Positioning Nonprofits to Elevate Equity and Diversity

Nonprofits were inspired to use the pandemic for transformational change during the 2021 Capital One Reimagine Communities Summit

At the height of the pandemic when family and community need was exploding, 70 percent of nonprofits had to cut expenses, according to Capital One’s “Reimagine Communities” survey. Nearly six in ten had to find new fundraising sources and nearly one in five said the most pressing concern was staff shortages. Yet despite the great cost to their infrastructure, nonprofits continued to persevere in meeting the critical needs of  the communities they serve. 

Capital One recently held its sixth annual nonprofit Summit to answer the pressing question, Where do we go from here? During the Reimagine Communities Summit, more than 500 nonprofit, corporate, community and civic leaders met virtually to hear insights, innovative best practices and strategies to help navigate the unforeseen challenges ahead--and to reimagine a better future for the communities they serve.

“The work that you do as community leaders is incredibly important to the communities where our families live and work, and impacts our overall quality of life,” Sanjiv Yajnik, president of Financial Services at Capital One, told the nonprofit leaders at the Summit’s kickoff. 

According to the Capital One Insights Center’s first study, Marketplace Index: The Road to Recovery, diverse communities have experienced particularly outsized impacts as a result of the pandemic’s economic shock, including higher rates of income loss, a crippling lack of child care options and the end to government stimulus programs, which proved indispensable for many families.        

Three themes emerged from the Summit  that can guide nonprofits and other organizations in building back better.

Three Ways to Build Back Better 

  • Capitalize on the moment to usher in transformational change in organizations to advance equity and inclusion; 
  • Open new avenues for workforce advancement as a springboard to more resilient communities;   
  • Use data and insights to guide and tailor support to those most in need. 

1. Capitalize on the moment to usher in transformational change toward equity and diversity 

Tether missions to a new reality: After a life-altering year and a racial reckoning, panelists throughout the day agreed that organizations cannot return to life as we knew it. Opening the Summit, keynote speaker Valerie Jarrett, president of the Obama Foundation, urged organizations to not lose sight of their mission, but to tether it to this new reality and reinvent roles, goals and outreach. 

Make genuine changes, top-to-bottom: In organizations big and small, diversity, equity and inclusion cannot be a checklist that human resources completes once a year or a disingenuous public relations move, said Wajahat Ali, columnist for the Daily Beast. Nonprofit leaders are clearly eager to create meaningful change, according to  Capital One’s Reimagine Communities survey prior to the Summit. The top skills nonprofit leaders were most interested in learning about at the Summit were empathic leadership, emotional intelligence and how to advance equity and inclusion. 

True transformation starts with power-sharing, said Chastity Lord, president and CEO of the Jeremiah Program. Organizations must create space at the decision-making table for more diverse voices, and those voices must be more than token representatives. Others noted that those at the table should use the moment to change the narrative, and enrich the conversation by offering their own, unique perspectives to the conversation.   

Recruiting diverse talent, mentoring and creating opportunities for success are also critical. Given that staff shortages plague nearly three in ten nonprofit organizations surveyed by Capital One, the time is ripe for advancing diversity in hiring. 

Consider budgets a moral document: Where organizations choose to spend their budgets and how much are also critical leadership decisions. Fundamentally, budgets are “moral documents” reflecting the organization’s values, said Lord. 

Embrace the business case for equity: Building an organization that honors diversity, equity and inclusion in authentic ways is not just a “nice thing to have,” but a business imperative. Diversity and inclusion are strengths that give a competitive advantage in hiring, retention and bottom lines. As Lindsay Williams, a Summit attendee, commented, “diversity without inclusion is expensive, risky and soul-crushing for all stakeholders. Diversity with inclusion is profitable, productive and soul-building.”

2. Open new avenues for workforce advancement to build resilient communities 

The future of work arrived early: The “great resignation”—a record 4 million quit their jobs in August 2021—has revealed something deeply injurious about the way we worked prior to the pandemic. Long hours, low pay, multiple jobs, limited benefits—it was unsustainable. And now the pandemic has ushered in the future of work early, with a rush to automation and a greater reliance on technology, raising the bar even higher for low-skilled workers.

But on a positive note, digitization allows training and education opportunities to reach more workers. While virtual learning will never replace the in-class, high-touch approach, it does help programs reach scale more quickly. Where reaching 3,000 people in person was once considered a success for Plinio Ayala’s training programs at Per Scholas, remote training options mean they can now triple their reach to 10,000 learners by 2025, which gives many more workers a shot at a better job.

Reform workforce development because job mobility is catalytic: “What we did two years ago no longer works as well,” said Chris Valka, chief operating officer at SERJobs, speaking to how businesses and the workforce development sector once operated. But with new approaches and innovative thinking, the new workplace can become a more inclusive system that helps more workers find better jobs and communities become more resilient in turn. 

Rethink credentials to open more doors: A first step is to open doors for more workers of color. A shift to skills-based hiring rather than education-based credentials like a bachelor’s degree can help, said Amanda Cage, CEO of the National Fund for Workforce Solutions. Using a bachelor’s degree to screen job applicants effectively eliminates 68 percent of African Americans and 79 percent of Hispanic/Latinx workers, along with 73 percent of rural workers and 66 percent of veterans, said Cage, referring to research by Opportunity@Work. “That’s a ton of talent that you are not tapping,” she said.  

Provide wrap-around support to boost productivity: Getting a job is only the first step. Policymakers and public- and private-sector leaders must support the “social determinants of work” or the wrap-around supports, such as access to transportation, child care and mental health supports that make it possible for workers to be present and productive while at work.  

3. Use data to tailor supports to those most in need

Use data to do more than “admire the problem”: When the pandemic shut down businesses and people lost jobs, the first thing on many families’ minds was how to pay for housing. Realizing the looming eviction crisis, the federal government sent relief funds to nonprofit providers, who in turn were to distribute it to landlords or tenants to offset rent. But as the Child Poverty Action Lab in Dallas discovered, only by using new data tools could they ensure that the relief money reached those most in need. 

In Dallas, eviction filings were stored in an antiquated computer at the county courthouse. The Child Poverty Action Lab extracted the data and identified who was at immediate risk. They then sent an automated text message to the families alerting them how and where to seek rental assistance.

“That’s an example of using real-time data to help people, not just admire the problem,” said Alan Cohen, the Child Poverty Action Lab’s president. 

Use data to better tailor supports to need: Data can help policymakers better target funding and support, particularly in times of national emergencies or economic disruptions, said Andy Navarrete, executive vice president, and head of external affairs at Capital One.  During the pandemic, with the help of precision data and insights, policymakers sent money to where it was needed most. As the Capital One Insights Center’s “Road to Recovery” report found, that support proved essential to low-income families’ ability to weather the catastrophe.   

A Future Within Our Grasp 

Sometimes a crisis can jumpstart innovation because the urgency and necessity of the moment demand it. That moment is now. Socioeconomic mobility advances such as closing the digital divide and demanding diversity, equity and inclusion (top to bottom) are now underway thanks to the pandemic—which “gives me hope,” said Cohen. 

But still, Cohen cautions, we have much work to do. “I think we should be hopeful but not do our victory laps yet. We’re just at a new starting line.” 

As the panelists at the Summit made clear, the task ahead is not an easy one, but with flexibility and a doubling down on hope and commitment, the nonprofit sector will not only survive but thrive and lead by example for a nation seeking ways to advance racial equity and ensure an inclusive rebound.  

Through Capital One’s Impact Initiative, we are working to help make sure that progress continues by helping nonprofit leaders and organizations adapt and thrive in an ever-changing environment. We will continue to support their needs and help them to identify and close the gaps in equity. To learn more about how we’re arming nonprofits with data and insights, head to CapitalOne.com/About/InsightsCenter

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