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First Steps in Examining Our Nonprofit Stories for Racism

By March 27, 2019November 25th, 2020Storytelling

Not surprisingly, last week’s post: Storytelling and Racism generated more feedback than any other post in the past 10 years of writing my Fire Starters blog. The overall consensus was that it’s well past time for many of us to take our first steps in examining our nonprofit stories for racism.

While it feels we are in uncharted waters I was grateful for the personal lessons and observations you shared.  As Michele Norris and Sean Gibbins shared in the recent Chronicle of Philanthropy article:  Nonprofits Unintentionally Perpetuate Racism. Here’s How to Stop:

“Our words carry currency. How we talk about it matters. The imagery we use, whom we listen to, whom we invite to sit at the table, and whom we are talking to (or aren’t) can help perpetuate racist systems. Or it can begin to break them down.”

One person asked: “why racism when there are so many prejudices to eradicate?”

What I’m learning is racism is the most complex and long lasting social dynamic in our country and likely the world. As white people we can never fully understand what it means to be a person of color with decades and lifetimes of inequality and lack of freedoms. Understanding the roots of racism begins when begin to recognize and change our own visible or invisible intolerance and division-causing actions.
Nonprofit Stories Racism
I invite you to join me on this journey. I’ll continue to share my experiences and stumbles. I welcome you to share yours with me. Together we can notice and learn while we become more aware through conversation and actions.

Thank you to everyone who generously shared candid thoughts and feedback. Some of last week’s comments are shared below, including a short list of questions to help keep our storytelling focus on honoring and serving.

From Charles.
Thank you for raising this issue, as hard as it is with which to deal. This is an issue that has caused me many sleepless nights trying my best to raise up, support, and care for my fellow humans, no matter of race. The questions I ask myself are:

1. Does this story raise someone up?

2. Does race need to be a part of the story?

3. What is the human condition in which I am addressing and can it be addressed generally or does it need to be address personally?

4. Does the individual/group of the story receive respect, appreciation and honor?

5. When the person, who the story is about or can relate to it, reads it, will he/she be appreciative?

6. Will my mentor, who has encouraged, pushed, and helped me to be inclusive, be proud of this story?

These are a few of the thoughts on racism I deal with when writing and speaking.

From Nancy.
In our storytelling we put effort into centering the subject and their strengths, then how connection to resources helps to build on those strengths.

From A.
Thank you, Lori, for speaking out about this.  You should also seek out a wonderful storyteller, Dr. Johnny Lake. He has presented alongside Robin DiAngelo and has some differing points of view.

Our society has great work to do with respect to acknowledging the deep racism and microagressions that are prevalent in communications and fundraising. Those who are aware, struggle with catering to the (white) saviorism that is the current model of fundraising. If you would like to dig deeper, I suggest following these blogs:

Vu Le, Nonprofit AF


Equity Matters

From Rebecca.
I have been intentionally working on undoing racism for the past 30 years, mostly spurred on by workshops through The People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond. My Diocese is currently working with The People’s Institute on a 15-20 year plan for systemic change to become a Diocese with an anti-racist identity.

One thing that’s important is having Black and Brown people (and not just one) look at the piece and provide feedback. It’s best to be part of a diverse community working on the issue, because then you get better feedback, I think. I was taught to work in an anti-racist way led by People of Color working on their own internalized oppression.

Of course, this is just the beginning of what we can do to make certain our stories don’t perpetuate or re-victimize people of color.

I look forward to hearing more of your feedback and thoughts.



  • Manisha says:

    Lori- I appreciate your efforts to examine the good work you do. I come to this from a different perspective as I am a woman of color trying to nurture relationships with white donors. I have taken over management of the nonprofit from a prominent white woman who uses her powers for good. Yet many of the donors (her network) do not know me and I know many do not trust me (yet). I now do my work with a whole new set of micro-aggressions. Every week I think about where “my line” is, how much will I tolerate. But thankfully I have a Board that is kind and responsive to my need to discuss.

    Race is “always already” a factor in every daily interaction. Every story must acknowledge this and if it is left out, the way we are educated in this country will inevitably fill in the gap. I hope that everyone will take this into account and find ways to “control” the story that guides to donors to kindness and open hearts.

    I appreciate the way that you take this head on with your emails but I am wondering if I am the POC on your mail list? We all have work to do. I like to say that everyone has a role in the revolution. But I can’t help but think….first I was dismissed by many because I was a WOC, now I hope I am not overlooked….no matter what ethnicity we are, no matter what cultural background informs our work, there is no doubt that we all need good leaders to create a path for us.

    Thank you for all the good work that you do! And thank you pushing others to do better!

    • Manisha, Thank you for your thoughtful comments. And thank you for taking on, every single day, the mantle of not only running your organization, but being placed in the position of having to choose “how much you will tolerate” from unaware, uninformed supporters.

      This blog has readers from around the world of all backgrounds and ethnicity. You are in no way the only POC receiving these posts. That said, I would welcome the opportunity to talk with you…I’ve taken Spanish classes at your organization…the work you are doing is very important to me. Let me know how I can help. Warmly, Lori

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