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Finding the Best Consultant for Your Nonprofit: Taking a JEDI Approach

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JEDI approach

This is the third article in a three-part series on finding the best consultant for your nonprofit. Read parts one and two

Studies have found that organizations that embrace a JEDI approach report improved impact, innovation, productivity, and increases in their bottom line. In this article, we’ll provide some guidance to those who are ready to move beyond the board statement or public equity pledge to actively and intentionally implement Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI) practices and strategies into their consultant search process. 

The JEDI approach centers the fight for racial justice and equity and addresses oppression and known disparities which limit access to essential and life-enriching supports for Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC).

No matter how urgent the issue, many people and organizations, nonprofits included, still find it challenging and uncomfortable at best and triggering at worst to address systemic and institutional racism and to go so far as to implement JEDI-centered hiring practices as the norm rather than as a box-checking activity. 

Nonetheless, many others recognize the value of such a commitment and show up as allies and in solidarity for the work of social change, while also sitting with the discomfort, dissonance, and truth required for such change. Rather than resist, they choose to let down their guard and to intentionally embrace the process. 

As we move forward, we invite you to do the same. 

How to begin incorporating the JEDI approach into your search

Frankly, the search, evaluation, interview, and selection process can be very rigorous and time-consuming. Engaging the consultant search using a JEDI approach requires clarity of intent, a commitment to being uncomfortable, and a great deal of “cultural humility” (self-reflection, personal critique, and acknowledgment of existing biases), especially in white-lead and white-dominated organizations and institutions. As we stated in part one of this series, setting SMART goals for the process is key. 

Set a SMART goal.

This goal is Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound: We will source, vet, and interview five to seven BIPOC consultant candidates between January 1st and February 15th with the intent of having a contract in place for implementing a DEI component into our existing strategic plan to begin Q2. 

Ask clarifying questions. 

We also suggest starting with a few clarifying questions about where your organization is and its aspirations for implementing or expanding its JEDI practices. Here are some sample questions:

1. What is your organization’s public reputation around JEDI?

Has your organization taken any small or significant steps towards making its position on JEDI practices clear? For example, have you added an equity statement to your public-facing information channels (website, YouTube, Facebook, etc.) or issued a press release in response to a specific injustice or social issue? 

Silence is most often viewed as indifference and/or complicity. At the same time, making a public statement that is not followed by congruent, well-aligned action will likely be viewed as performative contrition and will adversely affect public trust. 

NOTE: Do take care when making a public DEI statement or making an equity pledge—it implies an intent to make change and invites both scrutiny of and accountability for any actions which follow. 

2. Has the organization’s policies, practices, and overall culture been evaluated through the lens of a JEDI approach?  

Has there been an honest assessment of where the organization is and how or if it clearly demonstrates its position on JEDI? Have you evaluated your public-facing JEDI statements and practices? 

Every organization, no matter where they land in the nonprofit lifecycle, should take the time to make this assessment and place the findings or issue(s) under scrutiny with the hope of changing and moving forward. When you take the time to evaluate your operation and yourself, ultimately everyone benefits.

3. Is there evidence that the funders, grantors, and key stakeholders are on board?

One truth which must be reckoned with is that in the nonprofit sector, “he who has the gold makes the rules.” 

If funders, grantors, and key stakeholders are not on board with the JEDI-centered approach to hiring a consultant, you could face conflict or barriers to engaging the consultant and moving your project forward. 

We strongly recommend simply asking them: “Do you support our decision to move forward with the consultant selection process using the JEDI approach?” 

Asking this question up front will allow you to address any concerns they have and proceed without fear of financial consequence or reprisal to the organization or the consultant. 

Investigate the budget. 

One area where white-led nonprofits still miss the mark is with the bid or RFP process. When seeking a consultant of color, in particular, make certain that your budget reflects fairness and equity. You don’t want to contribute to the wage gap statistics that show other genders and races earn less compared to white men. 

For example, offering a consultant of color $7,000 for services that would normally fetch a fee of $15,000 or more is clearly not fair or equitable and does not align with a JEDI approach or values. 

We always recommend taking an honest look at the budget and considering any restrictions before pursuing a consultant. Be prepared and committed to honor fair and equitable fees based on current market rates, as well as the experience and specialty of the consultant. 

The long and short of it is this: Do the required research, budgeting, and due diligence up front to ensure a fair offer and avoid lowballing a qualified candidate. If you realize that you need more funds to offer an equitable fee, you may want to seek sponsorship outside of your organization to supplement the project budget. 

Broaden your reach. 

Historically and consistently, we’ve heard the excuse, “We searched, but we couldn’t find anyone qualified.” 

However, according to Dr. Darrick Hamilton, founding director of the Institute for the Study of Race, Stratification and Political Economy at The New School, that is just not the case. 

Most often, the staff, board, and stakeholder’s sphere of influence is a direct reflection of the racial, social, and economic group they represent. So, to move beyond this idea that there are no diverse qualified applicants available, please consider the sources: where and how you are looking. 

Here are a few suggestions for how you might broaden your reach and enrich your networks:

  • First, start with the expectation that there is a wonderfully diverse pool of qualified consultants from every walk of life, every background, every level of experience, and expertise imaginable.   
  • Go where the candidates you want are. This will require you to pay attention to your community in a holistic way and to move outside of your relationship and network comfort zone. 
  • Consider subscribing to an online community that provides access to diverse networks of content contributors, including consultants. Nonprofit Quality is one such resource. 
  • Use a consultant directory which specifically lists Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) or JEDI as key areas of service. This is generally an area where historically underrepresented groups make up the majority of who is listed in the directory. 
  • Engage with BIPOC- and women-led nonprofit organizations as an excellent referral source. Be careful not to make this process transactional. Engage with the purpose of building a mutually-beneficial relationship. 
  • Pay close attention to who is present when you’re in spaces where diverse nonprofits and consultants gather and engage, such as online platforms and forums, grant application meetings, nonprofit trainings, workshops, and conferences. Use these engagements to begin compiling a list of contributing consultants. This is a short-term and long-term strategy. 

Tailor your evaluation matrix and script 

Now that you’re more aware of the process for hiring a consultant using a JEDI approach, it’s time to put the principles and strategies into practice. 

The final step is to tailor the process to fit your project or initiative. You want to customize everything to align with the objectives of the project for which the consultant is being hired. Also, as it relates to the hiring matrix and the interview script, be sure to consider the role you wish for the consultant to play and their skills, experience, and expertise, as well as any specialized training required for the role. 

Here is a short checklist to help keep you on track:

  • Examine and acknowledge biases and set an intention to work towards overcoming those biases and accepting differences. 
  • Avoid labels and stereotypes. Evaluate everyone based on their own merits and individuality.
  • Remember that sexual orientation, age, religion, or disability should not exclude any applicant. 
  • Be honest about your organizational culture and any barriers to implementing JEDI practices.
  • Evaluate each applicant’s ability to articulate and demonstrate shared core values. 
  • Include questions in the interview script that align with the project needs and objectives, as well as the values and JEDI-centered practices of the organization. 
    • For example, you can ask: 
      • Tell us about a time when you helped a client successfully implement a new JEDI strategy. What were the challenges?
      • How do you address value incongruence and how do you communicate those observations? 
  • Be sure to tailor the matrix criteria to fit with your project needs. 
    • Example criteria include:
      • Demonstrates a commitment to JEDI practices in their skills and experience
      • Has a certification or license in DEI, Society for Human Resource Management, leadership, coaching, or community or nonprofit development

We wish you much success in your efforts to better understand your role in impacting and improving systems which perpetuate oppression and racial inequality and how, through allyship and solidarity, you and your organization can support and enrich the lives of historically marginalized groups, specifically Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. 

Need a place to start to find the right nonprofit consultant for your organization? Check out our nonprofit consultant directory!

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  • Sharolyn Payton

    Thank you, Mr. Hendricks.
  • DeJuan Hendricks

    Very informative
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