A Commitment and an Invitation
We write today with a spirit of openness, inviting you to join us as observers, commenters, questioners, participants, or anything in between on a journey of learning and humility.
Our role as a membership organization is to serve our members. That is an inherently exclusive process – we serve organizations who have chosen or are able to contribute a portion of their budget in order to belong to MNA. However, we also believe that we can best serve our members by working to lift the whole of the nonprofit sector, and we know that our association is stronger when our membership is broader.
We also know that our membership is missing critical portions of the Montana nonprofit sector. We know that nonprofits led by people of color are underrepresented in our membership. We know that nonprofits headquartered in or serving Tribal Nations and rural areas are underrepresented. We believe that our work to serve our members and uplift the nonprofit sector in Montana will be stronger when all nonprofits in Montana see themselves in MNA.
A look in the mirror
Like many others, the instances of police brutality and subsequent civil unrest in 2020 prompted us to ask hard questions about how we support practices and structures that ultimately contribute to inequity in Montana. As champions of the common good, we could not opt out. We contracted with Jael Kampfe of Bar K Management Co, to help the board and staff in a process of identifying not only the values that would guide our work, but tangible priorities to which we would hold ourselves accountable.
In 2021 MNA staff and board made a commitment to center belonging and equity within our organization and in our work. Since that time, we have taken steps to do just that – moving quickly at moments and almost not-at-all for other long stretches of time. But much of that work has been internal, as we’ve met and learned together about structural racism and our place in changing it within the nonprofit sector.
Letting go of our shield
Recently we’ve asked ourselves if our internal learning journey has at times become a shield. Is our fear of doing or saying the wrong thing such that we would rather keep learning than take the uncomfortable risk of not getting things right? Do we value never-quite-polished enough protection over taking a risk and stumbling in public?
We have come to a point in our learning as an organization where we feel it is time to bring this internal work into the open. We want to share with you, MNA members, what we are learning, doing, and thinking about. And that brings us to our invitation today. We are committing now to sharing our DEIJ work through a blog, which we are calling Building Belonging, about how MNA is embedding DEIJ into our work.
We want to learn differently, as part of a community, where we might actually make mistakes in public. Building Belonging gives us a chance to put into writing the conversations we’re having, the issues we’re exploring, the tensions we encounter, and what it’s like to work through those together. We are intentionally choosing occasional discomfort over consistent safety, which is why we are committed to learning in public. Our intent is not to train or present a series of finished ideas. Rather, we want to share the road – inviting you walk along if you’d like and being open to the same invitation from you. In this way we learn together.
Your role as an MNA Member, or Not-Yet Member
Learning, growth, community, agency, and accountability are the values we use as guideposts in this work, framing the resources and experiences we will share moving forward.
We want to acknowledge that the MNA membership is diverse in geography, mission, audience, and even political alignment. Some of you will respond with “finally”; some of you may read this blog and think MNA has no place in this work. All that we ask is that wherever you are, you read with openness and a spirit of building belonging for everyone in the nonprofit sector.
Please – reach out to us. We encourage questions and challenges; we hope you’ll share parts of your own journey, and that you’ll let us know if and when we are off base. We invite you to hold us accountable to our stated values.
There is no straightforward reason that October 2023 is the time we are choosing to launch a blog about belonging. It is simply the moment that we are – finally – ready to take our learning process out into the open. In a way, Building Belonging is a little like planting a tree. The best time to begin was twenty years ago. The second-best time is now.*
Today, the inaugural version of Building Belonging stands as our commitment to take another step closer to being an association that lives our values.
MNA’s work in equity and belonging is held by our team, and guided by experts such as Meshayla Cox of Co-Equity Consulting, Jael Kampfe of Bar K Management Co, Francine Spang-Willis of Appearing Flying Woman Consulting, and others including you – our members. We owe a debt of gratitude to those who have generously and graciously asked us the hard questions and gently steered us in the direction of progress.
*You may have heard Sky McGinty of All Nations Health use this same phrase in her welcome address at conference. We love the serendipitous syllabary.