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Part 1: Get Ready

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3. Bring Champions Together And Launch Your Process

While you’re planning a collaborative process with roles for people throughout your United Way and community, there’s an important part for organizational and community leaders to play. This is the moment when you’ll connect with key leaders (mostly internal to your UW although sometimes external support can be a powerful motivator) who can champion the effort by speaking clearly and explicitly about the need to focus on race, equity and inclusion; identifying resources (including staff time and “real estate” on critical meeting agendas); and removing obstacles. With their support, the next step is to launch the planning and learning process you and your team have designed.

In This Section, We’ll Explore How To

  • How To Engage Champions
  • Engage Additional Early Adopters
  • Make An Authentic Invitation

Engage Champions

As you map out your planning process, you will have completed at least an initial stakeholder analysis. By now, you have a good sense of who will be supportive champions and supporters of your efforts to focus on race, equity and inclusion; who will likely oppose your efforts; and who occupies the “influenceable middle” of the adoption curve. Although you don’t necessarily need all senior leaders to be champions, you will need the support of at least a few well-positioned people to build the will and resources to move your change process forward. Think of it the same way you’d think of a capital campaign, identifying lead investors before you go public with an ask for others to join.

Champions are typically people with positional power, including senior staff and board members of your United Way; senior staff or board members in partner organizations; leaders of key community groups in your area; highly visible donors; and public officials. A top-down “blessing” from these leaders and their public support is not all you need to move toward deeper equity and inclusion, but they will make the job of securing resources (including time and attention) and building alignment much easier.

You’ll likely need a variety of methods to engage champions. We suggest starting with a series of one-on-one meetings. Sometimes champions function best as individual advisors; sometimes they function best as a group that can receive periodic updates and share advice together. Regardless of the engagement methods, you’ll want to develop your ask of each individual.

Some Examples Include:

  • Public affirmations and regular mentions of the efforts in spoken and written comments
  • Specific actions to model equity and inclusion in their day-to-day work
  • Agreement to invest organizational resources (e.g., funding, staff time, reputation)
  • Agreement to invest their own time (e.g., coming together to stay abreast of the efforts, advising as needed, removing barriers to equity and inclusion, participating in key learning and planning events alongside other stakeholders)

If key leaders aren’t supportive, a minimal ask could be an agreement to proceed and not to create barriers or otherwise sabotage the work. In this case, it’s critical to be clear about who has the final decision-making power on each section because you don’t want your Race, Equity and Inclusion Strategy Team to invest a lot of work only to have it overturned. Sometimes, it can be appropriate to find others—such as a partner corporation, a donor, or an important community group—to help make the case with a resistant leader.

Engage Additional Early Adopters

Your Race, Equity and Inclusion Strategy Team members are your earliest champions for the process. At this stage, you’ll also want to engage others who are already working on race, equity and inclusion, regardless of where they sit in the formal hierarchy of your United Way or other organizations or companies. Bring them together to engage with your case for change and learn about what each is doing. Create an ongoing learning community where they can share practices, support one another and strategize about how to move the work forward in your United Way and across your community.

Make An Authentic Invitation

In fund development and community organizing, people respond to authentic invitations from folks they trust. The same principle applies to engaging champions in working together around race, equity and inclusion. You’re inviting people to be part of a rewarding and sometimes challenging process of creating a more positive future for your United Way and your community. Consider these Six Conversations that Matter as you prepare to engage with champions.

“To open the community to an alternative future, start with the invitation conversation. Since all the other conversations lead to one another, sequence is not all that critical. It’s important to understand that some are more difficult than others, especially in communities where [people] are just beginning to engage with one another. Certain conversations are high-risk and require a greater level of trust among people than others to have meaning. A good meeting design begins with less-demanding ones and ends with the more-difficult ones.


Invitation conversation.1

Transformation occurs through choice, not mandate. Invitation is the call to create an alternative future. What is the invitation we can make to support people to participate and own the relationships, tasks and process that lead to success?

Possibility conversation

This focuses on what we want our future to be as opposed to problem solving the past. It frees people to innovate, challenge the status quo, break new ground and create new futures that make a difference.

Ownership conversation

This conversation focuses on whose organization or task is this? It asks: How have I contributed to creating current reality? Confusion, blame and waiting for someone else to change are a defense against ownership and personal power.

Dissent conversation

This gives people the space to say no. If you can’t say no, your yes has no meaning. Give people a chance to express their doubts and reservations, as a way of clarifying their roles, needs and yearnings within the vision and mission. Genuine commitment begins with doubt, and “no” is an expression of people finding their space and role in the strategy.

Commitment conversation

This conversation is about making promises to peers about your contribution to the success. It asks: What promise am I willing to make to this enterprise? And, what price am I willing to pay for success? It is a promise for the sake of a larger purpose, not for personal return.

Gifts conversation

Rather than focus on deficiencies and weaknesses, we focus on the gifts and assets we bring and capitalize on those to make the best and highest contribution. Confront people with their core gifts that can make the difference and change lives.”

  • 1. This summary of Six Conversations that Matter from Community: The Structure of Belonging, by Peter Block (San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler, 2008) appears on the Abundant Community website.