At the onset of the pandemic, the Social Innovation Forum (SIF) became more intentional about bringing the team together to pause and reflect on the strategic direction of SIF. This past summer, our DEI Subgroup, Learning in Public, examined core values (drafted in 2019) to uncover some truths about the work at SIF. While we have found that SIF has been purposeful in its pursuit of advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion, we recognize that this work is ongoing and requires the support of our Board of Directors and community. These findings include: 1) Strengthening SIF’s capacity to hold spaces for honest conversations about systemic racism; 2) Educating our philanthropic community about equitable funding practices and pushing for system-wide change, and 3) Ensuring that BIPOC leaders of color in our network are represented and able to build connections with funders. In addition, our hope is that we can continue to share our DEI efforts with all of our community and share our learnings in a variety of ways. Below is the collective response from SIF team members on how core values continue to shape how we approach the work.
SIF’s Core Values
At SIF, we believe our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion underpins each of the other values and the intention with which we approach our work. We are testing a new approach to DEI work by bringing in the board and learning alongside each other, which has been helpful to formalize intentions about our long-term DEI goals.
In partnership with YW Boston, we are moving through an action plan to help us map out how we can achieve some of these goals. As part of our commitment to learning alongside our social change community, we have set thoughtful goals around our funder education work to disrupt traditional philanthropic practices. In particular, practices have led to an inequitable allocation of resources with communities of color, who receive less than 4% of philanthropic dollars*.
Our work is focused on sharing strategies for allocating resources equitably and facilitating relationship building between the philanthropic community and leaders of grassroots organizations serving Greater Boston. As we move forward, we are keeping these systemic injustices front and center and being mindful of how we can offer more support to (BIPOC) nonprofit leaders in our community. We are also hoping to share our learnings from our DEI journey with YW Boston in our Learning in Public series.
Continuous Learning - Our team actively seeks out to gain new knowledge and understanding from others, with others, and independently about the range of social issues in our region. We welcome feedback, engage in honest reflection, and focus on ongoing improvement. We also share our learning with others whenever possible
SIF is in constant pursuit of opportunities to engage our stakeholders in learning about one another and the trends in the sector. This year, we invited our funders to be involved in the earlier stage of the track process. Funders and the SIF team learned from issue experts, gaining a better understanding of the social issues highlighted by the 2022 tracks. This invitation to our funders highlighted the importance of learning from and engaging with people much closer to the work than us.
In our alumni community, one way we practice continuous learning is through welcoming feedback that allows us to understand the impact of our workshops, learning cohorts, and pro-bono projects and make changes as necessary. After each engagement, we solicit feedback via a survey, engage members of our Alumni community through our Alumni Council, hold focus groups, and more.
One theme that cut across all of our feedback on the alumni was the value of building relationships and learning from peer nonprofit leaders. As a result of hearing this feedback, SIF updated the Theory of Change to more explicitly name this goal. We've also worked to incorporate more intentional moments of relationship building, peer learning, and collaboration in our workshops and learning cohorts. SIF is willing to listen, collect the feedback and openly share them out in safe and appropriate learning spaces.
Deep Relationships – Fostering authentic and trusting relationships among members of our community is core to how we do our work. SIF makes connections between stakeholders and facilitates the building of genuine relationships with intentionality
At SIF, we learn best when we learn from people whose leadership and work we can trust, which ultimately forges deep relationships. This is our hope when nonprofits and funders come to us, but we recognize that there are barriers to social change including the challenges that BIPOC nonprofits face connecting with the funding community. Our work is continuing to evolve to address these challenges and we will continue to uplift the voice of the BIPOC nonprofit leaders in conversations with funders.
In our work, we also reflected on a couple of ways that folks are currently engaged in deep relationships. For a year now, our Funder Advisory Board has been gathering to learn, unlearn, and grow as a group. They are also helping to guide our funder education programming forward in partnership with our Director of Network Engagement. We’re seeing many of our friends and colleagues register for these events, and they are curious to learn more about participatory grantmaking practices.
In a similar vein, through thick and thin, the Board of Directors has come in to help SIF navigate the tough times and decisions, and support budget choices along an uncertain road. The Board was able to gather with senior staff in person this summer (!) to celebrate the joys of being together, enjoy camaraderie and even play a few games! At a time where so much is uncertain, we can rely on the relationships we’ve built to affirm our solidarity and we will continue to create room for more partnerships to thrive.
Engaged Community – SIF’s “marketplace approach” centers on a connected and collaborative community in which everyone puts their skills to work most effectively towards the shared goal of accelerating social impact.
SIF has managed to engage more than 6,000 community members through its marketplace approach for social change. Despite hosting all of our events online, attendance at SIF virtual events has surpassed that of in-person events. What’s driving our numbers up? Perhaps, it’s the medium through which individuals and foundations can engage in the SIF community - donor, track sponsorship, presentation advisor, consultant, board member - to name a few. In each sphere of work, SIF is intentional about folks learning, building meaningful connections, and offering opportunities to grow in the sector.
In a normal program year, we host close to 60 in-person events (many of them now virtual), to keep our community engaged. Our funder education event on September 21, focused on Participatory Grantmaking, has close to 300 attendees - an audience we usually attract for our annual Social Innovator Showcase. This event is drawing attendees from all over the country, well outside our usual market reach. We welcome all new friends and acquaintances with open arms. Although we have not been able to convene in person, our community has remained committed to our mission and growing social change fervor. While we’re moving forward together, we're also at an interesting intersection in our organization. The months ahead with YW Boston will leap our DEI efforts in an impactful way, hopefully bringing together more of our community in this work.
Nimbleness – SIF is willing to take risks, test new approaches, and pivot in order to respond to emerging priorities. We are adaptable and recognize the need to continuously adjust and innovate in an ever-changing world.
When COVID-19 hit, it was time for us to put our value of nimbleness to the test. With support from our partners, the SIF team was able to pivot to continue its services for nonprofit network members and funders. We had many internal conversations with senior staff and board and made shifts once we realized how the pandemic disrupted nonprofit programming, fundraising, and more. Later in the year, our Alumni program (launched in January 2020) came into the limelight when we kept a pulse on needs as they were evolving and worked to offer timely programming on topics such as PPP loans, managing teams virtually, etc. We noticed that many of our partners considered us as a viable option to help them pivot and make the necessary connections with funders.
The pandemic also impacted foundations to think broadly and creatively about how they could shift their funding practices to lessen the burden on nonprofit leaders. Funders didn’t want to burden nonprofit leaders with more paperwork so many offered to connect via phone, other funders kept applications for the next cycle. This was a huge relief for many nonprofit leaders as they were on-demand 24/7 trying to keep their virtual doors afloat.
All of us - whether in the nonprofit or funder circles - experienced some shift in the way we approach social change work, and how we could better serve the community. As we move into our work with YW Boston, we are going to challenge ourselves to revisit our internal programs and processes to ensure that we are promoting DEI within and outside of SIF.
In our work throughout this pandemic, we can humbly say that SIF staff and the Board of Directors have embraced these core values. As members of our community, our hope is that you apply these values in your work with us. Any conversation or interaction that you have with a nonprofit or funder leader is a moment to share and reflect on how these values inform your work. Ultimately, what we’ve learned is that this work is even more fulfilling when our paths are aligned.
* Learning in public: SIF’s commitment to intentionally sharing our DEI efforts with all of our constituents and incorporating them in our work in a wide range of ways and contexts. We see ourselves as a participant and a learner along with our community members.
*New profit research reveals that organizations led by Black, Indigenous, and Latino/a/x leaders receive only an estimated 4 percent of total grants and contributions in the sector.