How do we run a coalition in a way that centers love and wellness?

Learn about the new phase of BIPOC ED Coalition’s organizational structure and how it will build a sustainable infrastructure to better serve the BIPOC ED community.

By Ananda Valenzuela and Victoria Santos, Co-founders of the BIPOC ED Coalition

The word “coalition” comes from a root word meaning “unite, grow together, become one in growth.” We’re here to do that — to unite and grow together. We joined forces to create the BIPOC ED Coalition, a space for BIPOC leaders to hear and support each other, to take necessary action for our own health and wellness, and to advocate together for radical change in deeply inequitable philanthropic systems. This is our vision for the work and also for how we hold the work. 

At the same time, the four founding executive directors each had our own organization to run! So we stretched to make it work, coaching each other on healthy workload and boundaries, while ramping up a coalition on top of our regular jobs. 

It’s been an amazing launch phase. The response from so many BIPOC leaders confirms our deeply-felt intuition: the time is now for this coalition, for this work, for uniting and growing together. We ran an amazing wellness series for coalition members, organized a legislative advocacy agenda for the 2021 session, and collected over 200 signatures for our open letter to funders. In the months ahead, we want to see more funders sign our equitable funder pledge. We want to deepen relationships with members of our coalition, and implement new opportunities for healing and advocacy for mutual support and collective systems change.

We recognize that the coalition needs a sustainable infrastructure in order to better serve our community. So we are entering a new phase that reflects our values, equips us to act quickly, and gives us the flexibility to evolve organically together. 

What will this look like? The four co-founders will become co-executive directors, and we hired an excellent new addition to our team to be managing director. Those titles and roles can be understood in different ways, so we want to share some key insights into how the coalition operates:

  1. We center love and wellness. In order to transform systems, we need to bring both our hearts and our minds into the work. In building this coalition, we have taken the time to build from our hearts and tend to one another as whole people, While outsiders may over-focus on our titles and structures, the true magic of our effectiveness is the way in which we come from a place of love in how we relate to each other and how we do the work. We’ve threaded wellness practices into our organizational fabric and are bringing that orientation to our coalition.
  2. We take a pro-Black stance in all that we do. This coalition would not exist without the Black brilliance of our co-founders, Victoria Santos and Andrea Caupain Sanderson, who originally conceived of the idea of the coalition and had the strategic vision for what it would become. With every key decision, we center the wisdom and values of Black communities most impacted by injustice, and are continually learning alongside our coalition members about what it means to orient towards Black joy.
  3. We use the advice process of decision-making. In the nonprofit sector, the default approaches to decision-making are for one individual to make a decision in a top-down manner, or for a group of people to make a decision by consensus. There is a third way. And that third way is the path we follow, which ensures that those of us with limited hours are consulted and can give input on important issues, while not needing to engage in lengthy group decision-making processes.
  4. Our co-EDs have very different workloads and realms of responsibility. Each co-ED has separate areas where they are the decision-maker, ensuring there is clarity about who is holding each piece of the puzzle. Victoria is our only full-time co-ED. The other three co-EDs are devoting 4 to12 hours each week to the coalition, while working other jobs. We’ve done careful role-mapping to ensure that each of us holds responsibility in alignment with our capacity. 
  5. Our roles will evolve organically. The roles and hours commitments from each co-ED will shift over time, and we have established a streamlined process to guide redistribution of roles and responsibilities when those time commitments are adjusted. That’s why we aren’t writing a lengthy description of the role each co-ED currently holds — we know it will change! Just know that you can reach out to any one of us, and that person will direct you to the right person on our team, if it’s not them.
  6. This approach works because we have high-trust, values-aligned relationships with each other. We can move together fluidly because our foundation is strong. We knew one another before we founded the coalition, and we have forged deep bonds building this plane while we flew it these past two years. We can give each other direct, timely feedback, even when it’s hard. We truly care about each other as humans. And we’re fiercely committed to our collective liberation. 

When we talked about the kind of organization we wanted to build together, we knew we did not want to replicate harmful dominant culture ways of working together. We wanted to build a coalition filled with joy, where we could work together organically and flow smoothly in the directions that make the most sense for what our coalition needs.  

We are inspired by the courage, commitment, and vision of BIPOC leaders across Washington. We look forward to learning together with BIPOC leaders as we collectively move towards more nourishing ways of structuring organizations and shifting the sector in a healthier, more joyful direction. Join us!