Nonprofits, Here are Five Steps to Take Before Hiring a Racial Equity Consultant

Based on years of experience with nonprofits across the country, racial equity consultant, Joanna Shoffner Scott of the Stamey Street Consulting Group and the Race Matters Institute shares practical steps that nonprofits can take before engaging a racial equity consultant. Deeper pre-engagement work is critical to choosing the right partner to work with.

Here are five steps to take before hiring a racial equity consultant.

Know the distinctions. Most prospective clients who reach out to me to discuss an engagement opportunity are not sure what they want in a consultant. Most perspective clients know me, my background in child advocacy or my work with the Race Matters Institute, but generally organizations do not know what they really want or who they really need. In initial conversations, few clients can articulate the exact approach they want. Most organizations know that they need to do better around issues of race (either programmatically or operationally), but they seldom fully understand what that means. Generally, consultants specialize in a specific approach to race–personal, organizational, systemic? The answer to this question can help guide what approach will best align with those aspirations. For example, what kind of training fits best with your goals–racial equity, anti-bias, or  anti-racism training? Be wary of consultants who promise that you can get all of these approaches from one firm. I have recommended to clients to do organizational work and anti-bias work, but generally not from the same firm. Be sure that your consultant has a deep, demonstrated expertise in race–not just an interest.

Do your research. Know what you are getting.  Racial equity is deeply important work. Because it is deeply important work often with funding opportunities attached, there are many consultants who do this work. We live in a climate where foundations are requesting more nuanced, race-informed approaches of their grantees.  At the same time, our current political and policy climate demand a deeper understanding of the connection between race and place. Similarly, changing workforce demographics require greater intentionality around diversity, equity and inclusion — simultaneously. This energy around the work has attracted consultants who are new to organizational approaches to race. We are not interchangeable. If your organization is considering hiring a racial equity consultant, take your time to research your options. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard from potential clients who thought they were getting racial equity training, but instead got anti-racism training. Both are often needed, but know the difference. Whomever you hire should have a record of success and examples of failure in their work with clients. Ask for both. And of course, always check references.

The process of hiring a racial equity consultant reveals a lot about how an organization really operates.
Joanna Shoffner Scott, PhD.
Racial Equity Consultant

Ask for a nondisclosure agreement (NDA). Only once in a decade of conducting dozens of racial equity trainings have I been asked to sign an NDA by a potential client. I wish more nonprofits would make this request. Think about it.  In the pre-engagement phase with a consultant, you are sharing highly sensitive information with someone who has no contractual obligation to you. Over the years, potential clients have shared specific interpersonal incidents of racism within their organizations, funder feedback, incidents involving community partners. A good consultant will want to know all of these factors before taking the engagement. In the absence of an NDA, a nonprofit leader is placing their trust in a consultant to keep their information confidential. Asking for an NDA as you interview consultants is good business.

Ask about post-training follow-up. Most racial equity engagements will start with some kind of shared training experience. Ask your consultant about the post-training follow-up your organization can expect. Few organizations can implement racially equitable strategies from training alone. Imagine if an organization has done their work using colorblind strategies for decades, it’s incredibly difficult to suddenly flip that switch. It can happen, but it is a rarity.  Most organizations need some kind of post-training support. Be clear about those expectations up front and how staff and consultant time will be used.  If that support is not available, it may be difficult to engage another consultant to pick up the post-training aspects of your work. While it is pretty common for different consultants to work within the same organizations on various aspects of their work, we rarely piggy back on engagements. As I mentioned earlier, consultants differ in approach and technique. You’ll want the training and the post-training experience to be the same approach.

Be open with your staff.  I would encourage nonprofit executives hiring a racial equity consultant to be open with staff about the process and why. There’s always the case for justice; however, if a funder has asked to you do it, then share that. If it is a response to pressure from partners, then share that. Similarly, share any expectations that you have of them as participants and afterward. Race-focused trainings are anxiety producing for staff across racial groups. Inclusion and preparedness can mitigate anxiety.  Be open and get their feedback. I would also caution nonprofit executives and managers to not automatically delegate this work to solely staff who are Black, Latinx, Asian or from the First Nation. The responsibility for research and engagement should rest with a representative group, because racial equity is everyone’s job–not just staff of color.

This post was a short list of steps that nonprofits can take as they plan to hire a racial equity consultant. To further guide your efforts, I created a 7-question checklist you can use in your research.

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Author: Joanna Shoffner Scott
Joanna Shoffner Scott is an experienced management consultant with deep expertise in racial equity. She is the founder and principal of Stamey Street Consulting Group, LLC, and is a Senior Consultant with the Race Matters Institute of JustPartners, Inc. Joanna has consulted with numerous organizations all over the country on unpacking race in their every day work.