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Repairing Trust in a Large Nonprofit

Brevity & Wit helped stabilize a nonprofit media organization experiencing DEI burnout and cynicism.
An illustration of three people sitting and conversing around a table with two microphones.

Client Type

Large media nonprofit with ~350 employees on the West Coast

Location

California

Services Provided

  • Leadership Development
  • Metrics for Accountability
  • Organizational Strategy
  • Strategic Communications
  • Vision Setting

Project Team

Principal

Senior Consultant

Project Manager & Consultant

Consultant & Analyst

After the abrupt departure of the DEI manager, this organization was reeling from broken trust and cynicism among staff and middle managers that anything would change.

The Challenge

  • Repair trust after internal and external forces (including the shift to remote work during the pandemic) led to fragmentation and finger-pointing across the organization.
  • A perception existed among staff that a DEI work was not being taken seriously by leadership, and staff wanted “action, not words,” as well as a deeper commitment in terms of resources. While the leadership expressed true commitment to DEI, had implemented a number of actions and activities over time, and had a desire to make changes, they also expressed being unsure of how to create a greater sense of trust, a lack of understanding in how to connect DEI actions with meaningful outcomes, and deep concern around how to align across an organization that felt like it was spinning.

What We Did

Brevity & Wit proposed three outcomes: stabilize the organization, define the leadership’s role in the ongoing DEI initiative, and engage staff directly in operationalizing DEI. 

We explained that making progress on these three outcomes would not only help rebuild trust across the organization, it would keep momentum going by showing tangible progress to both the Board and staff.

To accomplish these goals, we employed a multi-pronged, multi-phased approach, based on Brevity & Wit’s theory of change, that included these components:

 

  • Support leadership through a series of facilitated conversations to address immediate needs around role clarity, communication, and navigating organizational change. These conversations were novel in format, foregoing a half-day workshop for weekly meetings with 30 minutes of presentation and 30 minutes of discussion. This format created an opportunity for leaders to speak more directly to what’s going on in the organization and how it relates to trust and culture.
  • Engage staff to determine root causes of disparities through survey analysis, focus groups, and open office hours. Staff were also involved in the process of creating the organization’s DEI vision, which Brevity & Wit led using the Radical Product Thinking approach to a good vision
  • Strengthen DEI Infrastructure by supporting a staff-led DEI Council in defining its purpose and structure through the creation of a charter, while also working with the executive team to set up the next head of DEI for success.
  • Strengthen Communications by advising the internal communications leads on when and how to communicate effectively. This required both providing more information on certain initiatives and less on others so that information was actionable, not overwhelming. Crisis communications were provided during a pivotal point in the engagement when trust was low and external threats to the organization were looming. 
  • Operationalize DEI  by working with staff and managers at all levels to develop short-term actions to incorporate DEI into each department’s operations. Brevity & Wit stressed the importance that “less is more,” in order to generate  tangible outcomes. Examples of these department-specific goals included the developing an inclusive communications template to support managers, piloting an inclusive decision-making process, and creating  a DEI toolkit that identifies observable inclusive behaviors for different roles in the organization. 

Our Impact

The various forms of support — from leadership development to values-based communications — made it easier for leaders to better communicate about DEI in concrete terms to their teams. 

The organization made changes to operationalize effective communication that included creating an internal communications role and creating more moments for engagement between management and staff.

In addition, a new charter for the DEI Council was approved that better delineated the Council’s purpose and responsibilities, while ensuring more sustainability and guarding against burnout. The organization also agreed to operationalize its commitment to equity by financially compensating staff serving on the Council.

After nearly nine months of partnership, Brevity & Wit transitioned out of the organization as promised after the organization hired a Chief DEI Officer who would assume stewardship of the work. 

“Leaders understand that DEI is more than diversity and that small changes actually achieved are more important than words and promise.”

“At the divisional level, we have already improved our decision-making processes and communications and I feel like it's just going to get better and better.”

“At the org level, we have a mission statement for DEI which we never had before and we now have process to break this work into manageable and actionable work through the short-term action process.”

“You made [our organization] a much stronger organization and I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to work with all of you and learn from you. Thank you!