Author: Carina Weadock

What did the process of creating MDNA’s Equity Principles & Commitments look like?

“In terms of the (Metro DNA) Equity Team’s roll, I think we have the opportunity to create something different.”
 – Jes Rau, cityWILD

A few weeks ago, Metro DNA had the opportunity to sit down with one of the co-chairs of our Equity Committee, Jes Rau, to get their perspective on equity and to learn more about the process of building MDNA’s Equity Principles + Commitments

Metro DNA is so grateful to be able to collaborate with Jes, who has worked at cityWILD for six years, and who has been dedicated to “engag[ing] in a bold effort to bring the typically exclusive world of outdoor experiential education to a broad, inclusive audience.” Jes said that their work at cityWILD is the “perfect confluence of things that [they’re] really passionate about”: nature, the outdoors, youth, and social justice work.

What does “equity” mean, in your words? 

The meaning of equity is, as Jes put it, “tied up with a lot of things.” Defining “equity” is not a simple or a one-time task. Part of what equity is about is balance: “balancing need, balancing access, balancing around power dynamics and historic marginalization,” and recognizing that people and their needs aren’t all the same. For example, at cityWILD, Jes talked about how remaining a small organization allows for individualized programming and increased ability to provide resources for students and their varying needs, enabling greater possibility for equitable practices.

What did the process of creating Metro DNA’s Equity Principles + Commitments look like?

From the get-go, cityWILD was a valuable contributor to Metro DNA’s equity work. Jes and a few other partners provided a two-day training to the Metro DNA Steering Committee in 2018, which prompted the creation of an Equity Committee. Jes agreed to be the chair, and shortly after, Parker McMullen-Bushman, Vice President at the Butterfly Pavilion and founder of Ecoinclusive, agreed to co-chair the committee. Not long after that, Jes and Parker co-facilitated the creation of Metro DNA’s Equity Principles + Commitments, which were adopted by the Steering Committee last March.

Equity is about balance.

For Jes, doing any justice and equity work requires a “coalition,” a process of “collaboration,” and a “committee” or a “team”. In their words, doing the work can’t be “equitable if you’re doing it by yourself.” So, the creation of the Equity Principles + Commitments began with a question: “what’s the step-by-step of bringing a group together to create [the Principles]?”

The Metro DNA Equity Committee, a group of self-selected volunteers who were willing to give generously of their time and energy, drafted the Principles and sent the draft out for review by “folks of color, folks who have a deep connection to equity who aren’t folks of color, and then a couple folks who actually don’t have a deep connection to equity”. Feedback was also given by the Metro DNA Steering Committee, which Jes indicated wasn’t “a dramatically diverse board.” We’re still working on that!  

Doing the work can’t be “equitable
if you’re doing it by yourself.”

To gain a larger number of more diverse perspectives, Parker and Jes presented the Principles at stakeholder events and facilitated dialogue. Although the group of voices was “not as diverse a group as [the Metro DNA Equity Committee] would hope,” there were “lots of people in the room.” Eventually, around seventy people contributed to the Equity Principles + Commitments and Jes felt “like [the Equity Committee] did a pretty good job of asking for, and then incorporating… relevant feedback from a lot of voices.”

Even all of this feedback and approval, Metro DNA sees our Equity Principles + Commitments as a living document. These values and the work of the Equity Committee will continue to shift and adapt over time as we learn how to better enable a collaboratively built regional vision for people + nature that seeks to include and empower diverse perspectives.

Huge thank you to Jes Rau at cityWILD for taking time to speak with Metro DNA and for the time you put into our Equity Committee on a regular basis! The passion you have for equity, diversity, and inclusion work shows and is infectious (in a good way!). 

Metro DNA chose neutral fiscal sponsorship. Why?

As an emerging organization, Metro DNA had a decision to make: become a new independent 501(c)(3) non-profit or partner with a  non-profit already in existence in a “fiscal sponsorship” relationship. Both routes would have allowed Metro DNA to achieve tax-exempt status and to receive funding through donations, grants, and partner dues … so what’s the difference here and why does it matter to Metro DNA and the nonprofit sector in Colorado?

Fiscal sponsorship helps organizations like Metro DNA focus efforts on goals and projects from the get-go instead of spending the time, money, and energy needed to become and maintain a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. Metro DNA stated in its Strategic Plan that choosing fiscal sponsorship will “allow Metro DNA to direct its limited staff capacity to building the organization’s infrastructure and implementing priority programming” (Metro DNA’s Three Year Strategic Business Plan). For a monthly Project Fee, Metro DNA’s fiscal sponsor, the Colorado Nonprofit Development Center (CNDC), provides a needed administrative backbone, as well as financial and legal accountability to the projects it supports, leaving Metro DNA more resources to get down to the important business of taking action on equitable nature-based solutions.

Melinda Higgs, the president and CEO of the CNDC put it this way: “We view it [fiscal sponsorship] as a partnership. We each get to do what we’re good at and leverage our core competencies. For them [the programs supported by the CNDC], it’s doing the program, making connections in the community, and raising money. For us, it’s providing infrastructure, policies, and capacity-building. It’s a much smarter use of charitable resources” (Hung, 2017).

While different pathways to funding can serve organizations in varying ways, Metro DNA’s ability to kick off coalition building, begin focusing on equitable access to nature, and jump start promoting healthy people, communities, and natural places can be attributed, in part, to the benefits of our fiscal sponsorship.

Why does Metro DNA see possibility in neutral fiscal sponsorship more broadly? 

The possibilities of fiscal sponsorship go beyond Metro DNA. The structure of fiscal sponsorship has potential to enable greater equity surrounding who can access funding. According to Rachel Burrows, the managing director of the Movement Strategy Center, a 501(c)(3) non-profit that serves as a fiscal sponsor through their Innovation Center, “Philanthropy has habits and assumptions about smaller, grassroots, front line, Black- and Brown-led work. Fiscal sponsorship helps interrupt that inequality” (Hung, 2017). 

While the ability for fiscal sponsorship to interrupt inequality relies on lots of factors, like which organizations or groups are accepted for sponsorship, organizations like the CNDC have the opportunity to “think about how to support organizations that serve in areas where…access to services is lacking” and ask “how can those groups get more support?” (Hung, 2017). Fiscal sponsors also have the opportunity to go directly to organizations they sponsor to ask what support the organizations and the communities they serve need.

Further, organizations or movements that choose fiscal sponsorship might be more able to be experimental with projects and goals (Hung, 2017). The increased flexibility surrounding what and who receives funding could enable groups and grassroots movements with bold ideas to have access to private and governmental funding without having to deal with the burden of navigating legal systems and governmental requirements on their own. 

Why Colorado Nonprofit Development Center (CNDC)?

Metro DNA sought a fiscal sponsor that would provide support from a “neutral platform.” Neutrality was and is important to Metro DNA because it allows for greater possibility for bold ideas and programs that could fit both the goal of the fiscal sponsor and the vision of Metro DNA.

The CNDC’s mission statement was broad enough for Metro DNA to want in. The goal of CNDC is to: “maximize the impact of nonprofits through fiscal sponsorship to enable all Colorado communities to thrive.” Since joining the CNDC team, Metro DNA is able to network with dozens of other projects, three of whom we have been able to work with directly: SouthWest Denver Coalition, Denver Park Trust, and the Colorado Open Space Alliance. With all these organizations under one umbrella, partnering on projects like Safe Summer Kick Off on Get Outdoors Day is easy and well-supported. 

Alongside Metro DNA, the CNDC is also engaging and investing in equity work through participation in the Chinook Fund Giving Project. The Chinook Fund Giving Project is a process that involves “work(ing) together to deepen… understanding of social justice principles in order to support grassroots organizations that build power for social change in Colorado” (How does the Giving Project work?, Chinook Fund). The process includes workshops about societal power structures, a commitment to fundraising, and training on the Chinook Fund’s democratic grant making process. 

Metro DNA is proud to be fiscally sponsored by the CNDC!

Interested in learning even more about fiscal sponsorship? Check out Priscilla Hung’s 2017 article “Is Fiscal Sponsorship Right for You?,” published in the Grassroots Fundraising Journal and posted to the CNDC’s Resources for Fiscal Sponsorship page.