Carolyn Rhodes shares lived experiences

By Carolyn Rhodes, Senior Associate.

As a Black woman gaining momentum in the non-profit sector, I used to begin every new interaction with my lived/living experiences. It was something I felt like I had to do in order to be connected to mission-driven work. I have grown to understand that my lived/living experiences do not have to be my identity and only need to be shared as I choose to disclose them. My lived/living experiences can help organizations see or do things differently in the communities they serve, but it is my skills and experiences that will help make long-lasting change in the organization.

I believe you need both. And I recently sat down with some amazing leaders who felt the same way. At the North Carolina Center for Nonprofits Conference earlier this month, my colleague Jeanne Murray and I moderated a panel with four moss+ross clients on this topic. Insights from Chris Budnick, Executive Director, Healing Transitions; Yvette Holmes, CEO, Southeast Raleigh Promise; Jennifer Player, President and CEO, Habitat for Humanity of Orange County; and Ron Pringle, President and CEO, Inter-Faith Food Shuttle, as well as the conference audience, prompted these takeaways:

• Create a culture where strategy is a part of every decision you make. The best gift an organization can give to their Board, volunteers, donors, and staff is a strategic plan. My grandmother used to utter these words daily to me as a child, “Write the vision, make it plain.” If it is not written down, it is hard to know where you are going. And it is hard for people to follow you.

• Create a culture of authenticity. Every person wants to be seen, valued, heard, and represented. This can only happen if people are authentic. Giving people the freedom to express themselves about who they are and what they want for themselves can improve the culture and bring life to the organization’s mission effortlessly.

• Create a culture of philanthropy. Generosity is not only dollars and cents but is when leaders begin to see everyone as a part of the organization, regardless of title and status, and everyone gets onboard. Breaking down those barriers can cause real change to happen and impactful work to begin.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to this work. And what works for one organization or person may not work for another. But the key is to start somewhere! Start small and make progress along the way. Ask for help because we are all on this journey, personally and professionally. And we can only go UP from here if we work together and learn from each other respectfully.