A few weeks ago we postponed our regularly scheduled episode and asked Listeners to amplify black voices that week instead. Shortly after, nonprofit accountant extraordinaire, Germeen Guillaume, reached out to me to discuss the diversity, equity, and inclusion issues she sees plaguing the nonprofit sector. Listen in as we consider the bias that exists in nonprofits, for POC and the sector as a whole, and steps we can all take in our organizations to better live our DEI values, serve our communities more effectively, and lead by example.
Listen to the Episode Here!
Website: Visionary Accounting Group
(2:10) Challenges black leaders and organizations face
(5:05) Ask funders for what you need
(8:33) Track your impact and fundraising efforts
(10:54) Pay and appreciate your staff
(19:38) Make systemic change and hire a more inclusive workforce
Dolph Goldenburg (00:00):
Welcome to the Successful Nonprofits® Podcast. I’m your host, Dolph Goldenburg. Back in June, the podcast took a knee out of respect for the Black Lives movement. We opted to postpone our scheduled episode to instead amplify black voices by asking Listeners to take the time to read, watch, or listen to black voices during the time that they would usually listen to this podcast. Not long after, Germeen Guillaume contacted me to discuss how we can support black leaders and organizations whose missions are centered around social justice and social change. This is a conversation that is near and dear to my heart. As I have said before, I believe the nonprofit sector has an important role to play in building a more just world. But we also have to take time to examine and address the disparities that are present in our own sector, because the nonprofit sector is certainly not immune to disparity, prejudice or racism.
Dolph Goldenburg (01:10):
So if we aren’t talking about it and we aren’t thinking about it and we aren’t working to make it better, it’s not going to get better. So that’s why I invited Germeen to join us today, to continue this very important conversation about how to support black leaders and organizations. But before I welcome her, let me tell you a little bit about Germeen. She is the founder of Visionary Accounting Group, a virtual accounting firm that offers accounting solutions to startups and also to nonprofits. She has over 10 years of accounting experience and describes herself as ambitious, driven, and an avid reader. She pursues her passions with reckless abandon thanks to the support of her family, her husband and her children. So with that, please join me in welcoming Germeen to the podcast. Hey, Germeen, welcome to the podcast.
Germeen Guillaume (02:06):
Hi, Dolph. Thank you for having me. I’m so excited to be here.
Dolph Goldenburg (02:10):
Same here. I’m so thrilled we’re having this conversation. When you reached out to me by email, you had mentioned that a lot more can be done to support black leaders and nonprofits that support the community, social justice, and social change. What support is lacking and what changes would you like to see?
Germeen Guillaume (02:28):
Absolutely. So I’m sure as most of you have probably heard about the funding gap in the startup world. The same actually exists in the nonprofit world, as well. And that’s why I draw a lot of comparisons. You also see less funding with many of these black organizations or those that are committed to social change and social justice. And then when they are getting a decent amount of funding, it tends to come with a lot more restrictions and rigorous reporting requirements. And we all know that that takes time. And then you have infrastructure. A lot of times there tends to be less staff. Fewer cash reserves. And I also notice, as I work in the accounting space with nonprofits, there tends to be a heavy reliance on government grants because they can’t get funding elsewhere. And I’m sure your Listeners are probably well versed in how working with government grants can be.
Germeen Guillaume (03:35):
And so, while I don’t like to continue to speak about the problems, I definitely think it’s important to highlight what can we be doing differently to either assist these organizations or these leaders of color. I think some of the things that we can do is commit to recognizing the bias that does exist and calling it out. Being intentional about diversity and inclusion, but not just using it as a buzz word, because you tend to hear it thrown all around. But when you’re hiring black staff or a black leader, put them in roles other than diversity and inclusion. Have them work on the other side with funders and philanthropists to educate them about what these organizations need and why their funds are needed. Access to professional and leadership development for these leaders of color so that they do know how to navigate this space a little bit more. Promoting collaboration so that black leaders can also have access to rooms that they may have been excluded from.
Germeen Guillaume (04:35):
Or sometimes it’s not even purposeful exclusion, they just don’t know that it exists. And then I think lastly, really promoting philanthropy in the African American community a little bit more because sometimes I think that the bias isn’t always on purpose. Sometimes it’s just the lack of knowledge. And so I think that if we got the conversation going and did more talking about it and more promotion of these things, we might see a little bit more happening.
Dolph Goldenburg (05:05):
Do you ever feel like some nonprofits are a little too timid in talking to funders about the things that they need support from the funders on?
Germeen Guillaume (05:16):
Absolutely. I think there is a huge scarcity mindset in the nonprofit community in general. And that’s where I think that whole professional and leadership development could come in. Understanding how to speak to funders. How to ask for what you need. Especially as we start getting into the whole conversation about overhead. So it’s not just asking for what you need to run this program, but what about the network of support that you need for the people who are going to be running that program? So making sure that you’re not asking for just enough, but you’re asking for exactly what it is you need and not being afraid to do. Because, in the words of my mom, “They can only say ‘No.'”
Dolph Goldenburg (06:03):
And I think we’re at a unique point right now in the history of philanthropy. I think there are a lot of foundations that are really viewing diversity, equity and inclusion as a priority. But I also think that they do need those organizations that represent communities of color or represent disenfranchised people to step up and say to the funders, “Hey, this is really what we need. If you want to help us make systemic change, or if you want to help us change our own sector, this is what we need from you.”
Germeen Guillaume (06:35):
Absolutely. As things have been heightened recently, on my social media platforms and conversations I’ve been having with other nonprofit leaders, I’ve been screaming to the rooftops, “Be more transparent!” There is a heightened sense of awareness and people are listening. People are trying to see where they can get in. Corporations have money that they don’t know what to do with. If there ever was a time to be open, to be honest, and to be loud about what is happening in your community, what it is that your organization does in the community, now is the time.
Dolph Goldenburg (07:12):
It’s interesting. I do a lot of work in the LGBTQ community. I’ve been in the nonprofit sector for about 25 years or so now. Early on in my work I was a fundraiser. I remember viewing it as much more top down where I would think, “Okay, the foundations are going to tell me what it is that they want us to do, we’ll write the proposal accordingly, and then we’ll get funded. And then they’re going to tell us how they want us to do it and we’ll report back.” I’m almost embarrassed to say how long it took me to realize that I had the ability and the voice and the power to be able to say to funders, “We know that you’re really interested in funding X, but what we really need help with right now is, for example, a reserve fund. And if we had a reserve fund, here’s the ways that our organization could be different.”
Germeen Guillaume (08:02):
And this is where I think it becomes two fold. Because I think that sometimes as a black leader, you tend to feel like you might be walking on eggshells. And so you don’t want to say the wrong thing because then you get zero funding. I think there really is a case of approaching it with this bit of a timidity because you’re not sure. But I do think that that is also what holds us back. And so I absolutely agree with you. And I think it’s really important. That’s why I always think about knowing your numbers and really knowing your organization inside and out. Because when it comes time to apply for these funds or going after these grants and having these conversations, you need to be well versed about what it is that your organization needs. You won’t have that level of information if you guys aren’t doing the proper data tracking and internal work before you go looking for funds.
Dolph Goldenburg (08:58):
Absolutely. And from your perspective, I know you’re also an accountant, what are some of the important things that organizations should be tracking so that they can have these diversity, equity, and inclusion conversations with their funders?
Germeen Guillaume (09:10):
Well, the main thing I think is to be able to quantify your impact. It’s kind of odd because you would think that people were tracking these things. But you’d be surprised that most organizations don’t know how to quantify their impact. And I think that above everything else usually is like one of the first things that a funder is going to want to know. They want to know what problem is your organization solving and then what have you done thus far. And so it’s super, super important to quantify that. But then also thinking about your internal needs. What are you managing as far as restricted versus unrestricted funds? What are your cash reserves looking like? Are you strapped for cash? Is cash flow kind of tight? Knowing and understanding your workers and how they are split up on these projects. And whether or not these projects that they’re working on are profitable to the organization.
Germeen Guillaume (10:05):
And just having a keen sense of awareness that it’s not a set-it-and-forget-it kind of thing. It’s one of those things that is ever evolving. And so while one metric may be important this time around, it may not be important next time around. Also, quantifying your fundraising efforts. You need to be able to know that gala that you put on every year, even though you do it every year, maybe it just doesn’t make you any money anymore. And so I think it’s really important to go back to the table with your team after you’ve done a big fundraiser or event and and say, “Okay, how did we do?” Because that also sets the premise for what you do the next year, right? We have to get out of this mindset of doing it because that’s how we’ve always done it. And I find that in this sector specifically, there is a lot of doing things just because that’s how we’ve always done it.
Dolph Goldenburg (10:54):
Absolutely. I’ll share with you, one of the things I’ve been surprised at over the last few years as I’ve started to have some conversations with funders is that oftentimes we’re willing to have the diversity and inclusion conversation, but then the piece we leave out is the equity conversation. Because we’re a little uncomfortable with that. And so I’ve been a little surprised over the last few years as I’ve talked to funders and I’ve essentially said to them, “You know, there are a lot of nonprofits that are really underpaying their staff. And so if they really strive for diversity and inclusion and they have a diverse staff, but they’re underpaying all of their staff, guess which communities you’re impacting by that underpaying.”
Germeen Guillaume (11:27):
It’s kind of like a cycle. And even with that, I’m just coming to realize that either it’s a severely underpaid or under-qualified staff or it’s volunteers. And of course, when you think about nonprofit, you think about helping and volunteering. But there does come a point, especially as it relates to infrastructure, where if you do not have the proper staff, your organization is not sustainable and it will not run properly. I’ll be honest, I had never really heard people speak positively about working for a nonprofit. There was always this mentality of scraping to get by. They usually can’t pay their people and things like that. And so when I actually got into this space, I realized a lot of the stigma is really because some of us are just not operating properly, not utilizing the funds that we do have properly.
Germeen Guillaume (12:23):
And the other thing is let’s be more open; let’s get out of this scarcity space and talk about what it is that we really need to be better. Because some of these nonprofits are managing million and billion dollar budgets. So for some of them, it is not the case that they’re operating with a scarcity mindset. But I do think that it is important that the knowledge gets spread, that we share that information, and that we stop thinking about us as nonprofits. And I know there’s a lot of controversy around whether you should think of nonprofits like a business or not, but when you start thinking about how you should run it or those internal aspects, I think that we have a lot to learn. And I think that there’s a lot that we could take from the for-profit side that would at least let us run the internal operations a little bit better so that we then can serve the people better, as well.
Dolph Goldenburg (13:11):
I am right there with you. And it’s interesting. I feel very similarly. I do now have a for-profit consulting practice, but my entire career has been in the nonprofit sector and it’s now nonprofits who hire me. And as I think about the inequity issue in nonprofits, and I think about my own career, the inequity starts really early. And I’ve given this example, before: My brother and I were in college at the same time. My brother was an engineering student. He did an internship in the late eighties or the early nineties and he was paid $23 an hour. So a rate that’s over $47,000 a year and he’s not yet got his degree.
Dolph Goldenburg (13:58):
When he got out of school, he was clearly expecting to make more than $23 an hour because that’s what he got paid before he had a degree, before he had the credential, before he had any experience. So I’m three years younger than my brother. I started college in 1990. As I’m in my last year, I’m doing an internship, but I’m a social work student. So social work students don’t traditionally get paid for their internship. So I graduated with my social work degree and I’m offered a social work job at $18,000 a year. And I’m thinking, “I used to do this for free! I hit the lottery! I made $18,000 a year!” Whereas my brother probably made four times that when he got out of undergraduate. So I also feel like that inequity starts early in our sector. So your first nonprofit job, you’re making significantly less than what someone in the for-profit sector is making. And then because we also know that income compounds over the years, then inequity continues and continues and continues.
Germeen Guillaume (14:53):
Wow. But I am just not shocked. And as crazy as it sounds, that is still the case today. What’s important when you raise that issue is employee morale. So if your employees are being significantly underpaid, how are they really showing up to work? Are they really doing their jobs? I give this example over and over, but I was completely overwhelmed in the very first controller job I took in the nonprofit sector. I just couldn’t believe what was happening and going on. They had a full blown accounting team and people were underpaid. People didn’t really know what their job was and they were doing other people’s jobs. There was just so much chaos going on and the morale was so low because people felt not only underpaid, but also underappreciated.
Germeen Guillaume (15:44):
I think that it is super important that we understand that some of these organizations are grass roots. And so maybe you don’t have it. But I think it’s really important to communicate with the people that you’re working with, but also appreciate the work that they’re doing. Because nonprofit work is heart work. I always said, it’s heart work. A lot of people get into this stuff because usually they have some kind of personal attachment to the mission. And so you don’t want to turn people away from this type of work. So I think it’s really, really important for leaders to understand how to hire, who to hire, and how to appreciate your staff. And also how to pay them.
Dolph Goldenburg (16:26):
Yes. And conversations that I have often had over the last few years with executive directors and boards proves to me that many of us see this. Those of us that are now on boards, those of us that are executive directors, we have the power to change that. We can say, “Okay, from this point forward, we’re always going to pay our interns $12 an hour.” But guess what? If you’re paying interns $12 an hour, you can’t pay any permanent staff members $25,000 a year because they’re going to be making less than your interns. We as executives, we, as board members, have the power to change it.
Germeen Guillaume (17:07):
And I think that that’s the conversation that we have to have more. Because I get this notion that people think that there isn’t anything that they can do and that there’s just this feeling of being stuck. But you have the top down approach. So if you feel that way, you know it’s going to trickle down to the people that are under you and just be a never ending cycle. And we know that nonprofits are vital to the community. And so we can’t bear losing you. So we have to figure out what is it that we can do to make sure that you have the tools and the resources you need to run your programs. And not only run them, but then also deliver them. So that’s twofold. It’s making sure that you have the people in place to support you, but then also the tools and resources to then go out and do that work in the community.
Dolph Goldenburg (17:58):
Right. And I also feel this way about diversity and inclusion as well. And that those of us that are executives or those of us who are on the board, we have the power to change diversity and inclusion in our organization. It does feel to me like if you’re an organization and you’re in a community that is 48% white, but 80% of your workforce is white. You’ve got the power over time to change that.
Germeen Guillaume (18:22):
Yeah. I was having a conversation with a fellow nonprofit colleague and she’s in fundraising. She was saying there’s been a lot more push to have these annual events where the funders and philanthropists come and see a whole presentation about what your organization is doing. What about drawing more parallels by having the people in the community that you actually serve show up and introduce them to the people who are funding this thing. Because to your point, if the majority of the people on the board or on the leadership team are white, but you’re serving in a predominantly black community, how much are your leaders going to understand about the issue that you’re addressing and the people that you’re serving? And so I think that if we can do a better job of also educating, then you might see more funding coming through. Because, while funders may not necessarily have experience with that issue, if they can see it, if they can feel it, if they can know more about it, they may feel more inclined to support it.
Dolph Goldenburg (19:33):
Absolutely. It’s that mantra: nothing about us without us.
Germeen Guillaume (19:37):
Dolph Goldenburg (19:38):
Based on your experiences with nonprofits, what are some of the things that nonprofits should be doing to build a more inclusive workforce?
Germeen Guillaume (19:47):
Well, I think the first thing that you can do is hire more black people or hire more people of color. And also take it even back a step further. Look at the job requirements. I think what we don’t realize is that the bias sometimes lies before you even get to the point where someone is sitting in front of you to be hired. So what is your application process like? Is there an underlying bias there? Check those things so that you’re not excluding people of color before they even get in front of you. Check that and I believe that you’ll begin to see more people of color come into the space.
Germeen Guillaume (20:30):
But then also, when people of color get into this space, there’s isn’t really a career trajectory or career development. And so you have people who come into this space and they’re a program leader for 50 years. You have to make sure you are pouring back into your people. There needs to be more continuing education, there needs to be more investment into staff. And really it helps the organization. I feel like people tend to think, “Oh, we’re pouring all of this out to the people.” But that then comes back to the organization twofold. And so I think that’s where we need to start.
Dolph Goldenburg (21:11):
Can we unpack some of those systemic issues? One of the things that I think about is that I know a lot of nonprofits have a strong bias for promoting internally. But if they don’t have a diverse workforce and they’re promoting internally, they’re also not going to have a diverse management or diverse senior leadership. What are some of the other structural issues in the recruitment process that we as organizations need to be thinking about?
Germeen Guillaume (21:34):
I think we want to think about education requirements. That is going to be a big piece of that. There has to be some qualifications to do a job, right? But we need to be mindful. I think the main thing that comes to mind really are those education requirements and those experience requirements. You hear jokes of how college students come out of college, apply for a job and can’t get it because they need X amount of years of experience for an entry level job. Where does the experience coming from? So just making sure that when we start looking into the background and when we start looking into the education, we aren’t so small minded or so strict or rigid that we’re cutting off a huge portion of people that could potentially apply for this job and begin to make the workforce more diverse.
Dolph Goldenburg (22:30):
One of the things I’ve worked with a couple of clients on over the last year is to update their job descriptions and break it out in different sections: minimum required experience or qualifications and then preferred experience or qualifications. Because here’s one of the things that data shows us, those of us, like myself, who have more privilege, we’ll look at a jumbled together list of requirements and go, “Well, yeah, maybe I don’t speak Spanish, but I’m going to throw my hat in any way and see if I get it.” Whereas people who have experienced less privilege in their life are likely to look at that jumbled list and say, “Well, I’ve only got 8 of these 12, so I’m not going to apply.” But if applicants can go down the minimum and check them off and go, “Okay. Yeah, I meet every one of the minimums, I’m going to apply,” then it makes a big difference.
Germeen Guillaume (23:19):
That is so true because I have been there before, too. I’ve looked at a job application and if I didn’t check off the majority, I automatically have counted myself out. And so that is such a key thing that you brought up. And I think that even goes back, like you said, that a lot of these things start early. So when you’re applying for these jobs, being able to understand the difference between minimum and preferred qualifications and also understand that you aren’t necessarily out of the race even if you don’t meet every requirement. Listen: apply anyway! if they say, no, then at least you tried. And so I think it’s really important that that difference is made. That is a huge point.
Dolph Goldenburg (24:08):
Yeah. I don’t do a lot of HR consulting, but I was working with an organization recently on this: a lot of job postings will just say they are an EOE, an equal opportunity employer. But I’ve noticed that a lot of organizations, including some pretty big businesses like Google and Amazon, have created custom equal opportunity employment statements where they really express what their values are. Not just, “We follow the law.” Big whoop. You do what’s minimally required.
Germeen Guillaume (24:39):
I really do agree with that because, when we think about the type of climate that we’re in now, a lot of these things are truly important to people as they’re applying. You hear people always talk about the millennial workforce, they want to work for organizations that they know care. I want to know that this organization cares about my life. And so making that statement alone says to me that you even gave it some thought to put that there. I think we have to get out of the mindset of just keeping it so standard and so strict and so straight forward that we don’t allow for there to be any light finessing.
Germeen Guillaume (25:16):
One of the nonprofits that I worked at hired a lot of their friends or people they knew. And so some people were counted out before they even got a chance. So the organization was posting the job because they had to but they already had someone in mind. This is where having the proper infrastructure comes into place, the proper checks and balances. And that’s where I say I do believe that the nonprofit can learn a thing or two from the for-profit sector because things are just really relaxed in nonprofits. And I think that if things were a little bit more strict, we’d have a little less of that finessing.
Dolph Goldenburg (25:53):
I do a lot of interim executive director engagements so I’m not giving anything away about a client because I’ve done enough of them that no one will be able to pin down which client this is. But I was doing an interim executive director engagement. And what I would notice is we would post a position and then the hiring manager would come to me as the executive director two days later and go, Dolph! I found the perfect person. And I literally was like, “You found the perfect person? You just posted the position. What do you mean you found the perfect person?” And they’ll go, “Oh, well, no. This person has this and this and this.” And I realized this was an organization that did not have a policy that said, as an example, non-exempt positions must be open two weeks and exempt positions must be open four. There was no policy like that. And so pretty quickly I was decided we need some recruitment policies because it was this, “Oh, I have a friend that needs a job.” But then the other thing that would happen is that person would get hired, but it was just a friend who needed a job, and so when they found the job they really wanted, they left. So the hiring managers that did that often had really high turnover. They were doing things for their friends, but not doing things for the organization.
Germeen Guillaume (26:53):
Right. And what I’ve noticed that, in that a lot of those cases, the person tends to not be the right person for that job. And so I think we just have to stop treating nonprofits like our own personal playground and really understand that these places are vital to the community. And realize that how you run the organization, in some cases, goes hand in hand with whether you get the proper funding. One of the things that I’ve been really, really adamant about with the organizations that I work with is making sure we have our ducks in a row. We have policies and procedures, we have the right things so that there is no reason for funders to say “No.” And if they do, it’s for something else. This whole climate has also made me heighten that because I know that there are more rigorous reporting requirements in some cases. So we have to make sure our stuff is extra right just to make sure that we get past the door. So I think that we have to make sure that we are not just lollygagging or treating it nonprofits willy-nilly, but really make sure that we are treating this as a real organization, as it is.
Dolph Goldenburg (27:56):
I love that. I think that’s part of the message around all of this. And especially around diversity equity and inclusion is we have to take it seriously. And if we don’t, we aren’t going to see traction.
Germeen Guillaume (28:05):
You don’t want to see these organizations close their doors. Because think about all of the people that they are supporting and they are helping. That’s the piece that I think about. If we don’t take this serious, these things have harsh consequences, not only for the organization and the people that work for it, but also the community that this organization is helping. And so we need to be very, very mindful of that as well.
Dolph Goldenburg (28:29):
Absolutely. Germeen, I am loving this conversation, but I’ve got to make sure we have time for an off-the-map question. Because in addition to being committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion, you’re an amazing human being and I want Listeners to get to know some additional things about you. Now, in preparing for our conversation today, I learned that you apparently have a certain claim to fame when it comes to singing. And I’m hoping you can share with us what that is.
Germeen Guillaume (28:58):
I guess I’ve had a few. I grew up going to church and singing, but then I also went to a performing arts high school here in New York City. And so I sang and traveled more in my younger years. I sang back up for just about all of the American Idol winners. I sang at the Glamour Music Awards. I’ve done a couple of concerts here at Carnegie Hall and Jazz at Lincoln Center.
Dolph Goldenburg (29:29):
Wow. Okay. My goodness, multitalented, that’s really incredible.
Germeen Guillaume (29:33):
Yeah. You can say so.
Dolph Goldenburg (29:37):
Thank you so much for joining us today. And Listeners, we did not talk with Germeen about her financial services today, but if you would like to learn more about her and also her company, Visionary Accounting Group, then check out her website at visionaryag.com. And make sure that you check back because Germeen will be back on the show in a few episodes to discuss common financial mistakes that nonprofits make and how they can avoid them. So, Germeen, thank you so much for reaching out to me and thank you for being willing to come on the show today. I’m so grateful for what you shared.
Germeen Guillaume (30:16):
Thank you for having me dealt. This was a great, great conversation.
Dolph Goldenburg (30:20):
If your organization is looking for a virtual accounting solution and is committed to diversity, equity and inclusion, it would be a great idea to reach out to Germeen. If you missed the URL for Germeen’s company, Visionary Accounting, then hop on over to our website at successfulnonprofits.com. You will be able to find that link there as well as a full transcript of today’s episode and timestamped highlights. And since you’re already there, please take a few minutes to fill out our Listener Survey. It’s just 10 questions. It’ll take you three minutes. And it will help us make sure that we are providing you our very best content. And while you are there, check out our planning page to learn more about recession survival planning. We are at a very unique point where I actually don’t believe it makes sense for most organizations to create a three or five year strategic plan. Right now, if you want a solid plan that will help your organization thrive during the recession, you are probably looking at a 12 or 18 month tactical plan. So be sure to check out that page at successfulnonprofits.com if you think it might be able to help you. Now, if today’s episode spoke to you, please take a few minutes to subscribe, rate and review us on your podcast streaming app of choice. This helps more Listeners find us and helps us share tips and ideas with a wider community. That, Dear Listeners, is our show for this week. I hope you have gained some insight to help your nonprofit thrive in a competitive environment.
Dolph Goldenburg (31:55):
I am not an accountant or attorney and neither I nor The Goldenburg Group provide tax, legal or accounting advice. This material has been provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to provide and should not be relied on for tax, legal or accounting advice. Always consult a qualified, licensed professional about such matters.