In the wake of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor’s murders last spring and the mass Black Lives Matter protests that followed, many organizations and brands scrambled to issue statements to demonstrate solidarity with the movement. Criticism was quick to follow, with many pointing out the hypocrisy and harm caused by well-crafted statements condemning racism coming from brands and white-led organizations that had otherwise done very little to combat racism — in their organizations or the world around them.
Since then, the hits keep coming. Between ongoing acts of violence against Black and brown people by the police and white supremacists, the siege on the US Capitol in early January and the recent surge in violence against Asians, nonprofit organizations find themselves grappling week to week with the questions: should we issue a statement? If we do issue a statement, what should we say? And what else can we do to advance racial justice and support organizations and advocates on the front lines of this issue?
At Resource Media, we also grapple with these questions, and we are currently embarking on a process to formalize our internal approach. We’ve benefitted from the excellent advice and guidance from others, including Sapna Sapori with Sapna Strategies, and we’ve blogged about the harm caused by acts of “equity theater” and ways organizations can ensure solidarity statements have the intended impact. In our support for a number of nonprofit organizations, we’ve also helped others develop their own internal guidelines to help inform decision-making in the heat of the moment. Along the way, we’ve assembled some core principles and criteria that we believe can be helpful to any organization seeking to develop an approach that is inclusive, grounded in equity and authentic to each organization’s place on the equity journey.
The following principles are designed to help organizations leverage their power and influence to support anti-racist work while ensuring they do so in a way that supports their staff, especially staff of color, and in a way that that helps elevate the voices of people who find community and solace in speaking out about issues that are close to them, and that attempts to cause no additional harm and trauma.
In offering them, we acknowledge our own missteps and learnings, the times we’ve failed to act quickly enough, or when we’ve acted without proper engagement and consultation. We, too, are learning, and we commit to continuing to refine and improve our approach to support our staff and board and leverage our organization’s brand and influence to support those working tirelessly to advance racial justice every day.
In determining whether to develop and issue a statement:
- Start with an internal dialogue about why you feel it’s appropriate to issue a statement. Is it because of pressure? Fear? Passion about the issue? Consider whether your organization’s energy could be better served taking on the workload of impacted staff members, instead of immediately drafting a statement.
- Create a decision-making structure that is clear to staff and other stakeholders (for example, your board of directors) with a process for consultation and input–especially with staff who are most impacted (see below). At Resource Media, we use the RACI framework for decision-making but there are many others.
- Acknowledge the tension between the need to move quickly (heightened urgency is a hallmark of white supremacy culture) and the need to be thoughtful and give space for reflection and consultation with staff.
- Keep internal communications as transparent as possible, first by acknowledging the traumatic event and disproportionate impact on affected staff members, then by opening up a thread to discuss possible responses. Center the views and perspectives of staff and colleagues who are uniquely impacted due to their identities and histories.
- Consider whether your organization has a distinct, unique perspective or viewpoint on the situation that can be additive to the broader conversation.
- Consider whether your organization has special influence or credibility with decision makers important to the issue, whether weighing in would be helpful to groups working on the front lines of the issue, or whether it’s important for your followers and supporters to hear from you about the issue.
- Consider whether the issue is of great interest and importance to your staff and supporters, and whether weighing in can help alleviate internal stress and trauma.
If you decide to issue a statement:
- Center the views and perspectives of staff and colleagues who are uniquely impacted due to their identities and histories. If your organization supports caucusing, that might mean consulting with your Black Caucus about a response to police violence against Black people, or your Asian Pacific Islander (API) Caucus about the recent surge in anti-API violence.
- Even while consulting with staff who are most impacted, be very careful to avoid adding emotional burden and labor to those who are already suffering the greatest trauma from any event. This can look like an acknowledgement of the labor and burden and an invitation for optional input and consultation, not an assignment to draft something.
- Acknowledge your organization’s past and current contributions to institutional racism, the mistakes you’ve made and the work you have yet to do. This should include a power analysis to understand how the communities you are part of have contributed to racism.
- Use authentic, vulnerable storytelling–perhaps of a moment of realization, an organizational mistake and learning or even a hypothetical story that envisions a future world. As we noted here, stories bind together various different ideas and intentions and make things sticky and memorable.
- Articulate in great specificity what your organization is doing or is committed to doing to address the deeper systemic issue surfaced by the subject of the statement, and point to things readers can do. Statements should be backed by real action and a timeline that allows your supporters to hold you accountable in your own anti-racism work.
Before issuing a statement:
- Notify staff of your intent to issue a statement — don’t surprise them — and invite input.
Beyond the statement
Whether your organization chooses to issue a statement, be deliberate about identifying other ways to support your staff and community. This might include:
- Staff and board trainings
- A commitment to specific equity goals, such as disclosing salary data, formation of an equity committee or reforming hiring and recruitment policies
- Financial or capacity support for community-based organizations doing the heavy lifting on the issue
- Organizing a fundraiser to provide additional support for on-the-ground work
- Shifting workload responsibilities to give space for impacted staff to process and heal
Ultimately, every organization has a role to play in undoing institutional racism, but how best to step into that role is not always straightforward, and well-intentioned efforts can often cause great harm — to an organization’s staff and to the broader racial justice movement. We hope these principles and tips — derived from our own experiences and the wise counsel and guidance of others — help your team think through the best approach for your organization. We welcome additional ideas and additions to the conversation.
— Resource Media Staff