Communicating directly about racism, discrimination, and xenophobia.
2017 has been a year of tumultuous change and political turmoil, and your audiences may be expecting you to weigh-in on matters of racism, discrimination, and xenophobia now more than ever. Many nonprofits are influencing the way diversity, inclusion, and rights are understood and negotiated. Should you be one of them? It could be that our national political landscape may be changing the public’s affinity for your vision and mission.
How we communicate, individually and as organizations, reflects identity politics (i.e., the idea that people’s identities influence their engagement with the social and political world), whether we think about it consciously or not. Consequently, your audience is constantly thinking about the way your work hinders or advances the construction of the better world they envision. Here are four suggestions to help your organization communicate where it stands.
- Define your organization’s core values. Your staff, supporters, and prospective audiences want to know what you stand for. Values can be a useful way to define and elevate what matters to the forefront of your work and culture, and can help distinguish you from other organizations with similar programs but different priorities.
Justice-focused organizations like the Opportunity Agenda and Black Lives Matter are great examples of nonprofits who lead with values and guiding principles like “equality”, “redemption”, or “queer-affirming” that many can identify with and share.
- Communicate your values in everything you do. This is a fundamental principle for developing communications that are credible, compelling, and inspiring, and will help move people to action. Our friends at the American Friends Service Committee do this beautifully in this helpful blog that gives us the key to successful messages for countering Islamophobia.
- Consider intention versus impact. Be careful when communicating ideas of equal opportunity and equal justice that do not acknowledge the obstacles to achieving those outcomes. It’s common to focus on what the ideal outcome looks like; however, when it comes to the language of identity and bias this may not always be the best approach. For example, anti-deportation groups often use American values of meritocracy and hard work to highlight the similarities between “them” and “us.” However, they are unconsciously perpetuating an existing system of exclusion with this language.
- Spark open, productive discussion. While it is true that conversations around identity or bias are difficult, it is best to invite everyone to participate by highlighting the possibilities that lay ahead. The Opportunity Agenda has put together a very insightful list of how everyone can engage in and move these discussions forward, along with clear examples of how to apply the lessons we are discussing.
A strong organizational voice, internal alignment, and a firm declaration of values are key to establishing and maintaining genuine connections with people, partners, and leaders on behalf of your organization. Your supporters want a personal, human, and meaningful connection with you and by showing them you care about racism, discrimination, and xenophobia you are making that connection possible. Want more resources about values? Start here.