A question for our disrupted times: Will well-meaning white people be able to change?

Posted on by David Grant
Photo courtesy of Martin LaBar via Creative Commons

Last year’s Dodge Board Leadership Series wrapped in the spring with a workshop titled “Turning Learning into Action,” with an emphasis on addressing systemic racism in all aspects of our society. Even at that time, we were wondering, “What sort of world will we be acting in?”

Since then, the question has only become more pertinent and the need for change more stark. George Floyd was killed nine days after our workshop, followed by months of demonstrations across the country. The pandemic has grinded on, with data of its impact making the inequities in our society strikingly clear. We have learned just this week that life expectancy for Black Americans has dropped at three times the rate for whites. As we watched power and water restored in Texas after the devastating storms, we saw it come last to communities of color.

Most dramatically, on Jan. 6, we watched an assault on our Capitol building led by fellow U.S. citizens, many if not most identifying as white supremacists.

So again: What will our society be like on the other side of the pandemic?  Many white people like myself who do not identify as white supremacists have intellectually understood that our “new normal” should begin with a dramatic difference in our racial worldviews – specifically that we should acknowledge a history of white supremacy in the United States, and that we should address and change systemic racism in all aspects of our society.

It feels as if there is momentum for real change. Books like Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility and Ibram X. Kendi’s How to be an Antiracist, have been bestsellers for months, and a new vocabulary is bringing clarity to issues long ignored. Every nonprofit I work with has organized, or is participating in, anti-racism training. We have a new president and a female, Black, South-Asian vice-president who have made racial fairness a central value of their administration. The political divisions in our country notwithstanding, we seem poised for change as a society. 

But change is more emotional than intellectual. I wonder how well we understand what it will mean emotionally for white people to give up power and privilege. What will it take for those of us in the position to USE our power and privilege to advance racial justice to actually do so?

In the spirit of DiAngelo’s exhortation for white people to talk to each other about questions like this, I’d like to offer a reality check and a heads-up for people who look like me.  I’d like to explore what gets in the way of change

I used to present a framework for the emotional dimensions of change in the Dodge Board Leadership workshops. It was drawn from the work of psychologist Robert Evans, who wrote about the challenges of change in schools. He says people experience change, no matter how sensible it is, in four ways: as loss, as a feeling of incompetence, as confusion, and as conflict. His framework helps explain why people resist change.

In my years of working with non-profit leaders, I always presented these four dimensions of change in a very general way, observing that when we are in the midst of change:

  • We feel a sense of loss, because the patterns of our lives become our identities, and when those patterns change, we actually mourn what has been lost.
  • We feel incompetent, because whatever the new way of doing things will be, we don’t know how to do it yet; we feel competent in the ways we are doing things now.
  • We experience confusion, because our organizational practices are all part of a complex whole. When we change something deliberately on Tuesday, something we hadn’t anticipated changes on Thursday; to combat uncertainty and confusion, we say, “couldn’t we just do things the way we’ve always done?”
  • We experience conflict, because workplaces are like families. Change can serve as an excuse to bring out long-held grievances; it seems as if we are arguing about some aspect of change, but what is really going on is that years ago one person got the parking place, or the office, or the assignment, that another one wanted.

All these emotional dimensions of change reinforce the status quo. When I read Evans’ work, I don’t see resistance to change as stubborn or uninformed or reactionary – I see it as healthy human behavior. It makes sense to avoid loss, incompetence, confusion, and conflict. This is why change is so hard.

But so what? We find ourselves beginning a new year at the confluence of an ongoing pandemic, economic uncertainty, deep political division, and an evolving understanding of the many ways our old “normal” wasn’t working for people of color. We need change. 

The Evans framework reminds us why it won’t be easy. Let’s look at the psychological dimensions of change through the lens of what will be required of us to create the fairer society we envision:

  • The sense of loss for white people will be profound: We will have to give up a core part of our identities – the notion that we have nothing to do with racism; if we are serious, we will have to give up – actually help dismantle – a system that advantages us.
  • And when it comes to feeling incompetent, just watch. We have had the luxury of not having to think about race every day as we get in our cars or go to our stores. Most of us have little experience talking about race in mixed-race groups; as DiAngelo writes, we have not had to “build our racial stamina.” She further writes, in the only line of the book that made me laugh out loud, “…when white people discuss issues that make them uncomfortable, they become almost incomprehensible.” 
  • Confusion reigns when we don’t know what to do, and changing systems is a complex task. Systems are multi-layered, and it’s never fully clear what is causing what. And at the core of anti-racism work is recognizing our own unconscious biases; by definition they are invisible to us.
  • And if healthy people avoid conflict, it will take an act of will, again and again, to wade into waters full of real and potential conflict: Interactions with people of color who are out of patience, interactions with white people who will claim that it is they who are being disadvantaged by our efforts, policy discussions in a civic sphere characterized by deep political divisions and lack of basic trust.

My takeaway is to be warned – and on guard. If we want to be agents of change, we have to be aware of the forces that can take us out of the game.  When these four emotional dimensions of change come along, as they surely will, it will be helpful to expect them, to name them, and move on. We have to remember that our goal is transformation within as well as in the world around us.

David Grant is the author of The Social Profit Handbook: The Essential Guide to Setting Goals, Assessing Outcomes, and Achieving Success for Mission-Driven Organizations. He is the former Dodge Foundation president, a facilitator in the Foundation’s Board Leadership technical assistance workshop series, and a regular contributor to the Dodge Blog. 

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Dodge’s Imagine A New Way transformation launches with new grants

Posted on by Dodge

Trustees approve $2.8M toward an equitable and just New Jersey

The Center for Environmental Transformation’s youth program participants and the market manager sell produce in the Waterfront South neighborhood of Camden.
Photo courtesy The Center for Environmental Transformation

The Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation Board of Trustees met virtually this March and approved more than $2.8 million in grants toward an equitable and just New Jersey. The grants include more than $350,000 in new Imagine a New Way grants, representing Dodge’s latest step towards our commitment to becoming an anti-racist organization and centering racial equity and justice in our work. 

“Weeks after the Atlanta attack marked a turning point in the rise of anti-Asian hate and violence, the latest in our country’s history of white supremacy, systemic racism, and gendered violence, it is more clear than ever that we cannot return to the way things were,” said Tanuja M. Dehne, Dodge Foundation President & CEO. “Dodge’s Imagine a New Way transformation has begun to change what we do and how we do it to achieve our vision of an equitable and just New Jersey so that New Jerseyans of all races and communities have what is needed to realize a quality life.”

With a focus on racial equity and justice and putting trust-based philanthropy values into action, Dodge made $350,000 in Imagine a New Way grants to five organizations and projects that are using strategic tools to tackle barriers and finding solutions to New Jersey’s most intractable problems. These include:

  • $100,000 to the Fair Redistricting in New Jersey Fund at the Princeton Area Community Foundation to support public engagement, transparency, and community representation in the state’s redistricting processes.
  • $25,000 to New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice, a statewide membership-based coalition which uses the power and strength of its member organizations to ensure that New Jersey’s immigrant communities are leaders in the development of policies that impact their lives and the lives of all New Jersey residents.
  • $100,000 to New Jersey Institute of Social Justice, a leader in the advocacy field in New Jersey. The Institute’s cutting-edge work is focused on providing policy solutions that empower people of color by building systems that create wealth, transform justice, and harness democratic power from the ground up in New Jersey.
  • $100,000 to New Jersey Policy Perspective, a nonpartisan think-tank whose research drives policy change that advances economic, social, and racial justice throughout New Jersey.
  • $25,000 to Salvation and Social Justice, a grassroots community organizing network for social and racial justice in New Jersey that engages the Black Faith-rooted community across the state.

“These organizations are all driven by local community needs and have created deep relationships with one another,” said Marianna Schaffer, Dodge’s Vice President of Programs. “We are eager to support and amplify the collective effort of these organizations.”

After awarding more than $2.6 million in pandemic response grants in 2020, Dodge Trustees approved in March a $200,000 grant to the New Jersey Arts and Culture Recovery Fund, which provides critical financial support for arts and culture organizations and individuals impacted by the pandemic. The Fund, housed at the Princeton Area Community Foundation, has awarded $2.6 million in grants, about half of the $4.2 million raised to date. 

Dodge also made two new grants to the Community Foundation of New Jersey for park improvement projects in New Jersey. A $50,000 project support grant to the Boonton Reservoir Enhancement and Access Project enables Open Space Institute to conduct engineering, geotechnical, archaeological, and environmental assessments, and continued stakeholder engagement in adjacent neighborhoods and Jersey City. A $50,000 project support grant to the Branch Brook Park Alliance Fund enables the installation of a wi-fi network and provides ongoing support for the park’s annual upkeep.

In addition, Dodge awarded more than $2.2 million in grants, including 29 totaling $932,750 in Arts, 20 totaling $1,205,000 in Environment, and grants totaling $90,000 in Technical Assistance and other areas. 

Posted in COVID19, equity, News & Announcements, Philanthropy | Leave a comment

Submissions Open for DPF2022

Posted on by Dodge Poetry
Poets (left to right) Joy Ladin, Paul Tran and Natalie Scenters-Zapico at the 2018 Dodge Poetry Festival. Photo by Alex Towle.

It feels like just yesterday that we wrapped up the 2020 Dodge Poetry Festival (which ran from October 22 – November 1 this past fall), but it’s been a few months now, and it’s time to start thinking about 2022!

We’re excited to announce that we are now accepting submissions for the next Dodge Poetry Festival, which will take place in the fall of 2022.

If you’re interested in submitting to read at the Festival, check out our Submission Guidelines and Submission FAQ pages for detailed instructions and information and to find a link to the submission form. Here are some additional helpful tips:

  1. Audio and/or video clips are really important
    One component of a complete submission is 1-3 audio or video recordings of you reading your poems aloud. Don’t worry–we’re not demanding professional-quality recordings. Since we are curating a live event, it is important for the review panel to have a chance to see and hear you reading your work.

    As you know, experiencing poetry out loud is very different from reading it on the page. A poem can take on a whole new layer of meaning and energy from the poet delivering it. There’s nothing like seeing and hearing how a poet connects and engages with their audience in-person. If you have a video or audio of you reading in front of a live audience, that would be ideal.

    We don’t expect every poet to be a performance poet. Over the years, Festival Poets have had many different reading styles. One thing they have in common is being attentive, engaging and connecting to audience and other poets.
  2. Show us a work sample that best represents you
    We ask for a sample of up to 20 pages of your poetry that best represents you and your work as you would like to share it at the Festival. If you have work published, such as books or a chapbook, why do we ask for this sample?

    You may have published work that you’re proud of and want us to see, but have other poems you’ve learned are more effective with a live audience. The reading sample is an opportunity to not only share some of the work you’re most excited about and proud of, but also the poems you would like to read aloud to an audience that will likely include many who have never heard you read before. (We understand that what you are excited to read may change by 2022, so you’re not beholden to these poems.)

    This sample also provides an opportunity for poets who do not have a published book or chapbook to show their work and put their best foot forward, alongside the audio or video materials.
  3. Take your time with the short responses
    Instead of asking for a formal cover letter and resume, we decided to simplify things a bit and ask you a few specific questions to help us get to know you.

    It’s a good idea to take some time and be thoughtful with your responses to these questions to help paint a picture of who you are, what’s important to you, what you want to bring to the Festival, the types of conversations you would want to have there, and how you would connect with other poets, students, teachers and poetry-lovers.

    Reading poems aloud is just one aspect of the Festival–participating in rich conversations across many different boundaries of identity, and connecting with others through poetry and conversation, are at the heart of the Dodge Poetry Festival. Your responses to these questions help to show how you would want to show up, connect and engage at the Festival, as well as what would make you feel most connected and included there.

These are just a few things to consider when putting together your submission materials. Please review the Submission Guidelines and FAQs before submitting to make sure you have all of the necessary materials–and be sure to submit by the deadline of October 15, 2021.

Thank you so much for your support and interest in the Dodge Poetry Festival! Feel free to share this post with anyone you think might be interested in submitting to read at the next Festival.

Posted in Poetry, Tidbits | Leave a comment

Poetry for Valentine’s Day

Posted on by Dodge Poetry
Photo from 2020 Dodge Poetry Festival session, Hold My Hand: On Intimacy and Poetry with Natalie Diaz, Ada Limón. Moderated by Ysabel Y. González

Valentine’s Day is a special time for poetry–a day when many people turn to poets for help expressing their love to someone special.

Of course, romantic love doesn’t have a monopoly on great poetry. Poets can help us find words to express our affection and appreciation for friends, family, animals, the natural world and ourselves.

If you want inspiration for your greeting cards, or are simply looking to infuse your day with a little more love, here are a few 2020 Dodge Poetry Festival sessions you might want to check out this weekend. Simply visit www.dodgepoetryfestival.org, click “View Passes” and pay what you can to access all of the Festival videos.

HOLD MY HAND: ON INTIMACY AND POETRY with Natalie Diaz and Ada Limón, moderated by Ysabel Y. González (Aired on Saturday, October 24)

Natalie Diaz and Ada Limón discuss their collaborative project, Envelopes of Air. They talk about their friendship and the ways in which intimacy, landscape, and bodyscape show up in their poems. And they explore the role poets play in cultivating intimacy and breaking down walls—with other writers, with readers, and within their own communities. Moderated by Ysabel Y. González

THE BELOVED, a poetry and song collaboration with poet Gregory Orr and alt-folk group Parkington Sisters (Aired on Saturday, October 31)

…because of the beloved, I come into being
under her touch, all of me shudders

from The Beloved by Gregory Orr

We can’t go to concerts in person, but we can curl up at home for an intimate and moving performance by Gregory Orr and the Parkington Sisters.

Gregory Orr and the Parkington Sisters perform “The Beloved” poetry and song cycle at the 2018 Dodge Poetry Festival

FESTIVAL POET READING featuring Zeina Hashem Beck, Kai Coggin, Jessica Jacobs, John Murillo, Ladan Osman, Emily Skaja (Aired on Saturday, October 31)

In this series of readings by several poets at the 2020 Festival, you’ll hear poems that speak to different types of love:

Zeina Hashem Beck‘s poems touch upon love of place and language, as well as love for her husband. In “Fools Rush In,” she shares snapshots of young love from their school days:

“Oh days of mixed tapes,
Oh copy books of scribbled songs
Oh years of love notes smuggled under classroom tables”

from “Fools rush in” by zeina hashem beck

Kai Coggin‘s “Constant Before Picture” speaks to learning self-love, and Jessica Jacobs‘ poetry from Take Me With You Wherever You’re Going, explores the complexities of love and long-term commitment, including an ode to her wife’s hair.

Check out these sessions and many more at www.dodgepoetryfestival.org

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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Honoring Black History Month with Poetry

Posted on by Dodge Poetry

Black poets have played a pivotal role in shaping the landscape of American poetry. In honor of Black History Month, we’re sharing a list of just some of the 2020 Dodge Poetry Festival videos to revisit or watch for the first time this February, including sessions curated by Cave Canem and the Academy of American Poets.  

Visit www.dodgepoetryfestival.org to register and gain access to all of the Festival session videos by paying what you can. Educators and students register for free.  

Once registered, you can find all the Festival readings and conversations organized by the day they aired.  (We’re working on an even more user-friendly website with more search features. Stay tuned!) 

A screenshot from the DPF2020 session “Black Futures, Black Pasts,” presented by Cave Canem and featuring poets Yona Harvey, Cherene Sherrard and Kush Thompson.

2020 Dodge Poetry Festival Sessions to watch during Black History Month (and every other month of the year)

THE SKIN YOU’RE LIVING IN: Reginald Dwayne Betts, Kyle Dargan, Cornelius Eady, Tyehimba Jess, Cyrée Jarelle Johnson. Moderated by khalil murrell (Aired on Sunday, October 25)  

In “Blink Your Eyes,” Sekou Sundiata’s poem about a traffic stop, he writes that what might happen in the blink of an eye, “all depends on the skin you’re living in.” Poets Reginald Dwayne Betts, Kyle Dargan, Cornelius Eady, Tyehimba Jess and Cyrée Jarelle Johnson explore questions about the evolution of their aesthetics, how they tie into issues of identity, and how they do or don’t feel compelled to write as “black male poets” in this time. Moderated by khalil murrell. 

BLACK FUTURES, BLACK PASTS presented by Cave Canem: Yona Harvey, Cherene Sherrard. Moderated by Kush Thompson (Aired on October 25)  

Yona Harvey’s You Don’t Have to Go to Mars for Love investigates Black futures and possibilities via the supernatural and Afro-futurism, while Cherene Sherrard uses one of the earliest cookbooks published by an African American woman to memorialize the past in her newest poetry collection, Grimoire. Presented by Cave Canem, in “Black Futures, Black Pasts,” Harvey and Sherrard read from their recent books and talk with Cave Canem fellow Kush Thompson about centering Black womanhood in their work. Introduction by Malcolm Tariq, Programs and Communications Manager, Cave Canem. 

POETS FORUM: POETRY AND POEMS IN SUPPORT OF BLACK LIVES: Kwame Dawes, Terrance Hayes (Aired on Friday, October 30)  

Academy Chancellors Kwame Dawes and Terrance Hayes continue their long-standing commitment to celebrating the value and persistent relevance of art, and especially poetry in our world today. For both poets, the poet’s obligation to record, to leave a record of experiences (ordinary, human and sincere) and of their bodies’ existence in the historical moment is as radical and revolutionary and urgent as any protest poem might be. 

AMERICAN POETRIESCornelius Eady, Nikky Finney, Edward Hirsch, Paisley Rekdal. Moderated by Martin J. Farawell (Aired on Saturday, October 24)  

Adrienne Rich wrote that there is no such thing as an “American Poetry.” Instead, there are American Poetries—so many divergent schools that no single style or aesthetic can be singled out as the definitively “American” one. Cornelius Eady, Nikky Finney, Edward Hirsch and Paisley Rekdal consider what we gain from this diversity and by listening more closely to each other. Moderated by Martin J. Farawell. 

I AM NOT FREE WHILE ANY WOMAN IS UNFREE: Vievee Francis, Paisley Rekdal, Emily Skaja, Monica Sok. Moderated by Naomi Extra (Aired on Sunday, October 25) 

Poet Audre Lorde once said, “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.” Almost forty years later, her words are still poignant and relevant. What does it look like when women writers are in community with each other, writing for and with each other? How does this continue to transform the poems that they and others write, the canon, the poetry community and other communities? Participating poets include Vievee Francis, Paisley Rekdal, Emily Skaja and Monica Sok. Moderated by Naomi Extra. 

ON CRAFT: Vievee Francis (Aired on Thursday, October 29) 

Vievee Francis considers and discusses questions related to the craft of making poems. What is the larger purpose of craft? What are the rewards of trying to master it? How do work schedules, patterns of revision, the uses of traditional forms, the subtleties of line breaks or the place of sound and phrasing in composition come into play when considering craft?

Tyehimba Jess sharing poems in his reading aired on Thursday, October 29, 2020


Main Stage reading with Reginald Dwayne Betts and Nikky Finney (Aired on Saturday, October 31) 

Main Stage Reading with Cornelius Eady (Aired on Friday, October 30) 

Main Stage Reading with Tyehimba Jess (Aired on Thursday, October 29) 

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Introducing Dodge’s two new senior leaders

Posted on by Dodge

We are excited to welcome Marianna Schaffer as Vice President of Programs and Jennene Tierney as Vice President of People, Culture, Equity — two new senior leaders who will help guide the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation in embedding racial justice and anti-racism within the organization and achieving its vision of an equitable New Jersey.

“Dodge’s transformation to become an anti-racist organization and design a new model of philanthropy is a testament to the resiliency, self-awareness, and dedication of its staff and board and network of partners,” said Tanuja Dehne, Dodge’s President and CEO. “We are thrilled to have Marianna and Jennene join the Dodge team and help us explore ways to build the new, live the new, and change the rules as we work to better equip ourselves, the nonprofit sector, and our communities for activating people for social change and racial justice.”

As Dodge’s Vice President of Programs, Marianna (she/her/hers), a philanthropic leader with nearly 20 years’ experience, will lead our grantmaking activities as we transform our program priorities to focus on equity, anti-racism, and justice. She will work to create new ways to power build and share decision-making, as well as develop and implement new program areas and initiatives to expand the Foundation’s reach and impact.

Jennene Tierney (she/her/hers) joins us as our new Vice President of People, Culture, and Equity to oversee the Foundation’s human resources, culture building and internal and external communications strategies. In this role she will guide the implementation of an overarching diversity, equity, and inclusion vision, ensure continuous learning and values alignment within the Foundation’s culture and practices, and work in deep collaboration with staff and leadership as the organization continues to evolve and adapt its capacity to center equity and justice in all that we do.

Diversified Search Group assisted with the search for the two positions, both of which are newly created roles.

Read our full announcement here.

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President’s Message: Lessons learned for the year ahead

Posted on by Tanuja Dehne

At the Dodge Foundation, we challenged ourselves this year as we focused on the opportunity to lead and live into equity. 2020 invited us to explore the intersection of risk and opportunity and to take responsibility for our collective safety as the global pandemic, racial uprisings, and threats to the foundation of our democracy brought into focus who we are and what we stand for. We leaned into what the year brought with trust, transparency, and compassion for each other and our community.

Democracy is Solidarity. Image Courtesy Amplifier / Tracie Ching

As people navigating the pandemic ourselves united by our collective vision of an equitable New Jersey, we have become more grateful than ever before, counting our blessings, cherishing our loved ones, consuming less, and adapting to our new realities. We are more resilient, flexible, and agile than we ever thought we could be. Amid the chaos, this collective pause allowed us to appreciate those moments of Zen and “check in” as we rediscovered our shared humanity.

The dual crises of racial injustice and the global pandemic accelerated the Foundation’s imperative to Imagine A New Way and commitment to transform our work and the construct of philanthropy itself. We deepened and built new relationships, experimented with different ways of working, and embraced the boldness of what it means to us to explore this new mindset’s two interdependent components:

  1. Imagine a New Way is Dodge’s transformation to become an anti-racist organization as we center our work with intentionality and action on racial equity and justice.
  2. Imagine a New Way is also Dodge’s transformation, role, and leadership in designing a new model of “philanthropy” by democratizing power, redistributing wealth, and shifting economic control to communities that is just and regenerative for people and the planet. 

Imagine a New Way is the lens with which we have operated internally, externally, programmatically, and financially this year. Drawing from the Just Transition framework, over the next year at Dodge we will begin to build the new, live the new, and change the rules. Below are just a few highlights from this past year that are informing the activation of the next phase of our transformation. 

New work, new grants, new processes, new thinking

In response to the pandemic and building upon the experiences from other disasters, Dodge awarded more than $2.55 million in COVID-19 urgent community needs and election integrity grants.  We converted almost all grant making to general operating support, created more inclusive decision-making processes to evaluate and decide on new grants, and leveraged technology to deploy funds quickly and efficiently. We set aside existing grant guidelines and application processes and lived into Trust-Based Philanthropy protocols and the Council of Foundations Pledge. Our poetry team rose to the challenge of the pandemic and created the first-ever virtual Dodge Poetry Festival reaching more than 14,000 people across the globe over 11 days while providing 80,000 in COVID-19 relief to 8 poetry organizations. Finally, cross-state and cross-sector collaborations for pandemic relief led to the formation of a new New Jersey Arts and Culture Recovery Fund to support artists and arts organizations now and in the future.

In 2021, we will leverage the lessons learned from living into and creating virtual collaborative spaces and strengthen our new relationships. We will also examine how our current program areas intersect and are elevated through the pursuit of democracy and justice, regenerative systems, thriving and resilient communities and life-long learning.

Culture building in a remote work environment

Like many organizations, Dodge swiftly switched to remote work in March and will continue to work remotely through at least June 2021. We explored new ways to build culture online by incorporating wellness in our meetings with moments of gratitude, meditation, breathing and movement, and found ways to acknowledge grief and loss and celebrate life’s happy moments. We also created space for self-identified BIPOC and White caucus learning groups where we shared readings, learnings, wellness tips, or just connected.

In 2021, we will continue to explore and implement ways to evolve Dodge’s internal culture so it is more inclusive and reflective of our commitment to anti-racism. 

Financial stewardship

Dodge’s strategic plan outlines our financial goals as being “responsible stewards of our financial assets, growing them to ensure future impact, and aligning our investments and expenditures with our vision, mission, and values over the long term.” The strength of our endowment provides the financial resources and stability to achieve our programmatic goals. In 2020, Dodge distributed funding above its original budget and awarded more than $2.55 million in crisis response grants.  

Our ability to act swiftly is largely attributed to the financial performance of our endowment and prudent budget decisions over recent years to reverse an earlier trend when Foundation expenses outpaced investment returns. While disbursing more than $76 million to the community over the last five years, the endowment currently ranks in the top 1 percent for endowments and foundations over the same period, and has grown over $90 million.

Dodge has also made significant strides in ensuring that our current investments are aligned with our mission, vision, and values.  We have made investments which specifically seek to make a positive social impact and financial returns, such as our recent investments in Newark Venture Partners and the Jonathan Rose Affordable Housing Fund. In 2020, we also dramatically reduced investments in fossil fuels to under 1 percent and affirmed that we are making no investments in private prisons, firearms, and munitions.

In 2021, we will continue to explore ways to align our endowment with our vision as we bring all of our resources to bear to make the greatest positive impact in New Jersey. Our strong financial position frees us be bold as we Imagine a New Way regarding wealth redistribution and shifting economic control to communities that is just and regenerative for people and planet. 

Sharing, multiplying, and amplifying

In 2020, Dodge shared its program Theories of Change and Equity Framework through several online convenings and listening sessions with our diverse stakeholder groups and partnered with colleagues in the field to advance racial equity. We also launched a Dodge Anti-racism training series for 130 nonprofit and funding partners with more than 400 people working from where they are to turn learning into action. 

In 2021, we will explore how we can more intentionally bring people together to learn from and connect with each other, so the nonprofit sector and our communities are better equipped for activating people for social change and racial justice. 

We are grateful to our partners, our community, and networks and friends as we use our collective influence and power to amplify, multiply, and activate the voices of many. Stay tuned as we share more about our transformation and our journey.  

Wishing you health, happiness, joy, and love in 2021.

Tanuja Dehne is president and CEO of the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation.
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How to join us for #DPF2020 and reduce plastic while home

Posted on by Dodge

We are very excited to share information about the virtual Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival, taking place Oct. 22 through Nov. 1! 

Our first-ever virtual Festival is free and features over 100 beloved and exciting emerging poets.

You can view a schedule of Festival events here, beginning with the 7 p.m. Opening Celebration tomorrow. These events include poetry readings and conversations on topics such as “Black Futures, Black Pasts,” “Poetry and Climate Justice,” “How to Read a Poem,” and “Poets for Teachers.”

All Festival attendees can access videos on-demand after they air or join us live for Q&A sessions with poets and events in our virtual Community Room, including Community Conversations, Drinks & Discussion, Open Mic, Gentle yoga sessions

Special programming designed for high school students will take place 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. EST on Oct. 26-30. High school teachers and students interested in attending those sessions will receive more details when they sign up for an Education Pass and mark that they are interested in High School Student Programming in the registration form. 

Here’s how to get your Pass:

1. Visit www.dodgepoetryfestival.org 

2. Click “View Passes” in the top right corner and choose the Pass that’s right for you

3. Submit the registration form

How to reduce plastic waste and COVID-19 from home

Small changes add up to make a big impact when it comes to environmental justice — even during a pandemic. 

Since 2010, Dodge has sought to live our value of sustainability, model leadership in how we run events, and be good neighbors through the Dodge Poetry Festival zero-waste initiative.

This year, we are once again proud to be partnering with Clean Water Action, through its Rethink Disposables program, to make it easy for Festival-goers to use less plastic and produce less trash during their at-home experience while reducing their exposure to COVID-19. 

You can watch The Environment Has No Walls, a behind-the-scenes video about the initiative from #DPF2018, here.

We invite you to put the tips above into action and learn more here

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Introducing our new Equity Framework

Posted on by Dodge

Here at the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, we envision an equitable New Jersey through creative, engaged, and sustainable communities. Following the development of our strategic vision, we created new equity theories of change for our program areas. 

Informed by research, evidence, and best practices in the field, we also developed our new Equity Framework to deepen conversations and track progress within our grantee organizations. 

We are excited to host a 75-minute webinar where we offer grantee leaders, staff, and board members a first look at the Equity Framework, share how it advances our commitment to racial equity and anti-racism, and answer questions. 

Will you join us?

We invite you and your staff and board to register through the links below:

Noon to 1:15 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 7 

After your registration is approved, you will receive a confirmation email from Zoom containing information about joining the meeting and a preview of the Equity Framework. 

Click here to forward this invitation to board and staff Click here to forward this invitation to board and staff

About the webinars

These webinars are designed for leaders, staff, and board members of grantee organizations. Please help us reach your colleagues by forwarding this invitation to colleagues at your organization.

Individuals need not register for both. In an effort to include as many people from our partner organizations as possible, we are offering two options to attend. Each webinar is open to the first 300 people that register on a first-come, first served basis. A recording of the session will be available on our website. 

We look forward to working with you for our shared vision of racial equity and anti-racism in New Jersey. Together we can learn, grow, and improve our practices for a more equitable state.


You may send registration questions or questions for the Q&A session prior to the webinar to: jkim@grdodge.org or listening@grdodge.org. 

Posted in equity, Events & Workshops, News & Announcements | Leave a comment

Join our Culturally Responsive Arts Education & Anti-Racism 25-Day Challenge

Posted on by Dodge

It’s not too late to join the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation’s new Culturally Responsive Arts Education and Anti-Racism 25-Day Challenge, which launches today.

The Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation has built a learning community to gain a shared understanding of what Culturally Responsive Education (CRE) and Culturally Responsive Arts Education (CRAE) look like in action. This work requires a mindset shift that can’t occur without first understanding the structural and historical inequities in our education system and how our own individual identity shows up in our work and lives. 

The Dodge Foundation’s Culturally Responsive Arts Education and Anti-Racism 25-day Challenge was designed to help us all “know better” so we can “do better.”

Through daily activities and an online learning community, the Challenge is designed to help you create dedicated time and space to build your social justice habits and look at issues of race, culture, identity, gender, power, and privilege, and their effects on schools, classrooms, and youth.

We hope you will share this challenge with your staff, board, and constituents as a shared inspirational activity as we head into the new school year.

How it works

After you sign up for the Challenge, you will receive a welcome email and then daily emails for each day after. If you sign up after the Challenge launch on Sept. 14, you can follow along at your own pace through the link to the whole challenge in the welcome email.

The daily Challenges include videos, articles, and reflections on topics including unconscious bias, structural racism, culturally relevant education, and the power of arts and identity.

You will also receive a link to a handy Reflections Log and an invitation to a NJ CRAE Facebook group to connect and learn from your Challenge companions.

Why we’re doing this

The Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation has recently deepened its commitment to holding ourselves accountable to anti-racist values and actions. 

Our new Education goals are aimed at addressing how educators can advance equity in their schools, and specifically how arts-based, culturally responsive and relevant education can improve school culture and student learning. 

Use this link to sign up for the Challenge to join us today!


Contact Wendy Liscow, Dodge Education program director, or Richard Simon, Arts and Education senior program associate.

Posted in Anti-racism, Arts Education, equity, News & Announcements | Leave a comment

President’s Message: Imagine a new way

Posted on by Tanuja Dehne
Photo by Dan Hofmann

On the eve of my first anniversary as the first woman of color president and CEO of the Dodge Foundation, I reflect with solemnity on an unprecedented year while I imagine with hope the possibilities of a new future for the Dodge Foundation.   

While there is much more to deeply understand, the collective work and learning of the board and staff over the last four years has positioned the Dodge Foundation to take responsibility for becoming an anti-racist organization and reimagining the role of philanthropy in New Jersey. 

As the dual crises of racial injustice and the COVID-19 pandemic have revealed, the systems built to serve society are yielding dire outcomes and require urgent reformation. With crisis comes opportunity and we embrace this opportunity to imagine a new way of bringing all of our resources to bear – including our power, privilege, and voice – to make the greatest impact in service to our community. 

We know effecting change takes time and we know it takes resolve. The critical strategies developed by Dodge’s dedicated and experienced staff, fully supported and endorsed by our board and our board’s Leadership Transition Committee, continue. As we near the end of the first year of our three-year program theories of change, as we continue to share our Equity Framework with current and potential future grantees, and as we develop our next phase of COVID-19 response and recovery, we move forward on our equity journey. 

However, we are still an aspiring anti-racist organization. We have much more work ahead of us to better understand and embed racial justice and anti-racism in our mindset, goals, and systems. Today we share the next actionable step since our declaration of intent in June with the announcement of the search for two new senior leaders to join the Dodge staff on our transformation to becoming an anti-racist organization.

Vice president of programs will lead the Foundation’s grantmaking activities as we transform program priorities to focus on equity, anti-racism, and justice. The vice president will be well versed in issues of equity, justice, advocacy, organizing, and movement building with experience in creating new and different ways to power build and share decision-making, particularly as it relates to grantmaking and resource allocation. 

Vice president of people, culture, and equity will lead the implementation of the over-arching diversity, equity and inclusion vision of the Foundation and will ensure continuous learning within the organizational culture and practices, as well as engagement with community and external stakeholders.

Both leaders will have experience and familiarity working with organizations in transformation and will have demonstrated ability to lead major organizational change initiatives with tact, empathy, and alignment with the vision and values of the Dodge Foundation. 

Both positions will have an annual base starting salary of at least $160,000 and will be eligible for the suite of competitive benefits available to the Dodge staff. Assisted by the Diversified Search Group, the Dodge Foundation is committed to an open and transparent process. We invite anyone who wants to be part of our transformation and imagining a new way and role of philanthropy to apply for these new positions, including all Dodge staff no matter their current roles. To apply for either position, to offer suggestions or nominations, or further inquiries please send an email to DodgeVP@divsearch.com and see the links for vice president of programs and vice president of people, culture, and equity for the full position descriptions.

Transforming any organization, including the hearts and minds it comprises, is no easy task. We have put in the work and have become more resilient and self-aware as we approach the next phase of our journey with curiosity, humility, compassion, and determination. 

I am grateful for the support, expertise, and leadership of the Dodge staff and board over this past year.  I am also grateful for the encouragement and advice from our community, partners, grantees, advisors, and many new friends I have made while we have been sequestered at home. Thank you for your support as we embark on the next phase of our journey.

Tanuja Dehne is president and CEO of the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation.

Posted in News & Announcements, President's Message | Leave a comment

How to help get out the word to assist in your local Census count

Posted on by Dodge

The 2020 Census is almost over, but almost 1 in 5 New Jersey households are not yet counted. If they are not counted, our communities, especially communities of color, risk missing out on the federal and state funding and the political representation they deserve. 

Even a small undercount will leave our entire state without the fair funding and political representation they deserve. At stake for New Jersey: more than $45 billion a year in federal funding and 12 Congressional seats.

Census takers are knocking on doors right now, but many of the communities you serve may be unwilling or reluctant to open the door to a federal employee, especially during a pandemic. 

You, as a trusted messenger and member of the Dodge grantee community, can encourage turnout in a way that “official” sources might not.

Please consider these easy action steps to help assist in your local Census count.

1.      Send the below email to your network, encouraging them to be counted. (You’re welcome to adapt the wording to make it your own.)

2.      Call or text your service population asking if they have been counted. A simple message of “Just checking to see if you completed your 2020 Census yet” can make a difference coming from a trusted source.

3.      Host a Mobile Questionnaire Assistance site. The Census Bureau will send its representatives to a physical site to help people complete the Census. Examples of events have included a parked ice cream or food truck, community meetings at apartment complexes, food distribution sites, or outdoor house of worship gatherings. Email New.York.rcc.partnership@2020census.gov if you would like to host a questionnaire assistance site.

Thank you so much for all you are doing for our communities!


SUBJECT: Have you done your Census yet?

You STILL have time to respond to the 2020 Census. This takes less than 10 minutes and can make sure all of us are seen, heard and counted.

Over $1.5 trillion in federal funding is divided up based on who is counted in the Census.

You can complete the Census in three ways:

·         Online at my2020census.gov

·         By phone in English by dialing 844-330-2020 or in Spanish by dialing 844-468-2020

·         By mail (you should have received a paper questionnaire in the mail). Make sure the envelope is postmarked by September 30

Remember, that the sooner you complete the Census, the less likely it is that a Census taker will visit your home.

If you have already completed the Census, call or text five friends or family members to remind them to complete the Census as well. Every census counts!

If you have questions about the Census, you can call the NALEO National Bilingual Hotline at 877-EL-CENSO.

Thank you so much.

Posted in Advocacy, Community Building | Leave a comment

Margaret Waldock named Duke Farms’ new leader

Posted on by Dodge

Margaret Waldock, Dodge’s Environment program director, will leave the Foundation on Sept. 4 to lead and evolve the stewardship and sustainability practices at the nationally recognized Duke Farms

Margaret will become the executive director of the Hillsborough-based center, a 2,740-acre native landscape for public exploration, outdoor activities, education, and research for ecological sustainability. 

“Margaret has not only led our environment program at Dodge for nearly a decade, she has connected Dodge’s work in sustainable water infrastructure to national philanthropic partnerships and co-led the Foundation’s disaster response after Hurricane Sandy and the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Tanuja Dehne, Dodge’s president and CEO. “We are sad to see her go and thrilled that she has found the perfect opportunity to build from her experience in conservation and bring a focus on equity and inclusion to the programming and experience at Duke Farms.” 

Since joining Dodge in 2011, Margaret has overseen the distribution of more than $20 million in grants to environmental organizations in New Jersey, most of which provided general operating support to organizations focused on land and water resource protection and stewardship, improving environmental public policy, and supporting community-driven sustainability. 

Working with Naeema Campbell, Dodge’s Environment and Informed Communities program associate, Margaret developed a racial equity-focused strategy to increase funding to grassroots organizations working with and reflective of communities of color and low-income White communities and collaborative, cross-sector campaigns and partnerships led by environmental justice leaders, particularly leaders of color. 

“I could not be more grateful to and proud of the Dodge Foundation for its legacy of supporting healthy, sustainable communities and its shift to racial equity,” Waldock said. “Duke Farms is an extraordinary opportunity to engage the public and the professional environmental community in developing and implementing solutions for a sustainable, inclusive, and resilient future.” 

Before Dodge, Waldock was the executive director at Hunterdon Land Trust and also worked at the Trust for Public Land, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, and the American Farmland Trust. She has served on the steering committee for Jersey Water Works and on affinity groups for the Funders Network for Smart Growth and Livable Communities’ Urban Water Funders and Council of New Jersey Grantmakers’ Environmental Grantmakers group. She is also on the board of the 1772 Foundation. 

“Margaret is an exceptional leader who has helped make Dodge a philanthropic leader supporting the power of community to drive solutions,” said Preston Pinkett III, Dodge’s board chair. “We look forward to intersecting and building our partnership with Margaret through her work at Duke Farms.” 

Naeema will support Dodge’s environmental grantees in the fall. Naeema can be reached at ncampbell@grdodge.org.

Posted in Environment, News & Announcements | Leave a comment

Dodge Q&A: Ysabel Y. Gonzalez on creating, dismantling the why during times of crisis

Posted on by Dodge
On Martin Luther King Boulevard between the Essex County Historic Courthouse and the Veterans’ Courthouse in Newark, the words “ABOLISH WHITE SUPREMACY” were installed and painted in bright yellow traffic paint from curb to curb. On Halsey Street, east of the Rutgers campus the words “ALL BLACK LIVES MATTER,” in the same font as the MLK street mural, taking up a City block. Learn more here. Photo credit: Photo Credit: Isaac Jiménez 

The Dodge Q&A series is designed to share what Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation staff are learning and thinking about as they engage with social sector leaders from throughout the state. They’ll also reveal a few things about themselves you might not have known.  

Ysabel Y. Gonzalez is assistant director of the Dodge Poetry Program.

Today we talk to Ysabel Y. Gonzalez, Dodge Poetry Program assistant director, about what’s keeping her moving forward in a time of multiple crises, how she is prioritizing racial justice, the virtual Dodge Poetry Festival, her hidden talent, and more. 

Before we jump into the conversation, how are you navigating the multiple crises we’re experiencing, namely the COVID-19 pandemic and community uprisings demanding justice? 

It’s been a really difficult period for us all. This spring and summer have been particularly difficult for me since I lost my uncle to COVID. But I have been grateful for my community, and family, gathering together around the pandemic as well as standing in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. A group of poets and I are working on a project entitled, Broadsides for Breonna, where we will be offering broadsides by local and national poets for large donations that support organizations doing work with the Black Lives Matter movement, particularly in support of Black women. I’ve also been lucky in that I’ve been able to create new work during this time that is in conversation with this period of our lives — including poetry and an essay.  So, I’ve been busy, however, I do think it’s important that we acknowledge that if we’ve been unable to create during the last few months, that’s okay, too. I know some folks are simply trying to survive right now, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.   

What is important to keep in mind right now? 

In terms of social justice and the Black Lives Matter movement, it’s important to remember that this is more than just centering a conversation around a historically marginalized and impeded group of Black and Brown lives, it is also about stepping aside and supporting those lives by serving as co-conspirator. We keep hearing the word ally, but it’s much more complex than simply standing by Black and Brown people’s sides. It’s taking the heat, it’s doing the work, and it’s giving up power. These are all incredibly difficult things to do, so if it doesn’t feel hard, then you may not be putting in the kind of work to grow, develop, and challenge the impediments that exist preventing Black and Brown lives from thriving.   

What is something you are proud you helped achieve? 

I’m so excited to have helped the Dodge Poetry Festival go virtual this year. It was a difficult decision for us because we cherish the DPF in-person experience and have some fantastic poets lined up for this year’s Festival. We are working hard to think about ways we can re-create what makes the Festival feel unique, such as the connections that occur off the stage, along with the incredible conversations that occur in sessions amongst a diverse set of poets. And I’m very excited about making the Festival accessible to more people. This is really important to me.  I’m excited to see folks who may not have been able to join us due to lack of resources or location, now be able to find us online. We are offering live sessions at no cost to our public, so I hope that’s encouraging to people who have had the price of a ticket held as a hurdle. I’m also excited about being able to provide accessible programming to individuals who live in other wards of Newark and other parts of the state of New Jersey — heck, I’m excited about us providing poetry to other parts of the world! It’s an opportunity for Dodge Poetry to provide engaging, interesting poetry and touch someone who maybe has thought, for years, that poetry wasn’t for them. Or provide a reading and conversation amongst poets who people typically wouldn’t see in conversation with each other. It’s an exciting time to host a Festival because there are so many possibilities. I think if audience members remain hopeful and positive, they will get something new out of this year’s virtual Festival. I’m excited for our audience to engage with a very special experience we’re putting together.  

Dodge Poetry Festival will be all-online this year.

What is an example of how you have prioritized racial equity and inclusion in your work? What was the most challenging part of that work?  

I’m constantly challenging myself and my colleagues on how we can place equity at the forefront of all the things that we do at Dodge. Sometimes, the reason it’s so difficult is because we’re used to doing things the way we’ve always done them. I applaud my colleagues who, since we’ve begun the DEI journey at Dodge, have questioned processes that have been in place for years. It’s quite difficult to push the question around why we do things. It’s difficult because sometimes dismantling the why is rooted in things much deeper and far more grounded in a larger more complex system.  

As far as my own work, I believe that transparency and accessibility are two really important values for me at Dodge. I have been working with our Poetry team here in thinking about ways that we can be more transparent with our different constituents so that there is more understanding around Dodge Poetry’s values and decision-making, particularly around the work we do with poets in the schools. I also continue to think about ways the Festival itself can be made more accessible to those that wouldn’t typically be engaged or involved — either as performers/readers or as attendees.  There are lots of challenging parts of equity work, but getting it wrong, and being okay with getting it wrong and learning from that, is challenging, especially when perfectionism is embedded in our everyday culture.   

What would people be surprised to know about you?   

Between the ages of 8-18, I was a virtuoso accordion player! I’ve won many, many trophies in my accordion-playing days and loved to play everything from polkas to pop music. I competed in bands, in combos, in a duet and, of course, as a solo instrumentalist. The accordion remains a very important instrument to me, although I haven’t played in years. I learned after I picked it up that my grandfather used to play. I’m determined to pick up the accordion again one day and play for enjoyment! 

What do you love most about New Jersey? 

I love New Jersey’s expansive landscape. It’s such a large state and you can find pine barrens, lakes and oceans, and city life, moving from one county to the next. I grew up in the city of Newark, riding mass transit to Jersey City and NYC easily. I also have lived closer to the shore in Old Bridge, then the bustling little city of Somerville; and now, finally I reside in Warren County. I never would have expected to own a home so far from city life. There is just so much land here and I’m privileged to have a large backyard filled with a peach tree and fig trees and lots of flowers that the deer love to eat! Living in New Jersey, you can have many different experiences with the state’s geography. This great state’s land produces such fresh produce — lots of homegrown fruits and veggies available at the tips of our fingertips. 

Do you have a question for Dodge staff? Leave it in the comments or send us an email at listening@grdodge.org.

Posted in COVID-19 pandemic, Dodge Q&A, equity, Poetry | Leave a comment

Dodge TA: Building the board you need to grow in tumultuous times

Posted on by Laura Otten
Boards that put in minimal effort or that were working on the wrong things, like doing management’s job, before the lockdown orders are likely to be the ones who have remained so or have become even more so. Photo by Roy Bisschops Creative Commons

Pennsylvania went into “lockdown” first. Within a week, New Jersey, and New York had followed suit. 

My conversations with board members and executive directors started on March 13, the day Pennsylvania Gov. Wolf announced that the Commonwealth would go on lockdown. 

The conversations kept coming, and have yet to stop. Very quickly, it became apparent that there were two dominant modes of operation for nonprofit boards: stepping up and leaning in or they went (or remained, as they had been) AWOL. 

As recently as last week, I have had more executive directors than I care to count tell me they haven’t heard from a board member, let alone the board president, since this whole thing started. 

What can we learn from the differences between these two responses? 

To start with the obvious, boards that were at the less engaged or disengaged end of the continuum — doing perfunctory things with minimal effort or feeling as though they were working hard but were working on the wrong things such as doing management’s job — before lockdown orders are likely to be the ones who have remained so or to have become even more so. 

The boards in the middle of the engaged spectrum were likely to have remained engaged and/or stepped up their games. 

Thus, it came as no surprise that many of the boards that were working on themselves and that had a higher degree of self-awareness are among those that have stepped up. 

Successful engagement isn’t a switch that can be readily flipped. 

There are lessons to be learned from this experience and others that have transpired over the last several months that can inform the next phase of adjusting to life in a time when a pandemic is a reality. This list of lessons is by no means exhaustive.

  1. Virtual board meetings work.  

Virtual board meetings where everyone has a camera and the camera is turned on so everyone can see one another live work even better.

While I’ve not seen data to support my hypothesis, it goes like this: virtual board meetings are convenient. In pre-COVID-19 days, a 90-minute board meeting easily became at least a two-and-a-half hour chunk of a day between driving to and from, parking, traffic, and parking lot conversations. That’s a big difference. 

Someone with limited resources, such as lack of childcare or transportation, can more easily attend a virtual meeting. Replicate this time commitment for committee meetings, and you can see why some board members might be doing a better job of engaging. 

As an aside, the dynamic of a meeting where 100 percent of participants are attending virtually is very different than a meeting where some are face-to-face and others are attending virtually. Do not equate the two. 

Whenever we move back to being able to have face-to-face gatherings, consider a meeting schedule that is a mixture of face-to-face and all virtual.

  • Board leadership really and truly matters. 

This is no news flash, but leaders make a difference. As Jim Collins put into our lexicon: the right people in the right seats is part of the equation for exceptional organizations. 

The board president who understood their true role and responsibilities and fulfilled them before COVID-19 continues to do so during the COVID-19 pandemic. The failure of board presidents to step up and rally others to step up underscores the lack of care and attention that too many boards bring to the selection of their leaders. 

Choosing a board chair/president should never be about “who” but always about “what.” What are the skills, talents, and attributes that are needed in this position now — in the times in which that person is being elected and for the period of time they will serve? 

While there are some constants — like being a good listener, a facilitator, a strong communicator, well-respected, having the time, and being willing to commit the time — there are some things that will vary depending upon where the organization is in its current lifecycle and its current strategic priorities. For example, if an organization is engaged in activities that demand garnering wide-spread support — such as a major fundraising campaign, building/renovating new space, branching into a new community — the board president should be a strong public speaker, and comfortable glad-handing.

If the focus is on internal concerns — such as strengthening the organization’s business model or handling an executive transition — the board president should be both detail- and process- oriented, while also have the ability to move things to conclusion, rather than kicking the can down the road. 

Going forward, don’t just select a person to be board president — identify those assets that are needed to be a superb board president and elect those assets. And, if those assets can’t be found all in one person, elect co-presidents.

  • Board comfort with fiduciary, strategic, and generative governance is essential for successful boards

It is not enough that board members are present at board meetings. Presence ensures neither engagement nor that the right work is taking place. 

It is imperative that boards are doing their work and working in all three modes, moving seamlessly from one to the other as the work demands. 

Many boards operate only in the fiduciary mode, a mode of governance that, essentially, ensures compliance, that boxes are checked: we have the necessary policies, we are reviewing the performance of the executive director; we are approving the budget and looking at financials throughout the year, and so on. When done right, fiduciary mode ensures the status quo, nothing more. 

Strategic governance, a mode too few boards employ, allows for the path forward. The strategic thinking boards may engage in during strategic planning is not strategic governance. Strategic governance is needed throughout the year, and moves the thinking from the simple question of “do we have x?” (fiduciary) to “is X the best way to do Y?” 

Generative governance takes things a step further and opens the door for innovation, moving from “is X the best way to do Y?” to “is Y really the right end goal?”  If ever there were a time for generative governance, it is now.

Unfortunately, a board does not move from operating in one mode to operating in all three overnight. There must be intentional recruitment of board members capable of working in at least two of these three modes and leadership that facilitates board and committee meetings that facilitate the use of the modes that are most needed for each situation. Boards must create a culture that understands and values the contributions and strengths of each mode. This is what makes the difference between being present and being engaged and leaning in. 

As you move to bring on new board members, be mindful of their ability and interest in working in these three modes.

  • Boards must have a culture of philanthropy

There is board member giving and there is a board culture of philanthropy — successful organizations have the latter. 

Philanthropy is a philosophy of life and not a measure of one’s wealth.  Philanthropy — giving/caring that incurs some degree of sacrifice on the part of the giver — is an understanding, a way of life, a core value for many. 

Philanthropists join boards with the desire to share with that organization their time, talents, and treasure, and are surprised when that isn’t the expectation of them and everyone else. 

As with any value, it cannot be legislated, so we must look for it in board candidates. Finding it can be as simple as asking questions that explore their understanding of what philanthropy is, their family experience with philanthropy, their approach to philanthropy. As with anything, what is not said is as informative as what is said.

  • It is imperative that board members deeply understand the work of the organization

Board members can’t help, no matter how much they are trying to lean in, if they don’t truly understand the work of the organization and understand how the mission promises are translated into action. This understanding requires more than reading about it or being told about it. It requires witnessing it. 

Like many of the items above, witnessing it doesn’t happen overnight, but rather over time. It begins with board candidates witnessing the mission in action, some or all, depending upon the nature of an organization. 

It continues with regular witnessing of the mission. Think “Take a Board Member to Work” day, or even half day, along with opportunities to interact with clients — that’s intentionally plural.

But no matter how engaged they are, how well they can jump from generative to fiduciary to strategic, how good board leadership is, and how philanthropic they are, all efforts will easily go astray if they are not grounded in a deep understanding of the work and culture of the organization.

  • A board must lead the organization as it works on DEI

As the top of the organizational chart, a board must model the behavior it expects of the rest of the organization and live the values of the organization. Nowhere is this more important than with diversity, equity, and inclusion. This was exceedingly important before the killing of George Floyd, and now it is an absolute imperative. 

It has always been a best practice that a board be reflective of the constituency it serves, a constituency that is rarely monolithic.  

Becoming an inclusive organization is not as simple as recruiting people who are “different,” it requires active work to make sure that the organization, and in this case, the board culture, is truly open to and ready to embrace different ideas, philosophies, ways of thinking, and doing things.

This requires that the board take a hard look in the mirror and consider how well it handles new ideas, change, and difference of opinions and perspective. Boards are best served by a civil clash of ideas than acquiescing to follow the leader or the loudest voice. 

In addition, the culture must be free of structural impediments that prevent others from joining. For example, would the giving expectation preclude some people from joining the board? Would the expectation a person know and be in close relationships with wealthy people preclude people from joining the board? Would meeting times make it difficult for a someone employed or a single parent or a parent of young children to attend meetings? Would getting to the meeting location be a challenge for someone dependent upon public transportation? 

Once a board is sure its culture will be inclusive, it must then make sure its recruitment process is inclusive. Instead of looking in current board members’ phones for potential new board members, the board must look in new places, and use new ways, such as tabling at events in the community the organization serves or reaching out to the communities’ civic and faith leaders, or advertising in media outlets that reach different populations.  The options are quite plentiful once the importance of doing things differently is recognized. 

With the possibility of the first item on this list, none of this is a new “ah, ha!”

It may feel new to some because the pandemic and protests brought them out of the shadows. Now that they are called out and named and the pandemic and protests have made visible a clear path forward, it is time to get to work so that your organization can benefit from the best board possible, in good times as well as bad.

Laura Otten, a Dodge Technical Assistance faculty member, is executive director at The Nonprofit Center at LaSalle University.

Posted in Board Leadership, COVID-19 pandemic, equity, Technical Assistance | Tagged , , | Leave a comment
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