IFF is committed to being an inclusive, anti-racist and anti-oppressive (ARAO) organization.

About 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 (ARAO) institution that honors communities as asset-rich and as experts in their own stories. 

For almost 50 years, CDFIs have worked to align capital with justice, bridging gaps in the financial system where mainstream lenders can’t or won’t reach by increasing access to capital, technical assistance, and other specialized supports in under‐resourced communities. 

As IFF CEO Joe Neri wrote in a 2019 blog post, however, inheriting the “very tools of capitalism that have wreaked havoc on communities of color for decades in repeated cycles of cynical wealth extraction” requires CDFIs to continually interrogate the products, services, and practices in use through a racial equity lens to ensure that they are not perpetuating the very inequities they’re designed to address. 

At IFF, that’s meant the following, among others.

Advocating for colleagues in the CDFI industry to do away with appraisals that hinder investments in communities where redlining artificially deflated property values.
Revising our own target market criteria to make it easier for smaller, newer nonprofits that are led by people of color to apply for and get the capital they need to create spaces necessary to grow.
Introducing a new Flex Loan Program designed specifically to be more responsive to the needs of BIPOC‐led nonprofits on the south and west sides of Chicago.

Our Committment

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 the ways structural racism permeates our work and distorts the outcomes we seek in communities. 

Since 2018, IFF has committed to a more explicit focus on racial equity. Below, are some examples of steps IFF has taken—at the intersection of facilities and finance—toward becoming an ARAO organization committed to driving equitable and transformational outcomes in the communities we serve. We share this information in the spirit of transparency and knowledge-sharing and as an expression of our enduring commitment to this work.

Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Transformation Team (EDITT)

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 Leadership Team. This formal adoption and accountability structure is a crucial expression of our 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. 

Equity in Practice

What we do matters. Just as much as the why and how we do it. While equity is inherent in our mission and vision, that does not mean that equity is our default. Equity is the process of ensuring that our practices, policies, and programs provide equitable outcomes for our staff, our partners, and the communities we serve. Equity is identifying and then choosing to eliminate barriers and overcome past inequities.

  • With a commitment to honoring communities as asset-rich and as experts in their own stories, IFF continues to work to advance asset-based narratives about the communities we serve through our newsletter and blogs. To create equitable outcomes for our communities, a key component is interrupting the historical bias and negative narratives around these communities that is meant to limit them to stories of deficit and despair, and instead shift the power of narrative to the nonprofits and the communities they serve to elevate stories of their impact and expertise.
  • As a lender with a commitment to equity, our charge is to identify and break down the barriers that communities experiencing historical disinvestment and systemic racism find between themselves and accessing capital to activate their vision. A key part of this is discerning between perceived risk and actual risk. After review, we concluded that our Target Market gating criteria—which is employed both in considering nonprofits as positioned to be strengthened by taking on debt to meet their programmatic objectives and that corresponds to being creditworthy for IFF—did not protect our borrowers or IFF from the risks of taking on debt, and it served to create barriers to equitably accessing our capital, particularly for communities of color. In 2021, we expanded our Target Market criteria to make our capital even more accessible.
  • In 2021, IFF took an institutional stance to expand and further our commitment to support Black and brown neighborhoods in Chicago. This included a series of Propel events in Bronzeville, Chatham, Englewood, Little Village, and North Lawndale that brought together IFF lenders and real estate consultants with nonprofit leaders for coffee and conversation designed to develop relationships and uncover how IFF’s products and services can better support BIPOC-led nonprofits.
  • In 2021, IFF leadership worked to develop an internal definition of “BIPOC-led” for nonprofit organizations. Unlike for-profit organizations where the focus on BIPOC leadership is about ownership and wealth-building, with nonprofit organizations the focus is on inclusivity and decision-making authority. Additionally, historically, nonprofit leaders of color have had less access to capital than their white peers. With this understanding, IFF defines a BIPOC-led organization as one in which the organization leader is a person of color and the organization’s board is a majority persons of color. To hold ourselves accountable to our vision statement and best reflect and report on the impact and accessibility of our services, we believe it is important to know the demographic composition of our clients. We now collect race and ethnicity data for all our loan applicants and real estate consulting clients. This data is self-reported and collected on a voluntary basis.
  • Acknowledging our platform and influence as a white-led financial institution, IFF is committed to being a thought leader and advocate to advance equity within the community development ecosystem, including our CDFI peers, philanthropy, and government entities. True systemic change takes all of us speaking truth to who benefits and who is harmed by business as usual. Our CEO and senior leadership contribute articles, blogs, and engage in public-facing forums discussing the role of equity in the CDFI space.

As a learning organization, IFF is committed to ongoing reflection and evaluation of these efforts to ensure they are in alignment with our ultimate vision to create transformational and equitable outcomes in communities.

Building a Diverse and Inclusive Culture

True inclusion recognizes a significant improvement in our culture as a result of a more diverse workforce and requires us to center diverse voices.

  • IFF has embedded a Courageous Space Agreement in our meeting culture to ground our teams in a shared commitment to creating inclusive spaces. “Make Room for Diverse Voices” is one of the key tenants of the Agreement.

With more than 130 staff working from nine regional offices, our staff bring a breadth of identities and experiences to the success of our work.

  • In 2023, IFF introduced four inaugural Affinity Groups — BIPOC, Immigrant, LGBTQ+, and Women’s — designed to provide a space for members to build community and ensure that we understand, appreciate, and respond to the needs of our employees. The Affinity Groups support efforts to hire, promote, and retain diverse talent. Members of IFF’s Senior Leadership Team serve as Executive Sponsors and advise, represent, and advocate for their respective Affinity Group at the highest levels, ensuring priorities around equity, diversity, and inclusion are reflected in overall organizational objectives and activities. Affinity Groups are employee-led, and their success is driven by the involvement of our staff.

In our leadership, staff, and board IFF is working toward representation that reflects differences in race, ethnicity, gender identity, ability, sexual orientation, age, socioeconomic status, positional authority, etc. A diversity of backgrounds and perspectives is an asset that can make for better decisions and better impact.

  • In 2017, IFF expanded its Senior Leadership Team to build a cross-functional team to foster greater collaboration and enable IFF’s strategic direction and to bring diversity of voice and inclusivity around decision-making and management. In 2023, IFF’s Senior Leadership Team is 53 percent woman-identifying and 46 percent people of color. IFF’s Board of Directors is 57 percent woman-identifying and 71 percent people of color.
Equity in Practice · Capital Solutions

Flex Loan Program

Created in 2022 in response to the fact that nonprofits IFF wants to reach on the south and west sides of Chicago have capital needs that our facilities-focused lending is not designed to address, the Flex Loan Program offers these nonprofits loans of up to $50,000 that can be used in a variety of ways. To ensure that the program is culturally responsive to diverse groups of nonprofit leaders, collateral materials have been developed in English and Spanish. Meant to maximize financial flexibility without burdening BIPOC-led nonprofits with administrative requirements, the program minimizes the supporting documentation required to apply and offers an expedited closing process to put capital in the hands of community changemakers as quickly as possible.

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Equity in Practice · Social Impact Accelerator

Strong Nonprofits Initiative

IFF’s Stronger Nonprofits Initiative (SNI) aims to support nonprofits led by people of color in navigating systemic barriers to accessing capital and real estate opportunities by acknowledging disparities in lending and providing resources and tools to increase capacity and build vital connections to networks of their peers. As of February 2023, 88 BIPOC-led nonprofits across six Midwestern cities have participated, or are currently participating, in SNI, with an additional cohort in Chicago launched in Summer 2023.

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Equity in Practice · Community Development Solutions

Equitable Community Development Practices

With the right combination of investment, development, partnerships, and actionable knowledge, IFF is forging into deeper, systems-focused, community-driven, collaborative ways of achieving positive impact for low-income communities and communities of color throughout the Midwest. Catalytic equitable community development is key in the economic recovery of these communities and long-term efforts to close the racial and ethnic wealth gap. IFF’s Community Development Solutions team has adopted equitable community development practices that guide our principled partnership with community-based organizations to activate development projects rooted in community vision.

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Equity in Practice · Social Impact Accelerator

Chicago's Cultural Treasures

Chicago’s Cultural Treasures (ChiTreasures) is a four-year equity initiative focused on strengthening, growing, and preserving Chicagoland organizations whose mission is to enable the creation, preservation, and dissemination of art stemming from BIPOC traditions, leadership, and culture. To achieve this, ChiTreasures seeks to disrupt historical philanthropic practices that have resulted in the underfunding of BIPOC arts organizations, provide transformative general operating grants, design and implement technical assistance services to support long-term financial sustainability, and raise awareness and share learnings within the broader arts ecosystem to ensure continued investment. To date, 40 BIPOC-led arts and culture organizations in Chicago have been awarded $14.63 million in general operating funds.

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The Journey

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:

  1. 2017The 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.”

  2. 2018Ad-Hoc Training and Formalization / EDITT is Born

    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.


    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.

  3. 2019Five 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.
  4. 2019Staff and Board Education

    IFF is committed to every member of its staff and Board attending 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.


  5. 2020A 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.

  6. 2020Each 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.

  7. 2023Chief Equity and Diversity Officer Hired

    Nakea West becomes IFF’s first Chief Equity and Diversity Officer (CEDO). The CEDO role was created to further develop, implement, and monitor IFF’s strategy both in internal administration and external programmatic efforts. Nakea partners with IFF’s Senior Leadership Team and the EDITT to set an overarching vision for equity, diversity, and inclusion at IFF, and support the implementation of that vision. Nakea also engages internal and external partners to create an inclusive organizational culture in which diverse, lived experiences and perspectives are celebrated and leveraged to tackle racist and oppressive systems, policies, and practices at the intersection of nonprofit facilities and finance.