Kalamazoo Community Foundation’s Community Investment team is making a shift toward centering trust and authentic relationships in grantmaking. Through conversations with nonprofit partners, the team recognized a common need for increased opportunities to grow capacity for diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) work.

"Organizations were saying they wanted to deepen their understanding around DEI, but they didn’t always have the professional development dollars to be able to prioritize it for their staff or board members," said KZCF Community Investment Officer Elena Mireles-Hill (now DEI Director). "We were getting a lot of individual grant requests to fund trainings and we thought it would be easier for us to just sponsor the trainings so all they have to do is sign up – not spend time writing grants for trainings."

Although KZCF did offer a few DEI trainings to nonprofits in 2018, the team developed a deeper approach in 2019. In spring 2019, the Community Investment team worked with several local partners to launch the 2019 Equity Series, monthly DEI trainings and workshops offered at no cost for KZCF grantees. Subject matter included ability, anti-racism, immigration, gender identity, LGBTQ identity and thinking about equity work when it comes to servicing clientele with multiple marginalized identities.

"Our grantees serve and support people who have been marginalized by society – children, seniors, people with disabilities, people of color and others. But the reality is a majority of organizations aren’t necessarily led by these same groups," Mireles-Hill said. "One way to bridge that disconnect, was to provide training to grow their staff’s DEI capacity as a way of increasing impact and reducing possible harms service recipients could experience."

These harms can include further isolating community members by offering programs and services that are not culturally appropriate or accessible.

Grantees gather for the Ableism training facilitated by Disability Network Southwest Michigan. This workshop examined the belief system that tells us it is better to be non-disabled than it is to be disabled.

Trainings included Intro to Gender-Nonconforming Community Members facilitated by Sojn Boothroyd; Understanding Identity, Power and Oppression with Mia Henry; and Ableism 101 with Disability Network Southwest Michigan. Attendance was maxed at the anti-racism trainings as well as the immigration trainings. The LGBTQ and gender identity trainings were also well-attended.

Since the series launched, the KZCF Community Investment team has noticed a difference in how nonprofits are communicating about their work, outlining strategies around DEI in their organizations and making adaptations to better serve the diversity of the community. Participants’ responses to workshops have been positive.

"Mia Henry did an impressive job presenting very challenging and often uncomfortable material to a broad range of attendees in a way that also invited people to challenge their own assumptions and biases," responded one nonprofit partner in an anonymous survey following the Identity, Power and Oppression training.

Participants also left the training with tools to make changes in their work. "I’d like to take more time to know the identities, experiences and needs of the customers we serve from their perspective," another nonprofit survey response said.

To increase access to leadership opportunities, the Community Investment team also prioritized funding for direct coaching and capacity building support for nonprofit leaders of color from local grassroots organizations. This, in addition to the Equity Series, are among the strategies the CI team explored in 2019 to provide resources and support beyond grantmaking.

"We understand that money alone won’t get us to the change we hope to see in Kalamazoo County," said Sandy Barry-Loken, senior Community Investment officer at KZCF. "By exploring innovative, multi-pronged strategies like the Equity Series trainings we increase the possibility for organizations to do long-term, transformational work."

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