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. So, what does equity in practice look like? Below are six ways IFF has put our commitment to equity into practice.
- When the Paycheck Protection Program launched, many of the smallest small businesses (including nonprofits) reported that they were struggling to access this critical program. This was even more true for small businesses led by people of color. While IFF has a long history of providing real estate loans to nonprofits, we normally would not get involved in a “working capital” loan product. We did, however, recognize the real need that existed, and were committed to interrupting this inequity. To do so, we entered into a partnership with Community Reinvestment Fund, USA (CRF) to ensure nonprofits were able to access this vital lifeline. Together, IFF and CRF closed loans totaling more than $21 million for 159 nonprofits throughout the Midwest. The lessons learned coming out of this effort—including the limitations of our outreach and networking in reaching nonprofits led by people of color—formed the basis for future efforts to intentionally embed racial equity into our work.
- 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’s leader is a person of color and the organization’s board has a majority of 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. As we look ahead, we will continue our commitment to equity in practice. As a CDFI, we are often focused on how we can build the capacity of our nonprofit partners as a response to inequity. We also need to focus on our responsibility to build the capacity of our staff as a key interruption.
All staff at IFF will attend training facilitated by our partners at Crossroads to build a shared analysis of white supremacy to advance the transformation of our institution. While our equity work has been focused at the institutional level, we cannot ignore the fact that individuals make up the institution. Individuals who bring their own biases to the day-to-day work with their colleagues, our nonprofit partners, communities, and other stakeholders. IFF is rolling out training to deepen our staff’s understanding of cultural competency and bias and the power they hold as gatekeepers who make decisions every day that impact the nonprofits we serve. And in those decisions they have a choice – to maintain or dismantle a barrier.
Our Talent Management team has been actively working to build out a system that will allow IFF to make data-informed decisions around our recruitment, hiring, promotion, and retention strategies that reflect IFF’s commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion. The Talent Management dashboard will help us to measure the efficacy of these strategies and to identify and address any systemic issues that are impeding our ability to create a more equitable workplace.
Our efforts to put equity into practice – past, present, and future – have not been linear or easy. Continue reading part two of this blog to for a deeper understanding of the challenges and ongoing efforts in this work.