EP 18: Having Gracious DEI Conversations Leveraging the XCHANGE Approach with Carolyn Colleen

March 23, 2023

Show Notes

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) work is incredibly important. And yet, conversations around DEI can often be emotionally charged and difficult to navigate, leaving people feeling frustrated, confused, or even hurt.

While many nonprofit leaders have good intentions when it comes to DEI conversations, they may not always know how to approach it in a way that is inclusive, thoughtful, and effective to the needs of all involved. 

In our latest episode of THRIVERS, Tucker and Sarah have the opportunity to speak with Carolyn Colleen, the Founder of the Fierce Foundation, about how she leverages the XCHANGE approach —a methodology we use at THRIVE IMPACT as well—to create grace-filled conversations around DEI that promote healing and the energy needed to move forward in your DEI work.

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Tucker: Welcome to THRIVERS, nonprofit leadership for the next normal. I’m your host, Tucker Wannamaker, the CEO of THRIVE IMPACT. Our mission is to solve nonprofit leader burnout. Burnout is the enemy of creating positive change, and we want to connect you with impactful mission-driven leaders and ideas so that you can learn to thrive in today’s nonprofit landscape.
I’m joined by my co-host, our Chief of Impact, Sarah Fanslau. Sarah, it’s good to be back on the podcast with you again today.

Sarah: Hey, Tucker. Great to be here.

Tucker: And, you know, this particular topic, I’d probably say this about every one of our topics because they’re all so relevant. But this one, this one’s definitely in some ways a hot-button topic.
This one’s a… Some people are doing this well and some people aren’t doing this well. Some people are helping to strengthen the space around diversity, equity, and inclusion. And some people are actually hurting the space around diversity, equity, and inclusion through their approaches that they take and the conversations that they’re trying to have.
And so this particular topic is close to my own heart and my own understanding and my own lived experience. And Sarah, curious your thoughts on this topic before we introduce our guest.
Sarah: Yeah, I just, I think it’s foundational and fundamental. So I’m excited we’re having it and that we have such an esteemed guest who can help share some expertise and lived experience around this.
And I think one of the things, Tucker, about what you just said, you know, some people are doing it well and some aren’t. I think some people who think they’re doing it well aren’t doing it well, and that’s some of the challenge of this work, right? Good intentions, poor execution, and the line between those two things.
So excited to explore the difference between intentions and reality or perceptions a little bit deeper today.
Tucker: Wow. Well, I am very delighted to introduce our guest today. Carolyn, it is so good to have you, Carolyn. Let me introduce you first and then I’ll chat with you a little bit. But Carolyn Colleen, she is a fierce mother of three children. She’s an author and international speaker, a nonprofit leader, and an entrepreneur and a strategist focused on helping others achieve their goals. She is the founder of The Fierce Foundation, which is a foundation for generational change. Underrepresented women and children to create generational self-sufficiency. She’s also the owner of a private school called Acton Midwest, where the philosophy is clear thinking, which leads to good decisions, and good decisions lead to the right habits, and the right habits lead to character, and character becomes destiny.
I also love Carolyn too, you know, our topic today is around DEI conversations and how do you strengthen those conversations through, especially through using a methodology called appreciative inquiry, which came out of Case Western University. Well, you actually work with them as well. So you’ve been deep in these trenches, both as an African-American woman, as a nonprofit leader, as somebody who’s been working with Case Western University. And also, you recently have been, and I’ll let you speak to this a little bit, but you recently have been, I don’t know what the word is, is it elected or nominated or brought forth to the UN around women’s issues around the world? So I’m just so glad to have you here, Carolyn, and to be able to speak with you about such an important topic today.
Carolyn Colleen: Well, Tucker and Sarah, thanks for having me today. I am excited for the conversation.
Tucker: And before I keep going, tell us a little bit about what’s happening with you around the UN? What’s, what’s coming up very soon with you?
Carolyn: Yeah. So you’re, you know, you get invited to be a delegate for the Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations. And so I’m excited because the next two weeks I’ll be in many different conversations around world issues in a specific topic on innovation and technology and how might we serve some of the underrepresented populations around the world with innovation and technology. And so this is the CSW, year 67, and it starts on Monday for the next two weeks.
Tucker: Wow. What an exciting adventure for you to be a part of that. That’s in and what an honor too. Like, I love the right, it is. What an honor to be invited to that. Well, let’s hop on into the topic because it’s a biggie, and it’s again, as we’ve been working on it together around how do we strengthen our DEI conversations, which ultimately our conversations lead to what we actually end up doing around DEI, and how do we do that through appreciative inquiry.

But before we get into some of that, which to me, is really, you’re living into that next normal of nonprofit leadership. But before we get there, what are some of the pains or the challenges that nonprofit leaders are experiencing regarding their DEI conversations? What have you been noticing as a nonprofit leader as well as with, I know that you work with different nonprofits as well? What are some of the pains that you’re noticing around this particular topic?
Carolyn: What I’m noticing, either being serving as a board member, but also in leading a nonprofit, is where we see that the word equitable is within the values and mission statement. However, the action doesn’t follow, and finding the balance of what does that mean? What I’m really proud of specifically is there’s nonprofits that I’m involved in and also leading that they’re taking a moment to take pause. They’re taking a moment to really, okay, think about it. They’re thinking about they’re taking a moment to pause and say, “All right, we need to think about this, our mission and value. What does it truly mean now, today?” Now there’s been quite a bit of change for us as a human race in the past three years, and we aren’t the same. And how do we move forward from a state of intersectionality in which to continue the change without tossing out our mission and our vision and our values? But perhaps we need to take a moment to really understand what our mission and values are.
And so you, for example, I serve on several boards and then I also run, or I’m the founder of my own nonprofit and have also sat in roles of executive director in nonprofit. And it’s true. We need to be able to come and look at our vision statement, look at our mission statement. If the words equity is in the vision and the mission and the values, well then what does it mean to us and what does it mean to us right now? Because what it was three, five years ago is different and we should be looking. Where are we now? What does our mission vision statement look like and is it true? And if all the words don’t necessarily mean aren’t meaningful or valuable in this actual moment of who we’re serving and how we’re serving, maybe we need to refresh it. And as a nonprofit, you should every three to five years, we should be leading a look at it. When we’re constantly looking at our new funders and where we’re getting new grants, and where we’re getting more donations and where, what, what is our, we continually look every single month at our bottom line. Are we continuing to look at what our values are and where we’re headed to?

And so I’m very proud of the organizations that I’m involved with that did seek outside advice and say, “Hey, here is our mission statement. Here’s our value statement. What does it look like? What does it look like for the outside looking in? And what does it look like for our board and as our board reflective of our missions and our values?” If not, all right, what do we need to change and what do we need to add? What do we need to rework in order to have a mission and value statement aligns with where we are right now?
Tucker: Yeah, I love that. Somebody told me the other day, “It’s hard to read the label from inside the bottle.” You know, how do we have somebody to help be a mirror to us, to help us understand more of where we’re at? I’m curious, especially diving into the approach to these types of conversations. And I know, you know, we know each other from a facilitation community, a delightful community called Exchange that we’ve gotten to know each other through there. And so much of that is about approach, how we bring people together, how we have conversations.
And what have you noticed around pain in particular, and issues that maybe where you’ve seen this gone awry, where there was like what Sarah was talking about, great intentions and really poor execution? What have you noticed are the pains around how we’re even approaching these conversations that you’ve noticed nonprofit leaders are struggling with?
Carolyn: Well, yes. So I have an example of how we have guided our board on looking at those pain points, specifically regarding DEI conversations. When we’re looking at that, does our board reflect who we serve? And then also, I would encourage those that are listening in other nonprofits, when you do have these pain points, to have a retreat. We did a three-hour retreat to talk about, let’s take pause, let’s get present, let’s bring to the table a current challenge or pain point. What are the strengths that we can honor as far as remembering a time when we felt included, when we felt unity, when we came together and celebrated, coming from an exchange approach.
One way others might be doing this wrong is saying, “Hey, we need to have a DEI statement now.” Yes, I’ve heard that before, and from a person of color’s perspective, we don’t want a DEI statement that means nothing. What we don’t want is a new rendition of what we had before, which was this aggressive employment, which is…I’m now blanking on the name because it gets me emotional. We’re not looking for a checkbox. Does it align with your values? And how are you being inclusive? How are you uniting? Having that conversation and having a retreat with your board and even with your staff and saying, “Hey, let’s honor the strengths that we do have. When was the last time that you felt included? What did that feel like? Where were you? What were you celebrating?”

Maybe it was a baby shower, maybe it was a birthday. When was the time that you saw a community come together and you felt included, and then highlighting what those strengths are? What are the themes? People will say, “Well, I just felt safe. I felt like I belonged, and I felt like it was a community of being welcome.” Well, wonderful. Taking those strengths and adding those to the conversation to reduce a bit of pain. When we invite people into a conversation of a DEI conversation, equity, and conversation, people are going to come to the table with a particular set of assumptions about what might be discussed. If you come to the table with a more appreciative inquiry approach to honor the strengths of the people that are in the room, the people who have done the work, because in nonprofit we’re exhausted a lot of the time. We forget to fill our own cup, and so then, therefore, when you do come to the conversation on a pain point, we’re already spent. Getting to a space of identifying and honoring people for the work that they have done, the advocacy they have done, the intersectionality they have done, the ways in which they have stood up for what’s right, and then going into, now we understand what it feels like to be included. We know what it feels like to be honored and accepted and acknowledged. Now, how do we define what that means for our organization in a way that’s not a gotcha culture? We definitely have that going on, but more of an element of grace and a little bit more of, “I got you.”

Tucker: Ooh, that’s good.

Carolyn: So that we come together and honor what is beautifully different about each of us, but moving to, and moving together in a space of unity. Because if we are continually moving in a space of depletion and I’m constantly trying to catch each other and catch each other in mistakes, even though we’re supposed to be moving in a similar direction, fighting the good fight, we’re not gonna get anywhere. So that is where I’ve seen nonprofits that I am involved with able to move forward and set aside a lot of disagreements and a lot of pain points. Yeah, I mean, let’s be real. We all make mistakes, but in this nonprofit charge, we didn’t get into it for the money. So how about we take a deep breath? How about we stop trying to catch each other, and how about we get each other? And then move forward on a value-based initiative that moves our organization in a positive direction.
Sarah: Oh, I love that. I love that idea of grace, right? It’s calling in and not calling out, a little bit. And I love, Caroline, I love your orientation around starting with the values. What do we even believe and what do we want? And what does it look like, sound like, feel like for you and for you and for you, knowing it’s different based on our chairs and our bodies in those chairs, and then our experience and all of those pieces.

I’m so curious. One of the things you brought up earlier was the idea of orienting in strengths, reconnecting or rebuilding our values, and then taking it to action. I heard you talk about saying, “What does our board makeup look like? Who are the bodies in the chairs? Do they represent the work that we’re doing?” Curious about other best practices you’ve seen around after folks have aligned on the values and have words on the page, how they bring that out to action, and then how they measure their progress. Curious your thoughts on that piece.
Carolyn: So yes. Once you’ve aligned with those values and said, “Hey, the people that, the, the what, the service that we are serving, the people that we are serving in our nonprofit, we need to have people that also on the board that reflect those people that we’re serving.”
Alright, who are we gonna assign that to, and how are we going to get more people, at least one, maybe two on the board, to be able to have a differing opinion? Yeah, because as we take initiative to do so, we definitely do want to have people that think differently than us, and we want to be able to have people that on the board that don’t necessarily always agree, but it makes us stronger in doing so.
So the action steps, as far as development goes, is to have our development and our community development. They are in charge of letting people know, “Hey, we have these refreshed values and are you interested in coming in supporting our board and serving on our board? This is what it looks like.”
Sometimes we have organizations that I’m involved with have been around for 40 years and they need that opportunity to say, “Hey, we have this longevity and we have a refreshed perspective, and here’s how you can come help us on this mission.” So once they’ve outlined that, having the board be able to recruit with that refreshed vision, that refreshed value statement, and a refreshed board.
That is exciting. And did I answer your question?
Sarah: Yeah, I love that. I think this idea of saying, Hey, we’ve done this thing. This is what we’ve got. Come join us from this place of renewed strength. I really, I love that approach, and a few, you know, there’s a few nonprofits that I follow and I’m gonna forget the name of the one I’m thinking about right now.
But, you know, they re-did their values I think a few years ago, and then they said, and here’s what we’re gonna do to live into them. And they had a whole set of actions, right? And one was about, for example, ensuring that, and this is a behavioral science organization, 50% of contributing researchers and scientists were folks of color, for example.
And, you know, the list went on and they said, here’s what we’re gonna do and here’s how we’re gonna measure our success. Hold us accountable and we’ll try to do the same internally. And I love this idea of moving the words beyond to actions and then to measurement, and ultimately to accountability.
So that, and we may not always meet all of our dreams for ourselves, right? That’s true. But by setting the attention and identifying how what success looks like, I think we’re more able to. I love your example of what that looks like from a board perspective.
Carolyn: Yeah, thank you. And to add to that, being on a board and advising, so let’s say, like you said, holding a board accountable or holding that organization accountable to the change that they’re seeking to walk the walk, talk the talk as some have gone out and said, “Okay, well we are going to be representative now we need to get a person of color on our board.”
Well, sometimes, and that’s something that also you want to be mindful of because people of color are also spent, exhausted, and so being mindful of that, one solution that we feel might be helpful for the organizations listening that we’ve done is we have a People of Color Consortium.
And what we do is that the People of Color Consortium then advises the organizations. So it’s not necessarily you have to have a person of color on your board, right? Because they, you know, where there’s only so many people and it might not be a fit. Sure, you might have someone that really aligns with the organization and they want to serve on the board. Wonderful. But you might not. And at the same time, there are people of color who are quite tired of being asked. So being mindful of that, what has worked is we have a People of Color Consortium.
We get together once a quarter and we help answer questions for organizations. They just want to be able to serve and do it right. And so we help advise organizations on questions they have about their board, about their organization, about the people that they serve, so that they can have a consortium of people advising and giving feedback, and that can be done in your town as well.
Sarah: I love that piece. And I mean, as you mentioned, also board work is usually unpaid, right? And this is labor. This is work. And, you know, we don’t, wan to… So I love that piece of a consortium. If you’re an organization that wants to be representative and you can’t find somebody, or, you know what? There’s, just not capacity. You know, there’s an opportunity to get thoughts and advice still.
Tucker: Love this, Carolyn. I’m curious. We’ve already kind of gotten into that next normal of this, but I want to unpack the exchange approach and appreciative inquiry a little bit more around the approaches that we can continue to take.
And what does that next normal really look like? And you know, I think we actually did a podcast at the very, I think it was literally our first podcast we did. It was actually about appreciative inquiry and some of the exchange approach as well, which is grounded in appreciative inquiry.
But there are so many other pieces about exchange that have been so powerful. But I’m curious, just from your perspective, how would you describe — maybe this is putting you on the spot a little bit — how would you describe the exchange approach and appreciative inquiry, and what does that look like as you’ve already started to share, but I want to dig into that a little bit more deeply around this approach component to these conversations.
But how would you describe appreciative inquiry and the exchange approach, and then let’s get into some approaches that people might take to live into this next normal?
Carolyn: Yeah, so I would say the exchange approach is really, it’s a way to make moves toward a greater good by honoring what was, what is, and what could be. When you come into a conversation of facilitation and you take pause to honor the work that has been done, you know, I have so many beautiful humans that I’m honored to be surrounded with and they’ve done so much work and it’s beautiful. They have years and years and years of advocacy in serving.
And then you see some of these people who have done all just dedicated their life to advocacy, and then seeing how, like we talked about earlier, how it’s been done wrong in that we haven’t, in this new place that we are where the work has been done wrong, is that the people who have been advocating for many, many, many years and been in so many different rooms dedicating their life to the work, it’s been almost a space of a reversal of all those years of dedication.
Because they’re, we’ve gotten caught up in our Gotcha. And it’s sad to see because some of the people who have just their fire is burning so bright and they just want to help and they’ve been shamed. And I feel moving forward we have an opportunity to pause and use the exchange approach to.
Because yes, in the past three years, there’s been so much turmoil and there are so many things that we need to be able to heal from. But if we are in a space of continuous survival and trauma, we will not be able to move forward. We are just going to implode. So when we use the exchange approach in our conversations, when we use it in our facilitation, and when we use it in a strategy to move forward, if that is truly what we want to do, we want to be able to pause and honor people of all different advocacy groups and truly bring forth the strength that they bring to the table.
And then in a place of what is so honoring what was, standing in what is, you can move forward into a new possibility. So when I say what is, I mean advocates that perhaps need to or would be invited to say, “Hey, the how, how the words that I chose 20, 30 years ago don’t apply. Right. And we are in a new time. Okay? It is. That’s how it is. All right. Now, what do I need to do to move forward in a safe psychological space to learn what could be in the definition of equity and inclusion?” Using the exchange approach in which to help that healing conversation, we are not stamping out the light of someone who has worked very hard and helped so many people. We are also not stamping out the light of someone who’s new to the table that sees it in a new way and says, “Hey, you know, that type of those words, they don’t resonate with where I am.”
But you know what? I see you, I accept you. Now let’s fight this fight together. I feel the exchange approach is the key to helping us do exactly that.
Tucker: Oh, wow. That’s so great, Carolyn. You know, it reminds me of a story. I was in something called Leadership Denver this last year, and a woman, an African-American woman who called herself a diversity consultant since the ’60s or ’70s, her name is Dr. Juanita Mosby Tyler, and she runs an organization called The Equity Project here in Denver. And she said she had one moment where a white man in his sixties came up to her crying, saying, “You were the first person to ever tell me that I was included in diversity.”
Because she said the great travesty of the diversity was that it basically meant everything that was not white. And I hear what you’re sharing and he, this gentleman in particular, had been in this space, had been advocating to your point, but I just, I’m appreciating so much of what you were sharing and like what Dr. Juanita had shared as well of how do we fully honor the lived experiences of all the people that are part of this work. And I love that word, “honor” that you use so graciously too. Can we honor those who are in this space that we’re all in this space? Not everybody, I guess, but many of us are in this space to find that pathway forward.
Some of us are more clunky than others. Some of us aren’t quite sure how to say the right words or not, you know, but that space of grace that you’re talking about, she actually talked about that too, and I love that you’re saying that because instead of a “I gotcha” culture, it’s a “I got you” like that was so poignant. Can we really just have a space of grace and help us all to learn into this in the space that we’re in?
Carolyn: Yes, and we can, with the exchange approach, create a psychologically safe space to provide grace. And yes, no one has it exactly right, but giving grace and saying, “Alright, you don’t, but I see you’re trying” – how wonderful does that feel? The last time that we got grace, because if you were someone who never made mistakes, I wonder who you are, ’cause I’ve never met one. So, thinking and reflecting on the last time somebody gave you a, “Hey, hey, you know, come on, I’m here for a minute. I just wanna say something just so you, that what you just said, it kind of rubbed me the wrong way and I just wanted to let you know that, and you know, you could read this book on that in order to understand a little bit more where I’m coming from”, compared to “Oh, I’m never talking to you again. I can’t talk to you ever at all.” Like, how is that helping? And here’s the thing: if we are working against each other and continually trying to catch each other, how do you control an overall society? You separate them and you pit them against each other. So, if we take an element of grace, take a deep breath, and realize that we’re in the same room and we are trying to work to move the needle, to climb that mountain, to overcome those systems that oppress us, we need to come together. And so, as we come together, we can overcome. As we separate, we are not as strong. And so, just like Maya Angelo said, “I come as one, but I stand as 10,000.” We need each and every one of us in which to move toward solving the biggest issues in our world.
Tucker: Well, Carolyn, the approach to get there are things like, I loved how you shared about let’s all get grounded in our own lived experience of when we felt included. So we don’t just think it, we like feel it. We’re like in our own experience of what inclusion even means to me based on my own exploration or my own lived experience.
And then, like that’s where getting into these conversations, then where do you take them? Like you kind of hit on this, around the discovery of the best of who we have been, who we are, and who we want to be. It sounds like there’s a sequence of different questions that you can invite people into that help to unearth lived experience and unearth the best of who we have been.
That doesn’t feel like it’s gotcha because of the type of questions that you’re asking, which I know is central to the exchange. But tell us a little bit more about that. Like get into those questions that you’ve done and, and honestly, when you do them, what is made possible in the rooms that you’ve been in? Because I know that you’ve facilitated these types of conversations exactly. So like how did the conversation go in terms of what the questions you were asking and what was made possible by having these types of conversations versus the ones that many nonprofit leaders tend to be involved in?
Carolyn: Yes. Having your team and bringing forth… What does it feel like? Like I said, what does it feel like to be appreciated? What does it… When’s the last time you were appreciated? And then what happened? Where were you? What did it feel like? Think about a time when you were forgiven. What did it feel like? Where were you? Think about a time where you had an opportunity to help another person with no strings attached. What did it look like? What did it feel? And in rooms when you’re asking those questions and you’re bringing together that conversation, an opportunity to journal, an opportunity to realize themes in the conversation. That is where healing happens, particularly with the “when is the last time that you were forgiven.” In healing, that emerges. The walls that get broken down and then… What happens is then from there, realizing a future with the foundation of what does it feel like to have someone forgive you? And when you have come from a space of heart, when you get out of your head and into your heart, and we talk about that in exchange as well as using HeartMath and leading with heart. In an authentic space, we can change the direction of where we’re headed with so much more power. And so, yes, creating questions for your team, for your board of directors, for your staff in helping bring the conversation to a heart level, realizing the themes, honoring those… Which creates a safe psychological space and an opportunity to heal. Because it’s in nonprofit, there’s a lot of burnout and because of the burnout, we tend to… We tend to, when we’re upset, burned out, we come from an inauthentic place. When we can take that time and that pause to really reflect on what in the world brings us in the door every day anyway, and then be able to move forward with those questions, with that crowdsourcing idea of what makes us the strongest. Use that tone in which to move forward and change. For example, taking those and using it as a… So every board meeting, when you start, you say, “What is it that you know? What is… What are you celebrating? Share a story of how you have implemented what we discussed last. What are you grateful for?” And bringing the board meeting to a presence so that those that are seeking that, that, that need that. To be able… Well, everyone needs it, but to be able to come from a space of authenticity, remembering why am I even in this room? That is where you’re going to be able to invigorate.
Sarah: Carolyn, curious if you’ve been in a space where, you know, the strength, the push of inquiry is strength focused, but where folks are not ready to sit in the strength, right? And, and you know, I think sometimes as we’ve done our work, you know, sometimes it’s like there’s a challenge or a problem here that I feel like we’re not being able to underline or focus on because, you know, because we’re focused on strength in instead.
And we know that that’s not the case. But curious if that’s come up for you in conversations about DEI, where folks wanna focus on what’s wrong and have a hard time getting to what’s possible and, and if so, how you’ve dealt with and addressed that?
Carolyn: Yeah, so yes, definitely in some of the strategy work with nonprofit as well.
They come… we’ve had specific examples of staff who’ve come to the table and they are armed and ready. They are armed with… and, and here’s the example is we talk a little bit about, we break it down in that there’s a difference between advocacy and being an advocate and an ally for those you’re serving compared to… there’s a negative type of advocate as well to where they’re trying, they’re forging the way, and it’s actually counterproductive… And so are you, are you an advocate or are you an aggressor? And so being an advocate means that you are standing with, and so, and you’re giving, you know, you are standing with and you’re giving voice to someone who doesn’t have a voice or couldn’t stand for themselves compared to being an aggressor that is more so where it’s almost to the point of taking away, it’s taking away the struggle because you’ve taken it on for yourself almost to the point of victimhood. And so what’s happened there is it’s taking away from the struggle that that person that you’re advocating for, and it’s also taking away from the work that’s being done. So who, so, so what’s happening there is where they’re putting themselves first compared to putting the person that they’re serving first. So there’s a fine line between giving a voice to someone and then giving what they want the message to be compared to what you’ve chosen that message for.
And so, because we, a lot of times, you know, we are tired, we do a lot of advocacy work, and then that line gets crossed and we lose sight. And so what I do in those situations is in that conversations, is really getting underneath what is meaningful and why do you do what you do? Why did you start doing this? Give examples of people that you have helped and why, and what did it feel? Because as you can recall, it’s not always necessarily learning something new. It’s remembering what’s true and getting underneath to their truth as to why they’re in the room. When you can get to that truth and they can share so many different amazing stories of advocacy work that they’ve done and who they’ve helped and being able to get a little more clear on, and that’s also an example of where getting off track with the mission and the vision. Sometimes you see where it’s in nonprofit work, you’ll see where nonprofits are kind of chasing the grant, they’re chasing the funds, and it doesn’t align with what you truly stand for. So it comes right back to that exchange approach. What brought you in this room? What is your why for why you advocate and share some stories of advocacy and successful advocacy? What’s your meaning and definition of success in this particular role? And as they break it down, you’ll see you start to see that their definition of success in that particular role really doesn’t have a whole lot to do with all of the ammunition they came to the table with, it’s just that they didn’t feel seen or heard for the work that they have done.

Tucker: Yeah. I love that. Oh, Carolyn, I feel like we could sit on this topic for so long.
Oh, this is such a beautiful conversation. Very briefly, wanted to hit on when you’ve done this process with yourself, with your organization, with other organizations. You’re already hitting to it, but I kind of want to hit it right on the head. Like, what is made possible for these organizations, for these leaders when they go about it through this approach?
Carolyn: What’s beautiful and what’s made possible is a board that’s excited and ignited. And when you have a board and a staff that’s excited, refreshed, and ignited for their mission and their values, others see it. And therefore, what happens is that affects your bottom line. That affects your donors. That affects people who want to be able to support your cause. They’re like, “Wow, they’re really passionate, they’re really excited.” And you can see passion. Whether it’s something where they’re just like, you know what it looks like where you might have people who are advocates in there, they’re just running, but they’re still pushing for the cause. Compared to an advocate who’s like, “I am fired up for the cause and the purpose. And I, despite the adversity that we come across, we’re united in this force.” And you can see that they’re filling their cup as well. Because you can’t give with an empty cup. So when you use this approach, and you have a fired-up board and a fired-up staff, therefore, you see the donors and you see the volunteers. They can’t wait to get in.
Tucker: That’s great, Carolyn. I’m curious around our last question, which is just some practical steps. Let’s say I, as a nonprofit leader, have already had at least five conversations that mostly went bad. I’m frustrated. I’m like, “Oh, we got to do DEI work,” or whatever it is, right? Whatever the sentiment might be or their current lived experience around some of these conversations that maybe has been challenging, tough. Curious, what practical steps can a nonprofit leader take to start to apply this into the conversations that they’re having?
Carolyn: Yeah, I feel that it’s every day’s a new day, every conversation’s a new conversation. Give yourself some grace. Maybe things were done wrong, maybe things were said wrong. Okay. And start from right now, your next conversation. How are you flipping it? How are you honoring that conversation to be appreciating people that are coming to the table? So I would say sit down at your desk, take a deep breath, give yourself an element of grace, and just say, “all right, from this moment on, I am going to come from a place of inquiry. I’m gonna ask more questions than give more answers, and I’m gonna honor where I am and I’m going to seek information.” I’m gonna ask questions. What does diversity mean to you? What does equity mean to you? And ask it of myself first. Write it down, and then the next conversation you come to say, “Hey, I’m trying, I’m, I’m trying something new. And here’s what diversity means to me. Here’s what equity means to me. This is an example of the last time that I felt included. What does it mean to you?” and start the conversation. Maybe it’s one person at a time. Maybe you do better one person at a time. Elect that. Inquire, be passionately curious about what the heart is of the people on your staff in your organization. And then theme it. Maybe make a little like, little circles in maps saying, “oh, this person, their theme word was… this person, their theme word was love. This person, their theme word was acceptance.” And then that next board meeting, that next staff meeting, make those words and say, “Hey, I’m trying, I apologize for any past conversations might have happened that I messed up.” And you could name them specifically if you feel, but… and say, “here I decided to come from a place of inquiry. These are the themes that I found, and I just wanna honor all of you for taking the time to share with me what makes us our best, and now let’s move forward from here on out with every conversation of what is about us and within the topic of diversity and inclusion and how do we wanna move forward.” I invite you to our next conversation, maybe it’s a retreat and it’s a couple hours, and we map out and talk about what are we at our best and what could we be? So that’s a tactical approach to what they can do right away and just reset at the next conversation.
Tucker: That’s great. I love that. Yeah, I was even thinking, Sarah, when we did this with ourselves, we did this exact same thing. We reflected on like, where have we created spaces for, like where we’ve brought diverse voices in, where we’ve had equitable learning environments where we made people feel or helped people to feel inclusive.
And it was very generative for us, ’cause I think we even were stuck a little bit and then we were like, wait, we even do the exchange approach and appreciative, we let’s do it on ourselves. And so we did and it was really generative for us to honor what we already are doing, to what you’ve been sharing, and it was really great. It provided such a great foundation for the work that we’re already doing, and then a little bit of a foundation for us to understand more about where we can go too… So really just appreciating what you’re sharing and giving that grace.
I’m actually wondering too, as a last, maybe we can co-create some questions with you that we can leave for our listeners, that they can take and run with, and we can put them in the show notes so that way, these, you know, question design is so important and you’ve hit on so many ways of flipping questions into things that are generative, right? And create the space of grace because the very question you’re asking. And so, I’m wondering if we can do that together, if you’re okay with that, Carolyn, and we can…

Carolyn: Yeah, that would be great.
Tucker: …co-create some questions that we can leave in a simple document or something like that for people to take to that next conversation.
You already hit on some of them, and I want to write them down so that people can have some to practice and to try some of these next conversations.
Carolyn: Yes, that would be wonderful.
Tucker: Awesome. Well, Carolyn, thank you so much. What a gracious conversation. It really was. I feel like just being in your presence is just so delightful and so grace-filled. Like, I just want to keep sitting and listening to you and the way that you talk and the way that you hold yourself with grace, and that you help people to think differently about some of this work because this is a tense topic. This is a tense topic. If you’re a white person, it’s a tense topic. If you’re a person of color, it’s a tense topic on so many different fronts. It’s a tense topic for those with disabilities. We’ve worked with people with disabilities as well. Like, it’s a tense topic for all the different people who are coming into these different spaces and us at the end of the day just wanting to feel noticed or feel seen and be a part of the best of what we could be as well. So yeah, just so great to be here with you today, Carolyn. Sarah, thanks for co-hosting with me as usual, and have a great day, everybody. Thanks for showing up.

Carolyn: Thank you.

Tucker: We’ll put the show notes and the link in as soon as we’re done. Thanks, everyone.