A New Vision: Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion at IFF
Partnering to create thriving communities is at the heart of everything we do. We leverage knowledge, capital, and resources to advance equitable and transformational outcomes in under-resourced communities, guided by our commitment to be an inclusive, anti-racist and anti-oppressive institution that honors communities as asset-rich and as experts in their own stories.
IFF’s mission is to strengthen nonprofits that are working hard to ensure all people in all communities have equitable access to health care, child care, housing, education, and other fundamental human rights. But neither IFF, nor our many nonprofit clients and partners, can succeed without first understanding and then interrupting all of the ways structural racism permeates our work and harms our communities.
Since 2018, IFF has committed to a more explicit focus on racial equity. Everyone on our staff is participating in comprehensive training that explores systemic racism in the United States and grounds us in a shared language and understanding of anti-racism. A core team created a strategy that is guiding work by staff throughout the organization to examine our internal and external policies and programs to ensure they are rooted in equity and inclusivity. And we are working toward starting each day in a Courageous Space that begins with Equity in everything we do.
Below, we have summarized the steps IFF has taken so far on our journey to become an anti-racist, anti-oppressive (ARAO) organization. We share this information in the spirit of transparency and knowledge-sharing and as an expression of our enduring commitment to this work.
IFF’s Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Transformation Team (EDITT)
IFF’s Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Transformation Team (EDITT) is a permanent part of our organizational structure and budget. EDITT was adopted by and operates at the authority of the Board of Directors and reports to the Senior Management Team. This formal adoption and accountability structure is a crucial expression of IFF’s commitment to becoming an anti-racist, anti-oppressive organization. EDITT’s purpose is to model and lead organizational efforts to dismantle systemic racism and other forms of oppression.
The team’s membership is inclusive of diverse lived experiences, identities, departments, and professional roles. Their mandate is to “design and implement internal and external strategies to catalyze, support, and sustain IFF’s transformation into an anti-racist, multi-cultural organization that is accountable to communities of color and other oppressed groups.”
While EDITT leads this work, it is the responsibility of every team and every individual at IFF to work toward creating a more equitable institution through the strategies EDITT has prioritized.
Transforming into an anti-racist, anti-oppressive (ARAO) organization is generational work. Documenting our journey—the successes and the challenges, large and small—is critical to our learning and our accountability to ourselves, our nonprofit partners, and our communities. Here’s how the work has evolved:
The Strategic Plan
IFF was in the final stages of preparing our five-year strategic plan for 2018-2022 when staff feedback revealed the omission of explicit references to equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI). That sparked collective action to make EDI one of six foundational pillars of the final 2018-2022 Strategic Plan. In it, the goal to Foster ‘One IFF’ includes language to “cultivate and commit to a culture that values equity, diversity, and inclusivity.”
Ad-Hoc Training and Formalization
To begin work to achieve the EDI goals set forth in the Strategic Plan, an ad-hoc EDI team was formed. Team members attended a three-day anti-racism training to cultivate a shared analysis of systemic racism. That training was provided by Chicago Regional Organizing for Anti-Racism (CROAR), with which IFF formed a long-term partnership to help guide the formation of our EDI infrastructure. The ad-hoc team became known as the Planning and Design Task Force (PDTF), an interim group charged with shaping – or as one CROAR facilitator described it, “giving birth to” – IFF’s permanent EDI infrastructure.
EDITT is Born
During a three-day retreat facilitated by CROAR, the PDTF: (a) identified the charge and scope of the permanent EDI team, which it named EDITT; (b) created a proposed budget for the next year of EDITT activities; and (c) elected to develop an application process to recruit the inaugural EDITT members, with the goal of representing various identities, institutional roles, life experiences, and skills – and with full participation from and equitable burden-sharing between white employees and employees of color. EDITT was adopted by our Board of Directors as a permanent part of the IFF organizational structure and budget, and our aspiration is that it exists in status equal to any of our core services. This formal adoption is a crucial expression of IFF’s enduring commitment to becoming an ARAO organization.
Fall 2018-Fall 2019
Five Strategic Directions to Advance EDI
EDITT members attended 75 hours of CROAR trainings and planning sessions during this time. Using their shared anti-racism analysis as a foundation, the group created five strategic directions to guide IFF on its journey to becoming an anti-racist, anti-oppressive (ARAO) organization:
- Institutionalize, prioritize and build the capacity of EDITT
- Cultivate staff knowledge and understanding of anti-racism/anti-oppression (ARAO) and its application to our work.
- Create a culture of accountability to communities of color and other oppressed groups, internally and externally, at all levels of IFF.
- Innovate decision making and decision-making entities to ensure equity, inclusivity and transparency.
- Create an organizational identity that positions IFF as an institution working toward becoming ARAO.
December 2019-September 2020
A New Vision for IFF
As part of the fifth strategic pillar, EDITT crafted a new vision statement for IFF that was critically and enthusiastically discussed with the IFF Board. The new IFF Vision Statement that was adopted in September 2020 reads: Partnering to create thriving communities is at the heart of everything we do. We leverage knowledge, capital, and resources to advance equitable and transformational outcomes in under-resourced communities, guided by our commitment to be an inclusive, anti-racist and anti-oppressive institution that honors communities as asset-rich and as experts in their own stories.
December 2019 – Spring 2021
Each IFF Team Begins to Plan
The five strategic pillars developed by EDITT were introduced to IFF’s staff and Board in December 2019 through a series of all-staff presentations, small-group discussions, and departmental planning meetings. Since then, each IFF team/department has begun working to create their own detailed plans – with specific, measurable, actionable goals toward the five strategic pillars identified by EDITT – to advance IFF’s racial equity work in an extremely intentional way. This work continues, with ongoing guidance from EDITT and CROAR.
Staff and Board Education
IFF is committed to every member of its staff and Board attending an intensive three-day anti-racism training facilitated by CROAR that explores a power analysis of white supremacy and systemic racism in the United States and how this analysis shapes IFF’s work, grounding IFF’s team in a shared anti-racism analysis and language. The costs associated with this training are embedded in IFF’s organizational budget.
Equity in Practice
What we do matters. But the way we do it matters, too. Examples of how IFF achieves “equity in practice” are present throughout the organization, including:
- The presence of our CEO and senior leadership on panels, blogs, and other public-facing forums discussing the role of equity in the CDFI space;
- IFF’s role alongside fellow CDFIs in developing the Racial Equity Matrix for education lending, which our Capital Solutions team is working to integrate into our lending practice;
- Our work to expand access to the Paycheck Protection Program so that smaller nonprofits were not left out;
- Our work to advance asset-based narratives about the communities we serve;
- Our adoption of equitable community development practices;
- For the first time in our history, IFF’s Board is majority people of color and majority women;
- Providing race-explicit programming – including our Stronger Nonprofits Initiative (SNI) and Chicago’s Cultural Treasures – designed to help reduce structural barriers that nonprofit leaders of color face in accessing valuable resources.
- Expanding the voting membership of our Internal Credit Committee (ICC), which makes decisions on lending. As of December 2019, the ICC now includes our Managing Directors of Lending; these staff are more embedded in communities throughout the region and help ensure we bring an equity lens to our credit decisions and an accountability to our nonprofit partners.
- As of September 2021, expanding our Target Market criteria to make our capital even more accessible — in particular to smaller nonprofits, which we believe are led disproportionately by people of color.