Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

We’re advancing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) because sustainable prosperity can’t be achieved without it.

“Our DEI journey has taught us that to advance our mission, we need to embrace racial equity and racial justice. And the traumas of 2020–2021 have reinforced this and pushed us to be bolder.”

Kevin Walker, President and CEO

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What’s DEI?

DEI describes an approach we’re using to more fully live out our mission and values in a region where we envision equitable economies and opportunities are shared by all.

The presence of individuals with various identities.

There are many kinds of diversity: race, gender, sexual orientation, class, age, country of origin, education, religion, geography, and physical or cognitive abilities. Valuing diversity means recognizing differences between people, acknowledging that these differences are a valued asset, and striving for diverse representation as a critical step toward equity. (Source: Race Forward)

Why it matters to us at NWAF: We value and celebrate diversity across various identities. We strive to be a workplace where all staff and visitors feel welcomed and respected.

Just and fair inclusion into a society in which all can participate, prosper, and thrive on their own terms.

Equity starts with recognizing different challenges, needs, and histories of a given group. To become more equitable is to promote justice and fairness within the practices, policies, and distribution of resources by institutions or systems. To accomplish this, there must be systems that create, support, and sustain justice. (Source: Informed by D5 Coalition and Race Forward)

Why it matters to us at NWAF: Our mission focuses on helping people in our region achieve sustainable prosperity and thrive on their own terms. We believe that prosperity is possible for all people in our region. Currently, that is not the case. Our priority communities (Native Americans, communities of color, immigrants and refugees, and people in rural areas) have been, and continue to be, disproportionately under-resourced. Our work focuses on improving practices, policies, and systems to create more equitable outcomes.

The act of creating environments in which any individual or group can be and feel welcomed, respected, supported, and valued to fully participate.

An inclusive and welcoming climate embraces differences, offers respect in words and actions, and fosters a sense of belonging for all people. (Source: Informed by UC-Berkeley Initiative for Equity, Inclusion, and Diversity)

Why it matters to us at NWAF: We believe inclusion is more than simply diversity and quantitative representation. It involves authentic and empowered participation and full access to opportunities. It also means ensuring everyone is able to contribute meaningfully to better decisions and greater effectiveness in our organization. (Source: Informed by Race Forward and Grantmakers for Effective Organizations)

What’s Racial Equity and Racial Justice?

We are dedicated to keep learning more about racial equity and racial justice and to continue using our learnings to adapt how we function as individuals and operate as an organization.

While many people use “racial equity” and “racial justice” interchangeably, important distinctions have emerged in their application:

“Racial equity is about applying justice and a little bit of common sense to a system that’s been out of balance. When a system is out of balance, people of color feel the impacts most acutely, but, to be clear, an imbalanced system makes all of us pay.” 
— Glenn Harris, President, Race Forward and Publisher, Colorlines

Racial equity is both an outcome and a process. As an outcome, racial equity is achieved when race no longer determines one’s socioeconomic outcomes; when everyone has what they need to thrive, no matter where they live. As a process, racial equity is applied when those most impacted by structural racial inequity are meaningfully involved in the creation and implementation of the institutional policies and practices that impact their lives.

Learn more about racial equity from Race Forward.

Racial justice addresses the confrontation of power, the redistribution of resources, and the systemic transformation necessary for real change.

Vision, history, transformation, and self-determination are key features of racial justice that racial equity doesn’t always include. Justice is stronger and more open-ended, inviting examination of the core assumptions of our society and how our institutions uphold those assumptions.

Read more about racial justice from the Philanthropic Initiative for Racial Equity (PRE).

Communities of color and Indigenous communities experience striking levels of poverty and other social and economic disparities. The causes are rooted within a deeper historical context of trauma, financial instability, and other barriers based on racial discrimination that make it much harder for them to thrive on their own terms.

For us to achieve our mission to reduce poverty and achieve sustainable prosperity, we continue to be intentional in our commitment to racial equity and racial justice.

We created the Racial Equity Magnifier (REM) as a tool to help center racial equity across our decision-making processes. The REM helps us identify white dominant perspectives, decenter them, and instead center absent narratives that advance racial justice. The tool helps us grapple with hard conversations. It’s a way we’re moving from commitment to action.

Our efforts are ongoing to better understand how race and whiteness play a role in maintaining unacceptable norms or preventing us from advancing racial justice on a personal, organizational, and societal level.

We acknowledge that there are many historically marginalized groups we need to consider and we specifically focus on race as a starting point.

What’s Our DEI Journey?

Our region needs more diversity, equity, and inclusion for prosperity to be possible for all people—and we’re on a journey to help make this happen.

DEI begins with ourselves

We’re immersed in our own DEI journey—to be a useful ally to the people we serve, we must be diverse, equitable, and inclusive ourselves. Otherwise, we’re likely to reinforce the very cycles of poverty and injustice we seek to change. We’ve made many changes since we began our DEI journey in 2017, and we continue to learn from experts and others who’ve engaged in DEI work. NWAF board and staff meeting

Committed to supporting DEI in everything we do

We’re weaving DEI into the fabric of our organization. The effort touches everything that we do, from our culture to how we show up in the community to how we use our resources. We listen to and learn from the people in our region to understand their different identities, challenges, and needs. We strive to lift up all voices to be sure they’re included in decisions that impact our region, with results that produce prosperity for all. We’re applying what we learn through the people and organizations we support with grants, our communications and advocacy, and more.

Personal outreach to learn and share with others

A key aspect of our DEI commitment is to share our learnings with other funders and organizations. Our DEI Manager speaks regularly at conferences or on webinars and meets one-on-one with other philanthropic organizations. Some of the groups we’ve partnered with include  CHANGE Philanthropy,  Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) Funders Network,  Grantmakers for Effective Organizations (GEO), Minnesota Council on Foundations (MCF),  National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP), and  Technology Association of Grantmakers (TAG).

Guided by our priority communities

Some communities experience more poverty than others because they’ve been denied their fair share of resources and opportunities.

NWAF Priority Communities

 Our funding approach prioritizes these communities and is guided by listening to grantees and understanding how we can best be allies, now and in the future. These communities are at the center of our theory of change. Grantees serving our priority communities inform our strategy. They are resourceful problem solvers working in resilient communities with a wealth of wisdom, creativity, and passion—who are responding, reimagining, and rebuilding equitable economies, where opportunity is shared by all.

Funding grantees that reflect distinct cultural strengths

We have heard time and again that the policies and systems of our region don’t work for everyone. Why? Because these policies and systems continue to create barriers that deny communities access to resources, power over decisions that shape their futures, and respect for their cultures and ways of life. Too many people in our priority communities live in crisis or a paycheck away from it. So, we fund grantees that reflect the distinct cultural strengths of our region. In 2018, we began collecting demographic data about the leadership and communities served by our grantees. We now have a process to understand how many of our grantee organizations are led by Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC). Our most recent data shows that during 2019–2022, 83 percent of grant dollars went to organizations led by Native Americans and communities of color.

This data helps us understand how our grantmaking supports nonprofits led by and for our priority communities and gives us a benchmark by which to hold ourselves accountable.

Our DEI Multiyear Plan

A starting point for efforts to advance equity across our organization

Our DEI plan touches on all seven core functional areas and describes the outcomes we seek. It includes 28 specific recommendations tied to the particular circumstances, composition, mission, and operations of our organization.

The recommendations are task oriented (for example, create an HR recruitment toolkit that reflects a DEI approach to hiring) and focus on activities ranging from investments to our grantmaking. The plan merges our broader aspirations to advance equity with concrete actions we can take individually, as a team, and as an organization. We realize that we’ll need additional plans to deepen our work on racial equity as our journey evolves.

Check out the report on our progress


Our Plans Continue to Evolve with Our Journey

We’re focused on continuing to center our work on racial equity and racial justice. This includes internal growth by applying the REM to our decision making and by fostering a culture of racial equity through our Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI) learning. We’re also changing our policies and practices by implementing the final recommendations of our multiyear DEI plan and evaluating our progress to update it for the future.

In Our Own Words

We’re sharing our DEI-related learnings and reflections as we continue on our journey. Here are several highlighted blogs and other communications from our staff and board.

Access a full list of DEI-related learnings and reflections
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Read more DEI News & Insights

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