people on staff and now some are backing away from this DEI thing and the worst thing that’s happening is they brought new people into the development group, which I have a passion for, that haven’t been trained properly.

And so often they struggle and again, I really think the movement has to step up and really double down on DEI and put the resources behind what has to be done to train some wonderful people in nonprofit movement today that just need training. And we can’t give up on this process.

I compare it to where America was and this predates you, America doesn’t predate me in the 1970s, when you looked at the nonprofit movement and it was all old white guys like me. And they said, you know what, that’s not right, now we really should train at that time and empower women. And they invested millions and millions of dollars into training and equipping women. And you look at our nonprofit movement today. And women are the top earners, women are and for all the right reasons, but it didn’t happen by accident.

We as a movement had to step out. We’re going to invest the resources, we’re not going to quit on this because it’s the right thing to do. And I think that’s what we have to do when it comes to DEI today and investing divert so with that, and sorry, I normally don’t start these things with a Roy Jones, but they got it today. I’ve had this preaching in my gut since I knew I was going to be interviewing you, but share with us what diversity, equity, and inclusion means to you and why you think they’re so important.

Amira Barger: I get to do this work every day and one of the things I start with first, whether I’m hosting a workshop or training or meeting a new client is I start with definitions, because I don’t want to assume and it’s a core principle of how we operate in DEI. I don’t want to assume that we’re all starting from the same baseline of information, awareness and understanding so thank you for that first question I appreciate that. It’s like we planned it, but diversity, equity inclusion so it’s important to understand how each of those things is distinct and how they work in collaboration.

So when I think about diversity, which is the concept and the term I think most people understand and the one we hear about the most, I think about collective representation of all of us. When people hear the word diversity, I think what happens a lot based on the people I talked to is they think about those people over there, but not me. It’s the other, whether it’s Latin, Black, LGBTQ, woman, disabled, an age group, they think of everyone other than themselves but diversity really is the collection of all of us it’s not meant to exclude any particular group, whether men, cishet, white men, or any other dimension. 

Roy Jones: Big, bald.

Amira Barger: You are included in what we mean when we say diversity. Diversity is literally the collection of all of us represented, and so it refers to all of those similarities and the differences that define us as human beings, and it means bringing those various dimensions of diversity, right? You have many dimensions of diversity. Yes, you’re a cishet white man, but you’re also a grandfather, a fundraiser, you’re geographically located in Florida, right?

There are all these dimensions that make up who you are that make up what we mean when we say diverse. And the work of diversity is to bring the collection of us all together, there are some places and spaces where a vast majority of those dimensions of diversity are not represented whether we’re thinking about age and the generations in the workforce ability, or the color of our skin. When I think about inclusion what comes to mind with that is agency and autonomy, in your involvement. So are the places and spaces that we curate, whether the workplace, community groups, places of worship, you name it.

Are we creating a climate in these institutions that helps individuals benefit from the diversity of people, ideas, knowledge and experience that are present in that place. That’s what I think of when I hear the word inclusion and equity. Many people think of finance when they hear this word, but it’s not what we mean here, but equity in the DEI space, that’s access, it’s opportunity and it’s support, right? So individuals are given different and specific supports for a variety of reasons that help to meet their needs, I think many people have seen a few different graphics there’s one, it’s a baseball graphic where there’s a fence and people trying to watch a baseball game and they each have a different height box that they’re standing on because some are tall, some are short, right?

They have a specific need in order to see over the fence, to see the baseball game, and so for all of them to equitably experience watching the baseball game, they have different needs and all we’re doing is meeting those different needs and we’re meeting people where they are, and in the context of our country and the US specifically, and nonprofits within our US context, there are a great many reasons why people need different step stools at different heights in order to enjoy the game and to have the same experience. 

Roy Jones: Yes. Wow. One of the things we do at our firm is recruiting and placing, and it’s really interesting. I’ve interviewed several people that are changing positions now because they got somewhere and you talk about, just this whole part of equity. They got there and then there was no training or support for them and they made assumptions, that they have the same type of learning experience as the previous person that was in their role. So I get that illustration, it absolutely is such a reality it’s not just about the money. Not just about the money.

In your opinion, what’s the most challenging aspect in creating that environment? We already said it’s not just the money but I guess it’s more about the whole outlook or culture of the organization, that’s hard to change sometimes.

Amira Barger: It can be hard to change and the most challenging part is the humans. We talk a lot about systems change and organizational change and change management.

And the thing is, all of those changes, actions, and initiatives are instituted, kicked off, and implemented by human beings. And each of us shows up with a different kind of lived experience. And in my work as a DEI practitioner, we talk a lot about mental models, the way that you see the world. And our mental models, the way each of us sees the world, is distinct it depends on where you were raised, who you were raised by, what was the setup of your home, the school that you went to, the extracurriculars you participated in, we all have different mental models.

And one of the examples that I use to help illustrate this and how it can be challenging to advance DEI in non profit organizations is I ask people sometimes, sit down with a pen and paper and step by step, tell me how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. And especially if you’re in a group, you’re going to get a host of different methods and answers. Some people I’ve had them just draw the ingredients, here we go. But no steps, other people I’ve had them draw pictures and a 20 step set of instructions on how to do.

Roy Jones: It starts with a lot of peanut butter for me.

Amira Barger: And some people go so far as to have their step by step note you have to get in your car and go to the grocery store and buy bread, and then walk to the aisle with the jelly and the peanut butter, right?

So you have depending on people’s view of how the world works and their experience, the answers to that question will differ and that’s the same when it comes to implementing diversity, equity, inclusion within our nonprofit organizations is we have to think about helping to address the way that people see the world, because how they see the world will impact and influence the behaviors that they will adopt and the actions that they will take around DEI and around everything, and so I start with things like definitions and historical context, because people’s mental model, the way they see the world, there may be gaps in what they understand to be true, there might be gaps in their ability or capability. And so we have to think about who are the people that advance the organization?

Who are the people that impact DEI within our organizations? And what is their understanding of what those words mean? What those actions are that need to be taken? I think that’s the challenging part and that’s why I think there’s an influx of trainings and webinars and books and literature for people to read because people really are looking for the behaviors that they need to enact and the actions they need to take. And I think there is the advent of understanding mental models is that they can be changed.

Roy Jones: But it’s interesting to me, it really is a one to one approach you’re talking about, isn’t it?

Amira Barger: It is and that scares people because one to one coaching, one to one approaches, they’re costly in terms of time, in terms of money and I think that’s why we see some of the concern and backlash we’re seeing today around DEI is people are seeing and realizing it takes a lot of one to one work and digging deep, and that’s costly.

Roy Jones: Talking about one to one. I have to have you back because we’ve got to spend some more time on this subject. But for this session, talk to me about, give some just practical advice, especially you think about a small business or a small non profit. They have to handle a situation where a colleague was being culturally insensitive, sexist, racist, homophobic. They said something they shouldn’t have, and how do you correct that and deal with it? Of course, sometimes it’s so severe that dismissal is the only option, but that’s not always the case. Talk to me about, how you can use that as a teaching moment to help cultural diversity inside that organization.

Amira Barger: Yeah, I want to affirm what you just said, first and foremost, is that dismissal and punitive measures are not always the most right answer. And I think our friends in the non profit space understand that. In my practice of DEI with government, nonprofit and for profit, I adopt restorative justice methods, which means punitive measures aren’t always the answer, how can we find a way to restore balance, restore relationships, and get back to a place of asset framing and positive interaction? So I want to affirm what you said, because I think that’s true. And in terms of dealing with it in the workplace, when it erupts, there’s a great deal of empathy, sensitivity, education.

But also firmness, that has to be a part of the approach. One of the things I do with leaders is I try to give them frameworks that are easy to recall, because in the heat of the moment, that’s when sort of everything flies out of your brain on how to address a thing. And so frameworks can be helpful, so a three step framework that I like to impart is always point it out, check it out, and work it out.

So if you’re in, let’s say we’re in a boardroom, and this has happened to me a great many times in the non profit space as a staff member and a board member myself, is you’re in a boardroom, and maybe you’re the only, you’re the only LGBTQ plus member, you’re the only disabled person, you’re the only black woman, and someone consistently interrupts you or, even in some instances, someone will parrot an idea you shared, and people will give credit to that person, even though you already said it and presented the idea, so what you might do as a leader in an organization is point it out, you know what?

I was really interested in what Amira was just saying, can we actually go back to her? I want her to finish her thought. That’s a powerful way to be an advocate and an ally, or when someone is saying something racist, sexist, or homophobic, you can also point it out by asking a question. Jimmy, what did you mean when you said that? What were you hopeful to gain?

You can also check it out. And check it out can mean a few different things, you can pull the person who is the offender aside, and ask a set of questions. What was your hope in that meeting when you said X, Y, or Z? Or when you took that action. You can also check it out by pulling aside the person who was impacted. The person who the racist, homophobic or sexist comment was made towards hey, I saw what happened in that meeting I wanted to check in with you and what does support for me look like in this moment? 

Roy Jones: I love how you’re using questions to teach.

Amira Barger: Yes inquiry is a strategy that we use in DEI because it opens up the door to conversation. We’re not pointing fingers, what we’re doing is we’re trying to understand. Where are you coming from? What is the mental model that you’re operating with? And how can we move towards restoration, if possible? And the last part, work it out, is, I think as leaders, we have a tendency to want to have all the answers and in this framework, and in the work of DEI, I don’t think that’s necessarily always true, that’s why we use inquisition and so for work it out, sometimes it can be tell me how you think we can get to a place of restoration. What are your thoughts?

To the offender or to the person who is on the receiving end and has been impacted? Or using framing questions like, what if, how might we, to open the conversation to how we get to a place of restoration, point it out, check it out, work it out. Very simple three steps and a series of questions that you can think about in each of those instances for the parties that are involved when something happens. But also going back to firmness, don’t be afraid to dismiss someone from the organization when they’re a repeat offender, when the offense is so egregious, because that’s also important in terms of creating belonging, psychological safety, and a organization and a culture that sticks to its values and lives, what it says it believes.

Roy Jones: I have learned so much, this has been such an impactful few minutes here.

And I want to have you back Amira. I just want to remind everybody, please tune in and listen. We’re running really over the next four to six weeks, a whole series of podcasts on the important need of training and empowering, some pretty important people that we brought into the nonprofit movement, and we can’t leave folks hanging.

We’ve got to be there with them and go with them through this journey and not turn our back on something that’s very important that truly the country made a pivot in the right direction and we want to keep moving that direction so again, thank you for joining the Fit Fundraising Podcast, I want to remind you that last year we helped 41 nonprofits for free.

Here’s our marketing strategy, free. We helped 41, and now eight of them eventually did hot, put us on retainer, and hired us. But if you need help, don’t worry about the money, we’ll figure that out. We’ll volunteer as long as we can help you as long as we can, but for free, that’s our marketing strategy. This year we’re hoping to help 50 new nonprofits. So please reach out. The other thing, and I mentioned this earlier in the broadcast, we have a Recruiting Agency, we place development directors all over the country, especially if you’re a person of color who’s got some experience in this space. I want to meet you. Please, maybe you’re not ready to look for a new position yet but I’d like to meet you, so reach out to us I really want to create a great resource center so that we can fit the right people with the right jobs around the country it’s just so important. Again, thank you for joining the Fit Fundraising Podcast. We’ll talk to you next episode.

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