The Equity Assessment: What Your Nonprofit Needs to Do BEFORE Establishing Its Approach to Strength-Based Communication

3 min read

Last week, we kicked off our eight-part series on strength-based communication with a review of the latest research and trends in the practice. This week, before we continue on with a set of actionable strength-based communication best practices, we need to take a moment to pause and acknowledge the equity-building work that must be done BEFORE your organization commits to making its messaging and marketing strength-based.

Allow me to make one thing very clear: your organization should not engage in the (important) work of establishing a strength-based communication strategy until you have first conducted an equity assessment.

Too often, organizations get excited about making their communication more strength-based, and jump right in without considering that an equitable approach to communication cannot fix an organization with equity issues. Doing so is a Band-Aid, at best. At worst, it may actually inflame cultural tensions that are already smoldering under the surface.

Too often, organizations get excited about making their communication more strength-based, and jump right in without considering that an equitable approach to communication cannot fix an organization with equity issues. Click To Tweet

So before you begin developing your organization’s strength-based style guide, or encouraging your team to align with individual preferences and use person-first language, put a solid foundation in place. Conduct a comprehensive equity assessment and act on the recommendations within it. Only then can an authentic approach to strength-based communication truly take hold.

What is an equity assessment?

According to the Equity Literacy Institute, an equity assessment is a process intended to reveal the extent to which a nonprofit organization is “equitable to each member of the community.” While some equity assessments are focused on race equity specifically, most organizations can benefit from broad assessments that consider a wide range of intersectional identities, such as “religion, home language, socioeconomic status, immigrant status, sexual orientation, (dis)ability, gender identity, and race.”

A comprehensive assessment typically involves approaches such as surveys, interviews, in-person observations to get a read on how equitable and inclusive an organization’s practices are, and considers everything from hiring, to procurement, to yes – communication. All effective equity assessments have one thing in common: they center the perspectives of the people and communities the organization serves, and amplify the voices of those who have historically been minoritized.

Most equity assessments conclude with a set of recommendations that an organization should implement to become more inclusive and equitable. While taking a strength-based approach to communication may be one of those recommendations, it is almost never the only one. 

How can we get started on an equity assessment?

For organizations just beginning to explore the possibility of conducting an equity assessment, the resources on the Center for Nonprofit Excellence’s site and those offered by the Washington Race Equity and Justice Initiative will likely be helpful. When you’re ready to begin the work, I think you’ll benefit greatly from working with a consultant or facilitator who can bring a valuable external perspective to the process. There are many talented folks doing this work. Here are a few to consider:

Of course, conducting the assessment is only the first step. Bringing the recommendations to life is what really counts, and that’s when implementing a strength-based approach to communication should come in.

Next week, we’ll dig deeper into this series with our first best practice post, where we’ll discuss how following individual preferences and being specific can make communication more inclusive and strength-based.

Until then, here are all the posts (to date) in this series on strength-based communication:

  1. The Latest Research and Trends in Strength-Based Communication
  2. This post: The Equity Assessment: What Your Organization Needs to Do BEFORE Establishing Its Approach to Strength-Based Communication
  3. Strength-Based Communication Best Practice #1: Use Individual Preferences and Be Specific
  4. Strength-Based Communication Best Practice # 2: Use Person-First Language
Comments
  • Sandra Boone
    Reply

    Yes, I’ve started thinking of the issue in terms of “Yes, updating your messaging and marketing materials is important. But, if the first time you think of your lack of diversity is when you are picking pictures for your brochure, you are going to get it wrong.”

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