Engineering Equity into Your Organization with Daria Torres : Successful Nonprofits

Episode 61

Engineering Equity into Your Organization with Daria Torres

Listen on  iTunes    Android     Stitcher    Libsyn

Episode 61

Engineering Equity into Your Organization with Daria Torres

Listen on  iTunes    Android     Stitcher    Libsyn

by GoldenburgGroup

Building culture to improve your organization’s equity requires acknowledging an open mindset and leadership.

This week, we invited strategic advisor, facilitator, university professor, and Giving Cycle board chair, Daria Torres. Daria shares the Equity Maturity Model which helps nonprofit leaders institutionalize their commitment to the assurance of equity.

In this episode, we discuss The Equity Maturity Model’s 12 dimension, its 4 Meta-Categories, and the realities, expectations, and responsibilities of pursuing equity.

*****Time Stamped Highlights*****

(4:30) Introducing the Equity Maturity Model
(6:00) 12 Dimensions and Meta-Category 1: Culture and subcategories, open mindset and leadership
(7:45) How to assess your progress in the 12 dimensions by defining your own criteria

When it comes to equity, remember that there is no Nirvana or perfection; your organization is in it for the long-haul.

(9:45) How and When you can use the Equity Maturity Model
(11:45) Meta-category 2: Explicit Commitment
(13:45) Who is responsible for the “safety check”
(16:20) Letting the equity model inspire you, not restrict you
(18:30) Meta-Category 3: Equitable procurement:
(22:10) Charlottesville: Example of Equity Maturity Model used in crisis.
(23:30) Meta-Category 4: Visible Accountability
(24:00) Dolph and Daria discuss Philly Cheesesteak culture


Daria’s Website: Here
Equity Maturity Model:
Giving Cycle Nonprofit:

Transcript – Episode 61 – Engineering Equity into Your Organization with Daria Torres

To optimize the equity model, your organization needs to agree on the language used.

Dolph Goldenburg: Welcome to the Successful Nonprofits™ Podcast. I’m your host Dolph Goldenburg inviting you to this essential conversation with Daria Torres about engineering equity into your organization. Like a lot of the podcasts that have been happening over the last few weeks, we have taped this conversation during BoardSource Leadership Forum in Seattle. I’m also saying this to sort of explain that we got bumped from the room that we were doing recording in yesterday. And so, we are not actually in an ideal location at this point, and not all of the equipment has made a back here the way that I would like for it to, which means that I am currently working without a pop filter. We’re down to one pop filter. Being a good host, I gave the pop filter to our guest Daria Torres. You’re very welcome Daria. So, if you hear a lot of pops, from me, I apologize.

I cannot control that. So now we get back on with the script of the intro. So that so that you’re aware if you are not at BLF this year, BLF really I would say their entire conference has had a strong emphasis on equity in the nonprofit sector and to credit board source with how they approach this several years ago they recognized that they had a need to work on these issues themselves, not just in the sector but internally as an organization. Instead of immediately saying, “Okay, this is going to be our next BLF, you know, emphasis,” they spent a few years and they worked on it and now they’re bringing it to the nonprofit sector. And I just, I just want to acknowledge Board Source and say how much respect that I have for them for doing some of this work first. It’s a journey, and like most journeys we, you know, we may never reach the destination, but they started the journey and they’re well on the journey before, you know, waiving all of their colleagues and other nonprofits and say, come on this journey with us.

So, really good for Board Source. Now, to introduce our guest today, Daria Torres has been an engineer for Lockheed. She has been a corporate engagement manager from McKinsey and now a sought-after strategic adviser, executive facilitator and university lecturer. She also is the board chair of Giving Cycle, a nonprofit focused on experiential philanthropy for middle school students. Now, I do not know how old Daria is but I’m actually talking to her face-to-face today, and I think she’s probably a couple of years younger than me. So, I feel like an underachiever because she has had three careers at this point. And I’m on my second today Daria is going to share information about the equity maturity model, and it is a strikingly tool that enables organizational leaders to institutionalize their commitment to the assurance of equity. And I love that phrase, and I hope she’s going to talk about that phrase, the assurance of equity. It’s a measurable and data-oriented approach, which is what you would expect from someone who’s been an engineer. That approach really helps an organization to pursue equity internally. Now, admittedly, because we are doing so many interviews, I do not have a lot of time to do prep, so I do not know as much about the equity maturity model as I would normally know about going into an interview. So, please join me in learning more about this very important model from Daria Torres

Hey Daria, welcome to the podcast.

Daria Torres: Thank you so much though.

Dolph Goldenburg: Again, I am thrilled to have you here. I apologize for the technical difficulties you have the patience of Job because we were starting about 30 minutes late since we got kicked out of our room.

Daria Torres: It’s no problem at all. I’m pleased to be here

Dolph Goldenburg: In lay terms for myself and for you know, listeners in their cars and on the subway, how would you describe the equity maturity model?

Daria Torres: I think the simplest way to think about it metaphorically is like a growth chart. You know when you’re a kid,and your parents are looking to track your growth over a period of time, you stand against the inside of the doorframe, and they mark where you are at periodic points. Similarly, the equity maturity model is essentially a growth chart around an organization’s commitment to equity. And it teases apart that commitment into 12 different dimensions. This methodology has its roots actually in software development, the crafting of processes in software development that yield maximum productivity and quality and greatest reduction of risk and waste. And so, it does have its roots in the engineering context, the idea of applying a systematic approach to monitoring growth against a set of tangible, measurable concrete processes.

Dolph Goldenburg: So, what are some of those specific things that you are measuring? I’m picturing like my six-year-old niece up against the doorframe, and you know exactly what you’re measuring. You’re measuring height. What are some of those things you’re measuring?

Daria Torres: So, as I mentioned, there are 12 dimensions. It probably doesn’t make sense for us to go through all 12, but maybe if we start with one just to give you kind of a good grounding. I’ll start with the one that I think is really the best place for organizations to begin this work. If you’re just coming at it without much enlightenment or having already embraced internally a lot of the concepts around equity, and that’s culture. In inclusive culture, you can tease inclusive culture apart into two pieces. It’s open mindset and courageous leadership. As you think about what it required in order to have an inclusive culture, the two things that stand out the most are the mindsets of individuals within that environment and the leadership that top-down is setting a tone, that is establishing really the core tenants and philosophies of how an organization’s going to operate.

Dolph Goldenburg: One of the things I love about this model is that it’s measurable, but how specifically do you measure open mindset or courageous leadership?

Daria Torres: Yeah, that, that’s a really good question. It’s not easy. And part of the value of this tool and working with the organizations through this process is that they themselves can define what metrics they’d like to use. So, the language in the model is all qualitative. They as an organization will decide, we’d like to have this subset of our leaders working around this tool, right? We will understand what the different performance levels are, right, one through five, and we will assess our own ability to evaluate, measure, monitor. The capability that organizations have to do evaluation varies widely. And so what we intended is that no organization would be left out by defining very complex measurements and indicators where we know that it’s not the case that organizations all have that capacity to track

Dolph Goldenburg: Without using the name of an organization, can you give an example of some specific metrics in your organization chose and said, okay, this is what we’re going to measure?

Daria Torres: Yes. So, going back to courageous leadership as one of the 12 key dimensions, uh, framed underneath inclusive culture as kind of a medic category. One of the metrics and organization chose was to evaluate how often it’s most senior officers were speaking about equity in a large forum capacity with all staff and attendance, right? Because that’s an explicit way that you can determine how visible, how committed, how explicit, is your leader’s commitment to this thing we’re calling equity.

Dolph Goldenburg: You know, part of what I love about that is the things that are measured are the things you want to make sure you do. So, I really love that because you’re right. That then means that your senior leaders are thinking, “Okay, how often am I talking about it?”

Daria Torres: And the reason it was relevant for this organization is because they do come together very often in a kind of all hands capacity, but consider another organization where that’s not their culture. They maybe they have more of a loose dynamic where they have a flat hierarchy and don’t often have to come together in these formal gatherings. Well, something like that metric we just talked about wouldn’t be as relevant.

As long as your organization has a leader willing to be in charge of the time, bandwidth, and resources of a project, the equity model can be used in crisis or developmental mode.

Dolph Goldenburg: When should an organization be thinking about using the equity model. And so, specifically when I say that, some organizations realize like Board Source who said, “Hey, you know, we need to take the initiative, and we need to do this.” And some organizations have a crisis around equity. So, is this a model that you can use when you’re in crisis, or is this a model that is best used when you realize you have an issue, and you need to work on it?

Daria Torres: Yeah, you know, I don’t want to stretch it too far and say it works for all situations and all settings because what you do need is a leader, a decision maker to kind of run cover and say, “This is something we’re going to invest in. We’re going to put organizational time, manpower, womanpower bandwidth behind.” So, if in fact you have decision makers who have decided that this is going to be a priority, it doesn’t matter what the context is. Your baseline can be determined, and you can use the model in order to project where you can go and what path you should go down and really has powerful impact when it’s done, when it’s done with that regard.

Dolph Goldenburg: But what are some more of those dimensions that you think are critically important?

Daria Torres: If you don’t mind? Before I share? Um, I’d like to clarify something that I didn’t make as clear when you asked me the first time to share some dimensions.

So, even though there are 12 dimensions, they are grouped into pairs. There are six Meta categories, which is an innovation for this maturity model relative to other capability maturity models that exist. So, that said, the two dimensions that I’ve already shared are grouped under the Meta category inclusive culture. So, what’s really powerful about taking an analytical approach to this is when you start assessing organizations using this model and look at where they sit, you can start identifying interdependencies. You can start looking at pre-cursor relationship. Should I do this before that? Do these two things correlate as high performance here, equal high performance there? And so, what we found is that inclusive culture positions and organization to do what really is the second Meta category: have an explicit commitment. And so, within that explicit commitment category, the pairing of dimensions is shared language and evaluative discipline.

So, think about that. Explicit commitment translates to having a lexicon, shared language that you know, everyone, when you’re talking about equity, when you’re talking about diversity, when you’re talking about inclusion, everyone is working from the same playbook, and that can vary organization to organization. If you go online and search for these terms, you will find a plethora of the definitions rather. And that’s okay. You know, we actually encourage that, but the idea is that you want to at least within the context of your organization, have resonance around what vocabulary are we using because that enables you to have more candid conversations to project your feelings and beliefs more directly, and get people aligned.

Dolph Goldenburg: How do you build that shared vocabulary?

Daria Torres: Well, you know, you could take out the stone tablet, you start to let away, no, how do you do it? I mean, it may vary. The process may vary organization to organization. Again, coming back to culture, you know, do we have the kind of group that likes to stand in front of a whiteboard, and you just start mapping it out, right? And, and playing around with the words. Do we have a group where, you know, we would prefer for someone to take a first go at it and then circulate a Google doc, and then we all add in collaboratively that way? Do we want to appoint a task force or working group that we’ve entrusted with the responsibility of doing that for us, and then they just recommend to us what their choices are? You know, there are a variety of ways to get to it, but the point is to choose a process that will work for your organization.

Dolph Goldenburg: Obviously, you measure these dimensions over time, and you measure progress in these different dimensions over time. What’s the safety check? If an organization is not making progress or not making the kind of progress they want, like what’s the safety check?

Daria Torres: Yeah, that’s a good question. Let me turn a question back to you though. The question would be, whose safety check? To whom are you saying it would matter that performance isn’t where it should be? So, for instance, if I’m a foundation, my grantees might say, “Hey, you made this commitment to equity explicit, but you’re not as far along as you said, you would be.” who’s the WHO, that’s doing the safety check?

Dolph Goldenburg: What about from the organization’s perspective? So, the organizations says, “Okay. We think we’re going to make this amount of progress, and they’re evaluating it.” What should those organizations do to at least progressive the pace they want to?

Daria Torres: I’m glad you mentioned the growth chart metaphor again, because think about a kid and imagine if a parent asks the kid, all right, what’s your goal height for next year? Can you really have a goal height? I mean, you can wish that you reach a certain level. There is a difference between, you know, aspiration and wishing and what’s feasible. So, it may be the case that you have set yourself some targets that for whatever reason maybe reasons that you didn’t project are unrealistic or not feasible maybe for factors that were beyond your control. I think the question to ask is, you know, are there things that we, if you underperform your goals, the question to ask is, were there things that were under our control that we can learn from, and you pull that right into your ongoing planning process to say, we’ve underperformed or we didn’t achieve our aspiration now what, and you involve the organization in that candid inspection of what did or did not happen so that going forward it positions you to just do that much better the next go.

Dolph Goldenburg: So, really what I hear you saying is it’s about the organization being fully committed to the process and saying, “Okay, we didn’t achieve our goal. Why didn’t we were still committed? We still want to move this forward.”

Daria Torres: Yeah. And it’s about recognizing that it’s a long haul, and I don’t say that to sound scary, but that we’re talking about equity, right? I mean there is no nirvana. There is no like perfect, you know, perfection. It’s like that quote by… well it’s been attributed to many people, Whitney M Young earnest Hemingway, that the essence of nobility is not being superior to others; it’s being superior to your former self. So, even in this model, we have a five-level model, right? You would infer level five is the best you can be. Well, what we’ve told people is, you know what, once you hit level five define your new level five. You don’t have to let this model bound. You use the same concept and push yourself even farther. We did find, however, that when you inspect the sector, there is no one organization that has reached level five and more than four of the 12 dimensions.

Dolph Goldenburg: Really? And why do you think that is?

Daria Torres: Because it’s not easy. And because organizations have to prioritize what they can focus on. So that’s not to, you know, beat up the sector.

With the Equity model, your organization will have a ”third eye”; your organization will see interdependencies, precursor relations, and the like

In fact if you look at other sectors, the same thing would probably be true.

Dolph Goldenburg: Are you consistently seeing that nonprofits are meeting the same four and not meeting the same eight or is it kind of a mishmash?

Daria Torres: It’s, it is a mix. That’s a great question. And the power of looking at this data allows me to answer that kind of question. Not only that, but to say if you are doing really well against shared language, then that probably means you’ve got a courageous leader in place.

Dolph Goldenburg: So, Daria, we are going to take a short break, and when we come back, I’m going to ask you for a couple of specific examples of how the equity maturity model has been used.

The Successful Nonprofits™ Podcast is produced by the Goldenburg Group as part of our mission to provide board development, strategic planning and interim executives that help thrive in a competitive environment. Learn more about what we do at

Daria, welcome back. I would love to get a couple of specific examples from you of how organizations have used it. When you give them, if you could maybe describe what was going on in the organization as well that prompted them to make the decision to start this process.

Daria Torres: In order to set the context for this example, let me share another Meta category and the two dimensions beneath that. So, the next Meta category is equitable procurement. I say procurement, and that might be an odd choice in the nonprofit sector. You don’t hear that term as much. You typically hear either contracting or grantmaking, but we chose procurement because it actually bundles both together grantmaking and contracting. Beneath equitable procurement are two dimensions, fair consideration and informed selection. All right? So, anytime you’re making a purchasing decision, you should be, if you have kind of an equity orientation, you should be thinking about the impact of historical and equity as a factor when choosing potential recipients of your investment or your spending. And that’s fair consideration. You should also be considering equity related criteria in the evaluation of proposals for contracts and grants, right?

Pretty simple. But how do you operationalize that? So, we worked with a large scale, globally-focused foundation who wanted to advance its commitment to equity. And in order to do that in the context of equitable procurement, you have to first say, “Well, what is my baseline? To what extent have my grants reflected my own equity commitment as an organization?” How do you do that? So, I asked that question, right? My team asked that question, and the answer was, “Well, we don’t know. We don’t know what percentage of our grantees actually also have an equity commitment.” That was shocking. So, we did an analysis, looked back through years of this foundation’s investments only to discover that only one-third of the grantees had either an explicit or indirectly perceivable commitment to equity. And so, when you assess and discover that that is your quantitative rather indicator, you can say, “All right, well what can I do with respect to fair consideration and informed selection?”

How can I equip my program officers with a methodology, with a tool that will, and questions too, to have grantees perspective grantees field so that you can tease out is there enough here that assures me that this organization that I’m about to make this huge investment in has a real and authentic equity commitment? So, we built some tools for them to equip their program officers with as a result of them going through this, you know, self-inspection and just saying, “Here’s our baseline. We could be doing better, but we need help doing it.”

Dolph Goldenburg: And so, what progress to the foundation make?

Daria Torres: It’s still a work in progress. I hesitate to offer an assessment at this stage. I’m encouraged; they’re encouraged, and they’re on the journey.

Dolph Goldenburg: I would also love to explore an example of an organization in crisis around equity. If you have an example like that.

Daria Torres: Well I would say, you know, I have to actually step out of my kind of consulting role for a second. And I haven’t actually thought about the equity maturity model with respect to the example I’m about to share, but everyone recalls recently the tragedy in Charlottesville and kind of the ongoing chaos there with neo-Nazi sympathizers coming into the campus community. I have a connection to Charlottesville because that’s where I went to Undergrad. I did an engineering and economics there for my bachelor’s level work, and I now serve on an alumni board at UVA that’s focused on inclusion, diversity, equity and access. It’s called the UVA IDEA fund. And as a group of trustees, you can imagine, you know, that was quite a crisis moment. And it continues to be kind of a crisis situation.

When you also account for the fact that there are students here that are just embarking on one of the most formative points in their lives and are exposed to an environment in quite a bit of turmoil. Add to that the fact that the university is celebrating its bicentennial. Add to that the fact that the university has just acknowledged its history of slavery. On top of that, we have a president transition underway. So, quite a few factors that you know, lead or that are kind of in this crucible. Why I bring that up is because, you know, as I think about the equity maturity model and how it could perhaps assist in this kind of situation, the thing that comes across most to me is another Meta category, Visible Accountability, and beneath visible accountability are two dimensions, transparent orientation and dedicated oversight.

So, what transparent orientation means is that your beliefs, your priorities regarding the resolution of an equity are publicly shared, right? Dedicated oversight means that there is some organizations, some individual, somebody, whether it’s formal or informal, that is monitoring performance and providing routine status updates. So, you know, think about those two things in the context of what’s going on in Charlottesville and all the change in leadership that’s underway, all the change management rather that’s underway because of the leadership transition. And you can see very clearly how the idea of going on a growth journey and looking to the org, the institution looking to better itself, especially on those two dimensions would be quite relevant.

When it comes to equity, remember that there is no Nirvana or perfection; your organization is in it for the long-haul.

Dolph Goldenburg: That’s a great answer to that question. I don’t want listeners to lose out on the Off-the-Map question. If this is your first time tuning in, the Off-the-Map question is an opportunity for our guests to share something about themselves that maybe is not really related to what we’re discussing today, um, but allows you to get to know them a little bit better. And maybe even that way if you decided to reach out to them, you’ll feel like you have more of a personal connection. So Philly’s my adopted hometown; its kind of is your hometown, Pat’s or Geno’s?

Daria Torres: So, for those who may not be from the Philadelphia area, the Pat’s or Geno’s question is a choice between two outfits that provide the classic Philly cheese steak. Well, I have to agree with Anthony Bourdain who came to Philadelphia and discovered that the best quote unquote Philly cheese steak is actually over the bridge in Camden, New Jersey at a place called [Donkey’s]

Dolph Goldenburg: donkey. Oh really? Okay.

Daria Torres: And I may go a stretch further and say my number two would be good [inaudible].

Dolph Goldenburg: Four blocks from both of those. And I never had a Geno’s cheesesteak for the obvious reason. They don’t get equity the way I get equity. But even then, I’ve never been much of a stakes guy, but it’s an easy question to ask someone who’s lived in Philly like, okay. Which do you like?

Daria Torres: It is an easy question. Well, I was hoping you might ask me something though that would allow me to acknowledge my partner in this equity maturity work. She is from Charleston, South Carolina. Her name is Paula Ellis. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention her because she is just an incredible thought partner and an advocate for this work in all kinds of the stages of her career as well. So really excited to make sure that she’s acknowledged and express my personal appreciation to her for her involvement in the work.

Dolph Goldenburg: And that really speaks volumes about who you are. If you are listener, and you’ve decided that you want your organization to embark on its own equity journey and you want to reach out to Daria, you can find her website Now, there are two more websites you might want to visit. One of those is, so if you’re specifically interested in this model, that’s a good website to go to. And then the last, and by the way, we’re at a conference for really designed for boards and board leadership and Daria is the board chairs I mentioned in the Intro of a nonprofit. So, she said she also wanted the URL of our nonprofit mentioned. I said to her, that makes you a really good board chair. That nonprofit once again is Giving Cycle and their URL is easy to remember Daria, thank you so much for sharing information about this model, and I would encourage our listeners if they want to embark on their own equity journey that they reach out to you and they talk about the next steps in the process.

Daria Torres:  Wonderful. It’d be my pleasure.

Dolph Goldenburg: If you are unable to write down Daria’s web address, just visit to get all of her contact information on our show notes. All three URLs will be there, and we’ll probably throw some of our social media up on the show notes as well. While you’re online, I say this all the time, but while you’re online, head on over to iTunes, Stitcher, or your streaming app of choice and write a review of the podcast. If you don’t feel like doing that, like us on Facebook, find us on Twitter, do something. I say this again all the time. We do not commoditize the podcast. We do this because we really want to be providing thought leaders to folks who maybe cannot afford to come and attend the board leadership forum. And so you, if you feel like paying it forward, a good way to do that is to like it on Facebook, or review, or that kind of thing. It’s not that hard of an ask. That’s our show for this week. I hope that you have gained some insight that will help your nonprofit thrive in a competitive environment.

(Disclaimer) I’m not an accountant or attorney, and neither I nor the Successful Nonprofits™ provide tax, legal or accounting advice. This material has been providing for informational purposes only and is not intended or should not be relied on for tax, legal, or accounting advice. Always consult a qualified licensed professional about such matters.



Got an Idea for a Topic?

Recommend it to us!

    Please prove you are human by selecting the house.

    How are we doing?

    Tell us your thoughts!

      Please prove you are human by selecting the plane.