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Listening for Good: Reflections on Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Feedback

Last month, I attended the Fund for Shared Insight Listen for Good Gathering in Houston, Texas. There were more than 400 attendees, including 160 nonprofit partners and 30 funding organizations from across the country — all committed to using feedback loops to better serve those we seek to help.

The Fund for Shared Insight is a funder collaborative that pools financial and other resources to support foundations and nonprofits seeking to embrace and adopt feedback loops and share honest insights to have greater impact on people’s lives. Listen for Good is their signature initiative.

Irvine joined The Fund for Shared Insight in 2017 as a core funder to enhance our impact in the field through feedback practices — a goal communicated in our Impact Assessment and Learning framework. Being at the table with 12 funders from California and other states gives us the opportunity to share what we’re learning about our feedback practices — successes and challenges — to inform our work and augment our individual and collective impact.

I had the honor of facilitating a plenary session: “Equity, diversity, and inclusion: What’s feedback got to do with it?” at the gathering. Valerie Threlfall, project lead for Listen for Good, presented preliminary findings from 30,000 people surveyed across 46 Listen for Good grantees.

The data analyzed by Harder+Company Community Research to identify key patterns and learnings related to race, gender, and age. Valerie and I discussed how such data can surface ideas to improve services for people whose voices are least heard, especially women, youth, and people of color.

Here’s what I took away from the discussion:

  • Don’t take data at face value. Always go deeper. Important stories from the data may be hidden under the surface.
  • Don’t be afraid of what you will discover. As you segment the data, you may uncover things you may not expect. Get comfortable about what the data says, and don’t try to refute it if it goes against your hypotheses.
  • Have courageous conversations about what you discover — with survey respondents, your staff, board, and community. Through dialogue you may discover new ideas and approaches to address.
  • Do it again. The more you dive deep, the more you will learn.

After leaving the gathering, a broader theme stuck with me from keynote speaker Bryan Stevenson, the founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama. He encouraged nonprofits and philanthropy to “get proximate” to those we are serving: “There is power in proximity. When we create distance, we create barriers. When we are close, we hear things we can’t hear from a distance. We see things we can’t see from a distance.”

We were so inspired by Bryan’s words that the core funders decided to shift our Fall convening from Boston to Montgomery to “get proximate” to The Legacy Museum and The National Memorial for Peace and Justice. It’s important for us, as funders, to see and hear the histories of racial and economic injustice, and to walk our talk of listening and reflecting on how it can inform our own approaches. We know this work takes time and that we’re on a journey. I’m excited to share more about Irvine’s connection and work with Fund for Shared Insight — what we’re doing and learning and the lessons for the field — in the coming months.