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Denver Foundation Keeps Diversity Dialogue Rolling

Communications staff charged with disseminating knowledge captured during foundation initiatives often face a daunting task: how do you package resources in user-friendly ways while still retaining the nuances that make it so valuable? Here’s one example of how The Denver Foundation, which has just been awarded the 2009 Critical Impact Award from the Council on Foundations, worked to achieve that balance.

After almost ten years of effort — including two formal research projects, a targeted, multi-year grant program, and conversations with hundreds of community members — the Denver Foundation has learned quite a bit about what makes nonprofits more inclusive, and thus more effective.

The Foundation’s journey began in 2000 when, according to Rebecca Arno, Vice President of Communications, grantees began telling their program officers that they  “…wanted to attract more diverse staff, board members and donors, but didn’t know how to get started.”

The Foundation responded by forming a steering committee of community leaders from Metro Denver’s seven-county region. Their mission: “to enhance the effectiveness of Metro Denver’s nonprofit sector by becoming more inclusive of people of color. ”

Arno, who describes herself as personally passionate about these issues, was involved from the start with what became known as Expanding Nonprofit Inclusiveness Initiative (ENII). Her team was central not only because diversity efforts are essentially about more effective communication, but also because of the highly visible nature of ENII’s research. In addition to surveys of hundreds of Denver nonprofits and 110 college students and young nonprofit professionals from communities of color, the Foundation also held two conversational meetings with more than 100 individuals of color to explore what makes a nonprofit welcoming or unwelcoming.

From 2006-2007, local nonprofits wishing to dig deeper were invited to compete for $14,000 grants (augmented by $6,000 of their own funds) that would enablethem to participate in an intensive self-examination. Based on an 18-module workbook called Inclusiveness at Work (developed by The Denver Foundation), each organization emerged from the process with a tailored blueprint for building inclusiveness. This work was funded, in part, by the Ford Foundation and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

When the Foundation found itself wanting to make resources developed through ENII more widely available, they were faced with sheer volume. Inclusiveness at Work, for instance, included 218 pages of narrative, 220 pages of worksheets, and 35 pages of appendices.

Rather than distilling the work and eliminating elements that had proven important to the organizations using it, Arno and her staff launched a microsite in 2008 that broke all of the content into user-friendly components. “I work very hard for brevity. But, because this work has to take place at both the individual and organizational level, it requires a lot of tools and ideas.”

In order to encourage interaction with the material, currently averaging 4,500 unique visitors per month, comment capability was added to all of the web pages. The Initiative’s program officer, Adrienne Mansanares, reviews all comments before they are posted but posts all that aren’t inflammatory.

The final result? A virtual home the wide range of voices that have been captured through the Initiative — a place where those committed to the inclusiveness journey can tell their truths and invite others to continue this dialog that fails only if it ends.

Susan Herr


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