Announcements

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 after 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!). 

Inspiring words from The Greenway Foundation

Dear Fellow River Advocates,

Our world has changed. In a matter of days. The way we do business, the way we socialize, the way we take care of our basic needs. All have changed drastically. What has NOT changed is the need for Clean and Safe Rivers, Creeks, and Streams for Everyone.  In fact, that need is greater than ever!

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Even in these difficult times, The Greenway Foundation (TGF) is fully committed to continue to be THE lead advocate for these historic and timeless priceless natural resources. With so much uncertainty surrounding us, one thing IS certain –  as the Executive Director at TGF for over 35 years, and as the eldest son of TGF’s Founder, I PERSONALLY pledge to you that:

  • TGF WILL continue to fight for increased water quality and water quantity opportunities for OUR River in Whatever Way Possible.
  • TGF WILL continue to create and deliver award winning environmental education programs for Denver’s children along OUR River in Whatever Way Possible.
  • TGF WILL continue to provide opportunities for our community to engage with OUR River in Whatever Way Possible. 
  • Not only will our longstanding Mission to Revitalize Rivers and Reconnect Communities continue, that Mission will continually increase!

I remind you that OUR RIVER IS OPEN! AND IT IS FREE! Outdoor exercise has been included among “essential activities” as long as participants adhere to the legally mandated safe distance of six feet or more from other parties. So, come to YOUR River!

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I absolutely promise you that you will experience peace, joy and inspiration. I have created this outreach as I sit on our 2nd story balcony of our new offices at 1800 Platte St. within the amazing and historic Platte River Rowing Club, looking out directly at OUR River, Commons Park and a beautiful Denver that surrounds them both. I can’t wait until you can join me here!

Be Safe. Be Smart. Be Strong and never forget: Hope Defeats Fear!

@cottonwoodinstitute to the rescue!

Our amazing partners like Cottonwood Institute are pulling together resources and tools to help us all figure out how to navigate this storm:

Feel free to share widely and, if appropriate, tag @cottonwoodinstitute. Keep the good ideas, empathy, creativity, and kindness flowing!

CNDC Office Closure & COVID-19 Response

We wanted to share this message from our fiscal sponsor, the Colorado Nonprofit Development Center, regarding their response to COVID-19. Metro DNA will continue to share guidance, resources, and ideas with our partners and friends as this situation develops and we get CREATIVE and COLLABORATIVE in continuing our important work of connecting people and championing nature.

“As you may have heard, Denver Public Schools and several other institutions have decided to close in an attempt to reduce the spread of COVID-19. After careful consideration, we have decided to close CNDC’s office and have staff work remotely effective Monday, 3/16 for at least two weeks. We will re-assess at that time. We are making this decision to support the health of our staff and to minimize disruption in our support of Projects.

It is our intention to provide uninterrupted support to Projects while the office is closed. Although we will not be able to accept forms or checks that are dropped off and we will have limited ability to write paper checks, other services and support should remain the same [including payroll, electronic deposits, fundraising platforms, contracts, etc.]…

I want to acknowledge this is uncharted territory and I am sure there will be glitches. That in combination with a stressful time related to COVID-19 will likely create some frustration. I ask for your patience. Our primary goal is to ensure we can continue to support your important work while maintaining staff health and safety… please let us know if you think we are forgetting something… or see a pending problem. We need your ideas and feedback for how we can better support Projects during these challenging times.

We encourage any Project that has the capacity for remote work to move towards it as soon as possible…

We encourage cancellation of events and minimization of in person meetings…

It is important that you be in contact with your funders. We are reaching to several foundations to gauge flexibility regarding funding restrictions, including how funds are spent and reducing required performance measures. They have been supportive and we will be communicating with you if the ease of restrictions impacts your Project. Let us know if you would like us to reach out to specific foundations on your behalf or if you would like coaching how to do it yourself. Unfortunately, I do not anticipate government funders will be as receptive. 

We will continue to send updates to all employees… Please forward this communication to your board. We are happy to respond to any of their questions or concerns.

Thank you in advance for your cooperation and partnership. Most importantly, thank you for your commitment to your community and those you serve. Your work is what motivates all of us at CNDC. We will keep you posted as things evolve…”

Melinda A. Higgs | President & CEO
Colorado Nonprofit Development Center
789 Sherman Street, Suite 250 | Denver, CO 80203

A Partner for Nonprofit Innovation, Efficiency and Accountability

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.

2020 City Nature Challenge

Metro DNA is delighted to be co-hosting the metro region’s City Nature Challenge again this spring with Colorado Parks & Wildlife, The Nature Conservancy, Wild Foundation, Denver Audubon, and Denver Botanic Gardens.

Help us show the world how biodiverse our region is by making as many observations of as many species as possible from April 24-27, 2020!

Document nature in your backyard, by your school, in your favorite park or open space area, and upload your observations to iNaturalist, an online platform for citizen scientists. Any observations of plants, animals, and fungus found throughout our boundary will count. Get involved with an existing event or plan one of your own!

For more information, visit https://www.wild.org/naturechallenge/ .

We are cultivating a Youth Advisory Council for the South Platte River

In collaboration with our partners at El Laboratorio and Lincoln Hills Cares, Metro DNA is co-hosting a youth workshop on December 27 to inform a proposed public art installation crossing the South Platte River at the new National Western Center.

Youth applications are still being accepted! Please download the flier and reach out to Paul Hellmund with El Laboratorio for more information. 

This event marks the beginning of outreach for a South Platte River Youth Advisory Council, supported by and informing this Regional Vision for People + Nature. The initial outline for what this Youth Advisory Council might look like was crafted by the TRIO Upward Bound Summer Program at Colorado State University.

A culturally diverse group of seniors and juniors from Denver Public Schools (Bruce Randolph High School, John F. Kennedy High School, and Abraham Lincoln High School) produced a Sourcebook, making recommendations for how youth and community can come together advocate for the restoration and maintenance of the South Platte River as one of Metro Denver’s key natural and cultural assets.

Here’s to another year of collaboration!

Thank you again for bringing your time, talents, and energy to bear at our Metro DNA Stakeholder Convening yesterday at The Nature Conservancy’s office in Denver! 

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Meeting notes, slides, and participant contact information are available online, along with the meeting evaluation and a simple form to contribute any 2019 accomplishments, 2020 priorities, and/or collaborative project ideas that weren’t captured in writing during the meeting. Please feel free to get in touch if you have any questions or edits to the meeting notes. 

Happy holidays, and a very merry new year!

Connecting with SPARCC national partners in Atlanta

At the request of our partner, Mile High Connects, Metro DNA Alliance Director, Dana Coelho, TPL’s Parks for People Program Director, Emily Patterson, and Walk Denver’s Executive Director, Jill Locantore, attended a JUST Learning workshop on Flooding, Green Gentrification and Race this past week. Hosted by the Partnership for Southern Equity, the workshop focused on building skills and networks in support of whole-system nature-based solutions to wicked problems at the intersection of climate, health, and racial justice. 

Alongside partners from Los Angeles, Chicago, Memphis, and Atlanta we explored the history of structural racism in land use, flooding, and gentrification in Atlanta and across the US; discussed equitable green infrastructure investment with local government leaders and partners; applied new systems mapping and multi-solving tools to our local and shared challenges; and saw some great work on the ground at the Outdoor Activity Center that brings together green infrastructure installation, workforce development, art, and environmental education in a community-based setting.

Denver is one of several cities across the US participating in the Strong, Prosperous, and Resilient Communities Challenge (SPARCC). The initiative’s long-term goal is to change the way metropolitan regions grow, invest, and build through integrated, cross-sector approaches that benefit low-income people and communities of color. Toward this goal, SPARCC is investing in and amplifying local efforts to ensure that new investments reduce racial disparities, build a culture of health, and prepare for a changing climate.