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Such a Year - Part Three: Embracing a DEIB Framework

In recent months three essays have documented significant actions and shifts that developed within Impact Austin since the COVID-19 lockdown in March 2020. Our first piece explored the leadership that Impact Austin, and Executive Director Christina Gorczynski in particular, demonstrated in the early months of the pandemic. The second essay examined Impact Austin’s grantmaking shifts in 2020.

This final article considers the progress of our Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging initiative: the content we've curated to educate our membership and community; and how DEIB principles frame Impact Austin's priorities, activities, and events.

Christina Gorczynski makes clear that much of what seemed to happen so quickly in 2020 was actually due to groundwork laid in 2018 and 2019. In fact, Impact Austin’s commitment to DEIB was mandated by our 2018-2021 Strategic Plan, adopted even before Christina joined Impact Austin in Fall 2018.

From the beginning, Impact Austin’s DEI initiative needed a visionary leader, and new member Joanna Nolte became its first chair soon after joining in early 2019. Joanna had just retired from Shell Oil Company and had facilitated their Diversity and Inclusion program. While new to Impact Austin, she wasn't new to DEI.

“Impact Austin’s Board and leadership made DEI a priority in 2018. That was critical,” Joanna asserted. “There was so much passion and enthusiasm that I was really gratified.” But the challenge remained to determine what it meant for our organization and how we would get going. Joanna added, “How do WE define diversity? What are all the visible and invisible ways we differ? And where would we focus first? We had to be aligned in what we would measure.” What followed was “foundational work,” in Joanna’s description.

  • Form a DEI Committee (later became DEIB to add “Belonging”).

  • Examine – and then revise – Impact Austin’s mission, vision, values with a DEI lens

  • Begin the member education process.

  • Gather data to better understand current membership demographics. (Now Impact Austin’s member portal gathers demographic information and member registration and renewal forms request data as well. Participation is strongly encouraged.)

  • Start to identify barriers that prevent women from joining Impact Austin.

DEIB Education launches with access to all

In January 2019, Impact Austin launched our DEI education process with Discovery Days. One roundtable discussed the community’s collective impact on social equity in Austin and how we can better collaborate and advocate to achieve the community we all desire. Keynote Speaker Toya Cirica Bell got more specific. She challenged us to consider the range of what diversity means beyond race - ability, political viewpoint, religion, gender, generation, socioeconomic status. Toya zeroed in on how to become an anti-racist, multi-cultural organization with a more diverse membership. She urged us to become comfortable with discomfort, listening and connecting more, and being open to transformation.

By Spring 2020, the now-DEIB committee grew from 5 members to 18 and was led by Kendall Antonelli and Carmaleta McKinnis-Williams. They formed a learning subcommittee charged with creating engaging and representative programming for ourselves as members to be more inclusive philanthropists – and then opening those opportunities to the community.

The COVID pandemic redefined our education programming, but there were several positive outcomes. Says Kendall, “I believe the virtual medium allowed more people to be included in our programming. For instance, we've been able to get some great speakers from outside of Austin - including Anna Liotta from the Generational Institute and Drew Wilborn, board member from Disability Rights Texas.” And Impact Austin continued to learn even as we were providing content. Kendall admits, “… even our equity webinar series on abilities and disabilities was a learning experience, as we realized the need to provide closed captioning in all our virtual experiences, and that's a change that I'm glad to say is here to stay. We have been able to share our educational opportunities with folks regardless of their geographic location. That helped us amplify our work.”

2021 Discovery Days offered a DEIB track with two sessions. Kendall said, “We were thrilled to learn that over 100 people joined us for our Discovery Day sessions on A History of Race and Racism in Austin and Being an Inclusive Leader." The success of those sessions motivated the DEIB Committee to extend DEIB webinars beyond Discovery Days, with Exploring Equity in the Disability World in March; Exploring and Overcoming Generational Biases in July; and a session in October 2021 focused on gender identity and sexual orientation. Recordings of all these sessions remain on Impact Austin’s website and YouTube channel as resources for members or anyone.

DEIB Training starts with leadership and GRCs; expands to general membership

By early 2020, first DEI trainings had been offered to the Board and Grant Review Committees. The general membership was next. Discovery Days 2020 continued Impact Austin’s DEI education, this time applying the concepts directly to our organization. Chair Kim Davis and committee members Alice Marsel and Lav Chintapalli shared a power point presentation that explained what DEI could mean to our organization. Kim recalls, “I think there were two main factors that motivated the Impact Austin team to develop and embrace DEI and they were a bit interrelated. The women who participated in Impact Austin were mainly white, older women. Given that demographic we knew we needed to look more like our community. In addition, we might have missed out on connecting better with our community.” Kim pointed out that a more diverse membership might be more aware of potential grant recipients not already on Impact Austin’s radar and also better understand the value those nonprofits were bringing to the community.

From 2020-2021, Impact Austin refined our DEIB training for Grant Review Committees. To that end, we hired Carmaleta McKinnis-Williams as a DEIB professional; she guided the volunteers to explore unconscious biases and also to help them identify and resolve potential biases as we move finalists forward in the grants process. The entire Grants team then had to consider accessibility barriers for nonprofits wanting to apply - a consideration that is now incorporated into Impact Austin's streamlined grant application process.

Kendall reports that Impact Austin’s board has taken "Beyond Diversity: Courageous Conversations" proposed by the City of Austin and led by the acclaimed Pacific Education Group under Glenn Singleton. The Board has also taken Mission Capital's Unconscious Bias training.

Creating a more inclusive organization

The 2021-2023 Strategic Plan Extension ensures that DEIB principles won't live on one committee but are instead embedded throughout all our work. “We didn't want a DEIB ‘pillar’ on the plan,” said Kendall. “Instead, DEIB is intentionally represented throughout all the pillars.”

In Spring 2021, Impact Austin convened a Membership Task Force of cross-functional IA leaders to consider practices and policies that could better attract, support, and sustain a more diverse membership in conjunction with our Strategic Plan priorities.

The task force made specific recommendations:

  • An updated Community Partner membership category

  • Maximizing virtual and in-person events

  • Exploring a tiered membership model, scholarships and gift memberships

  • Leveraging the new Strategic Advisory Council to generate more diversity

  • Evaluating external communications

  • Auditing internal policies and practices with a DEIB lens

In conclusion - for now

Kendall Antonelli reflected, “Hopefully, Central Texas folks from all walks of life and with varied lived experiences will see that we want to be an organization that serves them through our philanthropy and that welcomes them as philanthropists. After all, our whole mission is

that we are better together...that we can make a greater impact when we pool our talents, treasures, and time. And the more folks we have in that effort, the better. Yet potential members need to see that, if they join, the causes and people that matter to them are supported, amplified, lifted up, and represented. That's our hope. We've done some great work, but we've got more to do.”

Joanna Nolte concluded her interview with these observations. “The challenge is to manage the DEIB initiative strategically. How should we balance outreach opportunities with member education? What are best practices within other organizations? We must periodically check where we’re headed. Are we living our values?”

Joanna summed it up: “You’re never done. By the nature of the work, you can always do more.”


DEIB Blog Resources

Videos Exploring Equity in the Disability World A History of Race, Racism & Philanthropy in Central Texas (Panel Presentation on Trust-Based Philanthropy) (Investing Through a Gender Lens)


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