Your Organization Needs to Focus on Racial Equity. Now.

By: Anne Keenan, Partner & Managing Director, Strategy & Partnerships at Purpose

Whenever you put pressure on a system, you see all the faults, all the hairline cracks and places where things never quite joined up. And the pressure that COVID-19 is putting on all our systems is making racial inequity impossible to pretend that you don’t see.

From the inequitable COVID-19 deaths by race in the United States, to who is an essential worker, from who is able to work from home, to the ways different protesters are treated, from the recent murders of Black Americans, to the anti-Asian graffiti popping up in cities, systemic racism is looking us in the eye.

Now is the time for every organization focused on social impact to put equity, starting with racial equity, at the top of its agenda.

This looks like:

How are you prioritizing racial equity at your organization? Here are a few recommendations of where to start, based on some work we’ve been doing at Purpose over the past few years:

1. Assess where you are. How are you doing with racial equity internally and externally? Hire a consultant, or conduct a racial equity audit yourself, starting with:


  • What is the experience for people of color at your organization?
  • Where do people of color sit in the organization? Do you have senior leadership of color?
  • Do you pay, assess, and promote equitably by race?
  • Do you recruit diverse candidate pools, and pay attention to representation in your hiring process?
  • Have your racial equity goals taken a backseat in the age of COVID-19?


  • Are you incorporating racial equity into your analysis of the problem you need to solve?
  • Can you articulate the historical and contemporary impact of racism on your issue space?
  • Are you including those most affected by the problem in generating your solution?
  • Are you talking to partners, donors, activists, and constituents about racial equity?

2. Determine where you need to go: What is your vision for how and where you need to change to promote racial equity?


  • Do you have a shared vision for what it looks like to be an equitable organization? Can you articulate how racial equity will strengthen your work and your impact?
  • Do you have the commitment of leadership (including your board) to prioritize racial equity? What about when it costs money? What about when it competes with other priorities?


  • Can you articulate how racial equity helps you to solve the problem you’re addressing?
  • Which perspectives are you missing? Do you need to consider bringing in trainers, partners, grassroots community members to help you have a broader perspective?

3. Plan how you’ll get from here to there: What is your roadmap to make change?


  • Do you know what you need to change / grow / stop to increase racial equity?
  • How will you change the way you operate? Consider your: performance management approach, pay scales, hiring process, internal meetings, and decision-making structures?
  • What is your plan to scrutinize every internal decision from a racial equity perspective? Bake a consideration for racial equity into each decision making process.


  • How will you communicate differently? Consider your key messages, your boilerplate, your press releases, your spokespeople and surrogates, and your partner communications.
  • How will you shift who you work with and how you work with them? Consider your vendors, your partners, your funders, and your donors.
  • Which programs will you change or prioritize because they address racial equity? Which will you let go of, because they don’t meet the mandate?

These, of course, are initial questions, and are intended to serve as a starting point, a call to action, a reminder that this is the work you need to be doing today. Your organization’s list will look different and have many more specifics than those above.

As a White woman, my own White fragility has, at times, caused me to hesitate, to be silent, to wait for someone else to say what to do. As a White person, I have had to reckon with the fact that my advancement, my success, and my position are rooted in systemic racism and in my White privilege-privilege I did not earn, but have certainly benefited from and used. I have had to face my mistakes and the harms that I have caused, and look hard at my own racist acts, statements, and silences to learn from them. As a White leader in an organization, I know that it’s my job to use my privilege to ensure a better workplace, better work, and a better world. I can’t wait.

There are lots of resources available to help you start or continue your organizational journey on racial equity. I strongly recommend the following people, organizations, and resources that have helped me on my journey, and would love your additional suggestions:

Let’s build a better world together.

Originally published at on June 1, 2020.

Purpose builds and supports movements to advance the fight for an open, just, and habitable world.