Through the Equity Looking Glass by Julie Alsup, GPC

I have started this blog about ten times and never finished. The topic of equity and the concept of applying equitable lenses to the grant process is of great interest to me. Just like Maryam stated in her blog (Maybe We Need Lasik®), I do want to develop a greater ability to sense and evaluate equity within myself and in my work over time and strive to improve upon it.

As a grant consultant, I am contracted to assist nonprofits in crafting high quality proposals that respond to funder RFPs. In Kansas City, many of the local funders have been talking about equity for years now. I am proud of our philanthropic community for this. As a result, nonprofit applicants are increasingly asked to respond to questions such as “how is your approach equitable.” If I allow my clients to simply respond to the RFP question about equity with a simple “we have a diversity committee and two board members that identify as members of minority groups,” I am not doing my job. Equity looks at the playing field across race, gender, socio-economic status, sexual orientation, and the extent to which one’s economic, social, or political opportunities are determined. The conversation about the root cause of a community need, a proposed intervention, or the extent to which an outcome was realized must go far beyond simply describing demographics.

As a grant professional, I have a lot of influence as far as what is included in a case for support based upon the information I request from a client and the questions I ask throughout the grant writing process. I believe that every aspect of the grant strategy can and should be analyzed for opportunities to apply an equity framework. I know that if I am not able to recognize that there are a number of equity issues that can impact a situation, need, proposed intervention, an organization’s ability to accomplish performance measures, and sustainability, I am not fully relevant as a grant writer.

So, I’m going to put this out there. I still have a lot to learn about equity. But I have started the process, and I do not intend to stop. I had the opportunity mid-career to participate in a leadership cohort that challenged my awareness of equity issues in health policy. It made me realize that I was operating with limited vocabulary and context about many of the factors behind community needs. I learned about the importance of asking questions and to be open to challenging assumptions as to why communities have needs (like biases and stereotypes). I realized I was uncomfortable with many of the grant needs sections I wrote previously- they were deficit focused rather than strengths-based. I began noticing when conversations about project design and desired objectives were limited to C-suite executives and lacked the voice or opinion of community members for whom the intervention was being designed. This discomfort was stage one – raising awareness within myself. I am still in this phase. But awareness is the first step in behavior change, right?

So, my boss routinely challenges me to blog about what I am doing as I self-reflect on what I do and do not yet know about equity, and what I am doing to pursue knowledge and skills in this area to improve my skills as a grant professional and a consultant. I will be honest, here is where I get stuck as it makes me vulnerable to criticism, and I am admitting things I do not have fully figured out. But I am going to press through the discomfort because by being open to engage others in dialog, I hope I will continue to gain awareness, knowledge, and understanding of this complex and ever evolving issue.

Here are some of my hang-ups:

  • Why does anyone want to listen to me? Why does anyone care about how a white soccer mom from suburban Kansas City is trying to better understand the issue of equity? As I have learned more about the concepts of privilege, I realize that I have benefitted from it most of my life and never felt pushed outside my bubble to act.
  • What are my responsibilities as a grant professional for injecting my influence on this topic into my work, even if I myself am learning about the issue?

As a professional, I am obligated to perform to the best of my ability. To do so, I need to continue to incorporate what I know and what I am learning about equity into my writing and beyond. Here are some of my immediate next steps:

  • Language matters. I need to proactively inquire from clients about any phrases, concepts, or assumptions that convey ignorance or lack of understanding of the issue from an equity perspective.
  • I need to know more than the statistics. I intend to ask more questions about the historical events, policies, or situations that must be considered when I talk about a community.
  • I want to learn more about complex root causes behind equity issues and acquire a more diverse resource library. For example, I have researched and purchased some books to educate myself about things like the history of real estate development in Kansas City to understand more about how physical spaces of where people and resources are located create equity issues.
  • I want to ask clients not just about the challenges faced by their constituency, but what is exceptional about the constituency? What strengths does a community have at the individual, organizational, community, and/or system level that has led to perseverance and resiliency.
  • I want to incorporate different tools into my project design efforts. For example, historical context and external factors that have contributed to inequitable access to resources are not given much real estate in the traditional logic model. Perhaps it could be an input if the creator of the logic model thinks of it that way. The Theory of Change provides more opportunity for identifying and unpacking assumptions – yet is still limited.
  • I will continue to seek out online resources and tools. PolicyLink https://www.policylink.org/ is a site that provides information on equity issues, as well as tools, resources, and ways to get involved.

If this strikes a chord with you too, I invite you to join me on what I hope is a long and meaningful journey of personal and professional growth and development. Just because we are professionals does not mean we are meant to be all-knowing or perfect. A professional is always pushing themselves to fine-tune their craft and remain current on issues that matter. We are all a work-in-progress, and that is ok.

GPC Competency 3: Knowledge of strategies for effective program and project design and development

Skill 9: Identify any cultural competency or cultural diversity issues within the organization or project that will impact the design and/or grant development process