Maintain an Impactful Experience with DEI Issues

August 16, 2019 – David is the founder and president of Marga Inc., a consulting firm founded in 2000. He was hired by a national foundation in 2002 to scan the work of various foundations related to their racial equity policies and practices. From this work, he created a funders’ group, which is a learning community that brings together foundation representatives to discuss policies and practices related to racial equity and other aspects of DEI. He is developing a framework of learning exchanges that can be applied in a variety of settings and that leads people through a process of exchanging ideas, policies, and practices with each other on DEI issues.

When David Maurrasse was hired by a national foundation in 2002 to scan the work of various foundations related to their racial equity policies and practices, it looked
like a straightforward, one-off consulting engagement.

More than a decade later, his consultancy –Marga Inc. – continues to manage an outgrowth of that initial project: a funders’ group focused on race and equity in philanthropy, a major initiative that’s poised to grow even more.

The lesson? “We really never know where our projects are going to lead,” Maurrasse says, so from a consulting perspective, “we have to be open.”

The funders’ group is a learning community that brings together foundation representatives to discuss policies and practices related to racial equity and other aspects of DEI. When the group was created in 2006, “DEI” wasn’t even a term frequently used in the field, Maurrasse notes.

As he conducted that initial scan, it became clear that foundation staff members were eager to learn from what others were doing and to share their own experiences. So, structuring a permanent group focused on peer learning made sense. It made sense partly because peer learning is a major way in which foundations learn, and a DEI consultant can facilitate that process by exposing staff to case studies or establishing spaces for direct learning exchange. This insight developed into a crucial pathway to transforming individual foundations in their commitment to DEI work.

Today, one of the biggest challenges is to maintain a rewarding and impactful experience for the foundations involved with the learning community, while also providing avenues to influence conversations about these issues in the broader philanthropic field.

The funders’ group has expanded its reach with webinars, publications, and presentations at conferences, but Maurrasse is constantly looking for other ways to scale their work in a way that maintains its valuable attributes. “That’s a part of our ongoing challenge: How do we bring something to scale that is by design intimate?”

Maurrasse is working to multiply the number of learning exchanges by developing a framework that can be applied in a variety of settings. The outcome is an agenda that leads people through a process of exchanging ideas, policies, and practices with each other on DEI issues. It gives them the tools, ideas, lessons, experiences, and practices that they can take back to their foundations to either start conversations or help better facilitate existing conversations about organizational change.

At this point, Maurrasse’s work with the group goes well beyond a consulting project, he says. It’s a case study in how any singular consulting project can transform into a much broader initiative. And it was the recognition of the need for ongoing learning that helped catalyze this development. Thus, in thinking about the kind of roles that philanthropy consultants play, he says, “we have to continually prepare ourselves to be able to take on a range of roles.”

“The reality of being a philanthropy consultant is that we could be asked to do any range of projects,” Maurrasse adds, as reflected in his experience. To be prepared for that, “we have to constantly build our portfolio of competencies to be able to take on different types of structures and initiatives.”

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