Rounding Out Equity in Organizations – Leadership, Evaluation, Funding

Today’s Coffee Time with Masterminds episode, “Rounding Out Equity in Organizations” is the final episode in our Equity Series. Today, we discuss out of box solutions for overcoming barriers to creating equity in Leadership, Evaluation, and Funding.


Rebecca Tuttle 0:03

Today’s Coffee Time with Masterminds, is closing out or rounding out our series on equity. In this episode, we’ll be discussing out-of-the-box solutions for overcoming barriers to creating equity in leadership evaluation and funding.


Rebecca Tuttle 0:50

Welcome to Coffee Time with Masterminds, a 30-minute conversation with leaders of mission-based organizations, we want to welcome everyone from the U.S., Australia, and around the world. Tuning in to today’s episode. Closing out our series on Equity. I’m Rebecca Tuttle and I’d like to welcome my colleagues to the show this morning. Pieta Blakely and Cynthia Rojas. Good morning!

Pieta Blakely 1:12

Good morning! How are you?

Rebecca Tuttle 1:16

Hi, how are you?

Pieta Blakely 1:18

I’m good

Cynthia Rojas 1:19

Yeah, it’s good to be on Rebecca. It’s good to see you.

Rebecca Tuttle 1:20

I was just going to say, I’m really excited because I think in today’s episode, we’re going to tap into our three areas of expertise. And this is a really great episode or a way to round out our equity series.

Pieta Blakely 1:40

Yes. I think, we talk about equity a lot in theory, but it’s really useful to talk about it.
How it actually affects doing your job on a day-to-day basis.

Cynthia Rojas 1:50
I mean, one thing we learned also from doing the series is, we can talk about equity all the time it cuts across every aspect of our lives. And the idea of equity is also a lot, it’s wide, it’s deep, so we’ve had great conversations, really great conversations.

Rebecca Tuttle 2:14

Absolutely. Can we talk about how you ensure a balance of equity in leadership, Cynthia?

Cynthia Rojas 2:20

Yeah, we’re starting with leadership. You know, there is this early theory of leadership, used to claim that there is one person at the top who was born for that role.
We’ve done away with that right and what leadership has evolved to is this idea of shared leadership or distributed leadership. Where is it really about one person but bringing others into the leadership process, right. So, I hear a lot that leadership is a process and not so much a role and making it a verb and really giving your staff the tools to engage in leadership activities, such as, decision-making, autonomy, problem solving. One of the things that the pandemic has lifted for a lot of leaders is that those who tended to be really leader-centric. Actually, they had to delegate decision-making and they are forever changed because of that. So, to your question, balance is really important. I’m going to pause there because I know you have other questions and we’ll definitely come back and expound on leadership.

Rebecca Tuttle 3:49

You know, it’s interesting that you use the word leadership as a verb and you emphasize saying so. As I was prepping for the show, you know, how we prep the show. We write out our thoughts and our notes. And one of the thoughts that came to mind was an organization that is led by equity versus an organization that is leading with equity and, you know, all the research. Really, it makes the most sense to be in the verb form. To lead with equity, because the way that we’ve maybe historically led with equity or been led with equity is something of the past and it’s something that is continuously evolving when you talk about equity. So, to Pieta’s point about, we could go on for a long time with equity as a topic, absolutely. But we should be using it in the verb tense.

Pieta Blakely 4:44

Yeah, it’s an ongoing practice. These are not issues that anybody can solve in one go. It’s something to address over and over in every decision.

Cynthia Rojas 4:58

I love that. An ongoing practice. There’s no destination; it is just our way of being. I love that.

Rebecca Tuttle 5:15

That is neat. So, when there are inequities in leadership. What does that look like?

Cynthia Rojas 5:23

Yeah. Well, it looks like a centralized group of people making decisions without using data or engaging the thoughts of other people. So, we see this a lot in big corporations where decisions get made. Now, we’re going to, these people are going to work from home. These people are going to work in the office and these are the criteria. And no one engaged others in a conversation about the impact of that, especially since, let’s not forget, we are still in a pandemic, right. So, that’s important for leaders to understand so this idea of just dictating or using a small group of people who I would probably bet are homogenous right because many leadership teams lack diversity. Yet what they decide is really powerful or has a powerful influence over people’s lives at every level. Pieta’s always reminding us, let’s not forget that front desk person, right. I don’t want to assume that it’s just an office for some reason I have this vision in my head of Home-Depot. I don’t know why I’m thinking. I do not go to Home-Depot much. I do not fix things, but I’m thinking about home-depot. You want to think about the person who welcomes you when you first walk into the store, or the person that they’re registered with and getting their input. So, let’s decentralize decision-making, for many non-profits that was forced upon them during the pandemic.

Pieta Blakely 7:12

Yeah. I mean, the pandemic helpfully up-upended a lot of the ways that we have traditionally done our work. We’ve always done it that way, ceased to be a really good excuse. When everything changed and changed. And that’s a real opportunity, right.

Cynthia Rojas 7:36

Yeah. You know, Rebecca. You want some out of the box thinking. I once proposed this to a CEO; it did not go well. I mean, talk about us really holding on to traditional ways of being. I was having a conversation and she was really stuck because she needed to put a group of people together. But she didn’t want to offend, not invite, other people. And not everybody who she wanted in her cabinet for this initiative was a leader. So, she was paying attention to how leaders would interpret her, inviting a member of their team and not them. I asked her, I said, why don’t you? How about if you do away with titles?  

Why don’t we have titles, they don’t even make sense. What if you had an organizational culture where everybody had the same title or didn’t have the same title, and that you were brought into teams based on your skills and competencies? And you did away with titles. Of course, you would have to think about performance management and all that good stuff. But I thought that was really out of the box, thinking no one has ever taken me up on that offer.

Pieta Blakely 8:59

I suspect that that’s because the person who’s going to make the decision has the title, CEO.

Cynthia Rojas 9:11

Does anybody know of an organization who does this? And we see a lot in start-ups, really small start-ups, where everybody’s just walking up their sleeves. But that’s not exactly what I’m talking about. I’m talking about an organizational culture where work or who participates at the table, is not driven by your tittle. But it’s driven by your competency, your skills, or what you can write, what you can contribute to the project.

Rebecca Tuttle 9:40

That also has to do with efficiency. If you have a team, and all the leaders are sitting around the table and they lack a certain competency or skill. And someone who’s not in the leadership department has that skill, has that talent to offer. Why not bring them into the table? Why not, instead of proceeding with a deficiency which you could meet if you just put another chair at the table or two, right. I mean, it sounds so simple, but I think, there is an element of threat there. Well, what’s going to happen to me if I don’t have this skill and everyone looks to me as a leader, and we bring someone in who’s a non-leader. I’ve seen that a lot where there’s a threat there. If you just tap into people’s talents, then I would want to be a more successful team as a whole and not just limit ourselves. What happens is the community you serve suffers, because you can’t offer that to them. Really interesting scenario, I see that a lot in my work with.

Pieta Blakely 10:52

Yeah, I’m sure this is really fundamental to how the not-for-profit sector was founded right that it was people who did not have lived experience solving this for the people who did have lived experience of the problem. That’s where all of that deficit thinking comes from, where a lot of bad decisions have come from. So, this is not just changing our organization. It’s looking at hundreds of years of tradition and saying we need to upend this. We need to think about this in a completely different way, right.

Cynthia Rojas 11:40

Yeah, I’ll tell you a short story. This experience has really helped frame how I look at things, and how to center equity, ensure that I send equity in all that I do. I worked with an organization where they needed to do some cutting of costs because of budgetary reasons, and so the CFO, who was an investor in his previous life, thought that really the biggest hit to the organization was health insurance. So, that if we redesigned that package that we could do that we could save money, we wouldn’t have layoffs. We wouldn’t have furloughs or anything like that.

The rest of the leaders felt like this was the only way to go. What it did, however, is that it created a compensation package where there was a huge deductible. Where employees had to pay a larger premium, and it didn’t occur to anybody, but they later realized almost like two years later that. Individuals were exiting because they couldn’t afford to pay for health insurance. One decision had a huge impact on this organization. And they never surveyed the staff, and what they learned after they started seeing this high turnover is that, the staff started to look like the profile of the very people that they were serving. Staff were also grappling with poverty issues and things of that nature, and staff just couldn’t, they just couldn’t work environment.

Pieta Blakely 13:27

He didn’t save the money. He transferred the cost to the staff.

Cynthia Rojas 13:32

Yeah, and so maybe that was the only thing to do. I would never know, but I do know that they did not survey the staff. I do know that they didn’t do post surveys either to see, to check in on how people would do it. There was no acknowledging that this would burden staff. They suffered one decision and they suffered greatly for it for years.

Rebecca Tuttle 13:56

Yeah. It’s interesting, because when your top tier leader, makes more than 10 of your annual budget in their salary. And then you see things like that occur, that’s inequity, I believe. If we could just maybe balance out the top and then then you wouldn’t be passing that along, because that hurt. Now, not only are you working for health insurance, but you’re working to pay for health insurance, right. With the inflation that we’re experiencing right now, but it’s almost not worth it to work, if you’re not making ends meet by working. I’m not suggesting, you believe it. Obviously, I don’t want to go there, but that’s something that we should take a look at.

Pieta Blakely 14:53

We start a whole series on the great resignation and all the ways in which workers find it’s just not worth it to them to work under certain circumstances.

Rebecca Tuttle 15:06

Okay, Pieta. Organizations, they tend to rely on the same data because it’s easy to get, right. We ask the same questions every year, but we also share the same data every year. How can organizations ensure that their data collection and reporting is more reflective of the community’s needs?

Pieta Blakely 15:23

Well, this also comes from the ground up, and it’s not a tweak or an adjustment. It’s a massive philosophical shift, because the field of evaluation grew up in the same environment as the field of not-for-profits, and is itself rooted in white supremacy and deficit-based thinking, right. So, a lot of what we’re doing is counterproductive and extractive. Here are some of the ways. One, is we measure things that are bad in our deficits; we rarely find ways to measure strengths. We ask for a lot of data from people; we ask them to constantly be filling in forms, and we don’t necessarily justify how we’re using the time right. We need to value individuals time even when they are living in conditions of poverty, their time is still valuable.

 They don’t owe us any data or any information. A third way, is let’s ask them. Generally, the evaluation is for some researchers who’ve never even been to the community. Make some recommendations about data collection. And the organization starts doing data collection, by means of forms and surveys and whatnot. But participants aren’t at the table designing this process. The community isn’t there saying that question doesn’t make sense. You know, that’s just not how we do things in this community. Just because we don’t have A, doesn’t mean we’re lacking B. We just, we do it in a different way, that is an unmet need for us, so it’s going to take a lot longer. I mean, here is really the big obstacle to designing an evaluation plan that’s thoughtful, and that’s centering equity. From the beginning, it’s going to take a lot longer than just designing your survey, and sending it out. It’s going to mean getting input on the evaluation plan, getting it put on the questions themselves.

Getting input on the tools, maybe hiring from the community to do data collection; hiring from the community to do what I call meaning making. Where people look at the data and figure out how to interpret it, and how to talk about it and what it means for the organization. Here’s a big one if members of the community are on your evaluation team, you’ve got to pay them right they are, they are bringing their expertise and their time to this process. I don’t work for nothing; they shouldn’t either, right. They’d also need to be compensated for their time. So, this is like a complete rethink of how evaluation could be done. It’s going to take us years to really get there. And for consultants like me to really be effective in talking to clients about how the process should look really different and should take a lot longer than some of the ways we do things now.

Cynthia Rojas 18:55

Pieta, you mentioned something that I think is simple and yet still needs to be really thoughtful. It’s this idea of bringing people to the table, bringing the community. I love using members of the community to conduct the survey, right. Let’s make sure that we pay them, but I love this idea of really digging deep. You hone this point, often. Let’s dig deeper. Is there someone else? You’re constantly encouraging people to really think deeply. It’s a simple idea, but it also needs thoughtfulness. Inclusivity means that you are open to other people’s perspectives.

Pieta Blakely 19:50

Yeah, that’s pretty scary, right.

Rebecca Tuttle 19:53

Yeah. That’s the fear, is we don’t want to hear anything, that we don’t want to hear. So, we’re going to ask beacons to get what we want to hear.

Pieta Blakely 20:00

Yeah. What do we do with the community. It’s not really the service we need.

Cynthia Rojas 20:06

So, in an effort to understand, we also know that leaders are really busy. If you have a clear vision and a goal, you already have a pathway. And that these surveys or including other people with different perspectives could derail that. Sometimes, when you need to get to a destination. You know, that’s looked at as a negative rather than a positive thing. So, it makes a mindset shift.

Pieta Blakely 19:58

Yeah. We’re really going to rethink that and say, if I started on a path and it got derailed because the community told me. That’s not the right thing to look at, right. I need to count that as a massive win. I collected some really valuable insights, and got my plan redesigned for me with really valuable perspectives. That’s a massive win, and it’s organizationally, and ethically more important than filling out the form that we under-wanted, completed. So, we’ve really had to rethink these rapid fire-evaluation plans, where we’re conducting a million surveys on a really tight timeline. It’s just not productive. Let’s do one well, instead of trying to do all of them at once, right.

Cynthia Rojas 21:40

I love that. Yesterday, I was having a conversation with an ED who is really wanting to
Deepen the work in her organization around D, E, and I.  And so, her first question to me is, are there any trainees you recommend? I said, I have no idea. So, I paused purposely, and then I said. But if you survey your staff, they will tell you what they need, right. She thought that was eye-opening, and it’s again simple. It has to be thoughtful, though, but simple. I think if your greatest takeaway from this show is to ask others. Then, I think you’re on the right path. Rebecca, I’m interested from a fundraising perspective, though. What does it look like?

Rebecca Tuttle 22:39

So, just really quick going through what we’re talking about now. Is that when you have those aha moments. When you have a community tell you something that you didn’t know, that’s the big win moment. That’s when you should be reporting back to the funder. That’s what they want to know. And they have opened up, and made funding so much more flexible. It used to be that we said we would do this, and if we didn’t do this. We told them, we didn’t, because of this, and here’s the reason, here are the funds back. But now funders want to know, what are these big wins, what are these changes. Keep the funds and meet the needs of the community. That’s really what the work is about, and funders want to be investing in the need. So, what was important to the community, is no longer what funders are looking to fund, if that makes sense.

They want to fund these hard conversations. They want to fund this difficult work, because what they’re really looking for, I believe, is to be a contributor to healing, to be a contributor to change. It used to call it grassroots movements, right. But I believe that the majority of the funding that we see is coming through. If we’re going to make a change in equity in our community and our organizations has to focus on this grassroots movement. This change that the community is calling for, otherwise, we’re just going to keep asking the same survey questions. Having those same deficit approaches, and funders aren’t looking to fund that. They want to see also that funds that they are investing in today, are making a difference today, and then carrying through tomorrow and the following year. I have seen more multi-year funding coming through, than ever before. I believe, it’s because they’re seeing from organizations that they’re taking the work seriously, and then they’re starting to produce different results than they have previously seen.

Pieta Blakely 24:56

Yeah. I remember in the old days. When so many grants for one year, and we would all say at the end of that year. We’ve almost figured out how to do this. We would have a beta here and then that was it the program ended. I’m so glad, that we’re now getting more like two and three-year grants, because it does give you the opportunity to really figure it out. And it’s by year three, that I think a program is breaching its criminal form, right.

Cynthia Rojas 25:28

Yeah. I mean, talk about being, drowning in equity. Wow, it really puts smaller organizations at a disadvantage. It really assumes that you have the infrastructure that allows for your team to constantly reapply for funding. That is not good.

Pieta Blakely 25:55

Yeah. You can’t get your legs under you. As soon as you get this grant, you’re hustling for the next grant, right. And it keeps all of your staff insecurely employed. It makes you write a lot of short-term jobs. It’s not ideal for building up organizations.

Rebecca Tuttle 26:15

Yeah. There’s so much fight to be had in that. I’ll give you an example. On Monday, I submitted a grant request for a client. It was $257 000 last year; they filed their articles of incorporation in march, I believe. We applied in April for a $204 000 grant, and we received it. So, they went from zero to 204 in a matter of months. This year, we’re applying for the 257. And then when the 204 opportunity comes around again, we’re going to apply for that again. So, now they may have gone, fingers crossed. From zero to $516 000, if all funding comes in, by June of this year. So, knock on wood, right. They were an organization that saw a need in the community and they said we’re not going to stop until we obtain the resources that we need to help this community, because that’s what’s important so.

I think, where organizations get stuck is, sometimes they see themselves as smaller organizations. Then they look around and they see, wow, there’s so many inequities in funding around the same groups getting the same funds over and over. I wish we could be more like that, receiving that level of support; it’s a transfer of wealth. It can be done and I think the more you have your community around you, cheering you on calling for these funds. Funders are making note of that, and they’re saying we’re going to make that investment, that shift of wealth over here. Because everyone’s telling us it’s needed, that’s really powerful. I guess, what I’m saying is, never underestimate the voice of your community. I look at it like when we put things out on social media. What are we looking for in return? like what are we looking for?

Cynthia Rojas 28:22

I didn’t prepare for this test.

Rebecca Tuttle 28:30

For engagement, right. Think about your outreach to the community, as if it’s social media, we’re looking for engagement. What do we do with that? We build our social

campaigns. Our communications off of that engagement. I think it works the same way.

Pieta Blakely 28:50

I think for a long time, organizations have demanded engagement. They would sort of arrive in communities like, ta-da we’re here; you’re lucky that we’re here. And if the community wasn’t engaging with them. They thought that was a failure on the part of the community. So, it’s really a mind shift.

Rebecca Tuttle 29:17

Absolutely, they did it. They’re going, they’re full speed ahead looking for that engagement. So, and I also think when you put it in to turn into something that you’re used to and comfortable and confident in. Like social media, in your personal areas of life, right. It makes the tasks less daunting. It makes it more fun. It’s more engaging. So, I don’t know. That’s my take.

Pieta Blakely 29:46

Yeah. I think, it’s important to comment one last time on how all of these things feed on each other. So, organizations lacking evaluation data, keep funders from funding them again. Funders traditionally, have underfunded black and brown lead organizations or not funded them enough to have huge infrastructure, which reduces the data they collect with it. While the organizations that have these multi-year relationships with the funders are more stable, and have more infrastructure. Therefore, like create certain expectations for how you do things like, data collection and reporting. We’ve all got to think differently if we want to cultivate leaders of color and leaders with lived experience of the issues that we work on. We have to rethink the entire design and program.

Rebecca Tuttle 30:54

Yeah. All right. Take away. I think, we’re done here. I hope everyone has a wonderful weekend. It’s always a pleasure to be here with you, Cynthia, and Pieta.

Pieta Blakely 31:11

Have a great weekend, everybody.

Cynthia Rojas 31:14


Pieta Blakely

About Pieta Blakely

I help mission-based organizations measure their impact so that they can do what they do well. I started my nonprofit career as a teacher in workforce development and adult basic education. It was important work and I was worried that we didn’t really know if we were doing it well. In the process of trying to answer that question, I got a Masters in Education and a PhD in Social Policy, and became an evaluator.

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.