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Updated: Mar 13

This year, the Black Equity Collective partnered with a Black-woman-owned firm, Relay Accounting Management (RAM), to provide coaching and technical assistance in accounting management for our member organizations. This partnership further enforces our commitment to fostering economic prosperity and sustainability for Black-led organizations dedicated to empowering Black communities in Southern CA. This transformative partnership will empower our organizations to thrive financially today and for years to come. 


In celebration of Women's History Month, the BEC is highlighting the dynamic and inspiring women we have the honor of partnering with. This week, we spoke with Darlene Wilson, Founder and Managing Principal of RAM, about her work as an accountant and entrepreneur and how she is using her skills to promote racial equity and inclusion in philanthropy. Learn more below.


 


As a Black woman-owned firm, what advice do you have for Black people in philanthropy and accounting who are passionate about promoting racial justice and inclusion in their work? 



Find your allies! Know who is advocating for the work you do. Who is calling your name when you are not in the room. Know and understand the governing policies that are for or against the importance of racial justice and inclusion. Who are your leaders? Who is your lobbyist? It gets political but stay the course. 


Identify your people and whose pockets align with your mission and vision. It's not about being all things to all people but being the absolute best at executing your mission and vision. Be able to prove on paper through your financials that you are good stewards of the resources bestowed upon your organization. Protect your reputation! Operate with the highest level of integrity regardless.  


Can you share a specific example of how your strategies are rooted in equity and inclusion? 


In our firm, culture is very important, and encouraging team collaboration and open communication ensures we are all learning and growing for each team member and leader. We created team task forces in 2023 to ensure we create a space to promote open forums to discuss vast perspectives. It's critical for our leadership to set a tone that aligns with our CORE values and assures accountability for inclusivity.  

We encourage understanding, which cultivates employee equity because this eliminates barriers and levels the playing field. The resistance to change can be limited to one's growth for both the leaders and the employees. Ingrained biases are barriers but create opportunities for us to conduct bias training and create more inclusive policies.  

In our firm, we are intentional. Equity and inclusion are not buried in our handbook and policies but are active and noticeable in our team and their talents and backgrounds. 


Can you tell us about your journey and what motivated you to establish your agency/firm? 


My journey has taken a few turns in the past 18 years. What started as a lifestyle business is now a legacy business for my family. Family is very important to me, and being a mom and working in commercial banking full-time and part-time for a public accounting firm during tax season was not fitting for me. Although "work-life balance" meant something different to all of us, at that pace, I was not getting the balance I needed in "life" to raise my one and only son. My clients at that time planted the first seeds for me to start my own business, and they promised to support me and promote me as an independent accountant. I stepped out in 2005 to open RAM, and my young son was at the tender age of 6 and reaching critical learning years that were more important than ever, and I felt a need to have him closer to me each day.  


As I look back, I did what most new business owners do…we bootstrap our businesses! We give it all we have, and that includes savings, credit cards, retirement accounts, and friends and family resources to open our doors. Many would say this was quite risky for a young single parent of one son. Once I "jumped," though, there was no turning back for me. I believed I would be successful from day one. However, I had an incredibly strong foundation. I'm a 3rd generation entrepreneur, and my parents were dynamic role models, leaders in our community, philanthropic, and hard-working, which led to successful businesses with solid business practices that afforded them continued growth opportunities. I was able to participate firsthand and ultimately realized that my parents' success was a direct result of their commitment to the plan and the process. They exemplified a level of discipline that I have mirrored.  


From the start of my business, my competitive nature kicked in, and my unwavering belief in God set me on a journey of endurance filled with many obstacles that led to the success of RAM. The once lifestyle business is now a legacy business. My son is an accountant and runs our office in Denver, CO! Building a multigenerational company that currently has employees in 4 different states and service companies and organizations in 12 different states is beyond my ancestor's wildest dreams. For these reasons and many more, I'm still motivated to build more to ensure the security of my family and all those we employed, past and present. It's time for us to build enterprises and to continue building the companies we all desire to work for. I'm motivated daily because I'm making my own seats at the table and ensuring I carry others along with me. Never forget to send the elevator down and grab a hand to hold as you rise.  


What are the common challenges that BLOs face in fundraising, and how have you addressed that within your firm? 


The accountants in us see most (all) things from the lenses of numbers. What is your story about the financial health and welfare of your business? Most leaders are challenged for two primary reasons: Not understanding their audience and how to tailor the financial ask and leading with the financial ask as opposed to the impact of the program and how that aligns with the mission and vision of the organization. Also, are you meeting with the gatekeeper or the decision-maker?  


We stress the importance of knowing your numbers. It's important for leaders to learn how to articulate the ask and translate numbers that are clear, concise, and reasonable. Trust that your audience is as smart as you, and they will ask questions for clarity and to further understand the financial position of your organization and how their contribution will make an impact.  


We teach our leaders how to read their financial statements, prepare balanced budgets, and how to forecast. Too many organizations lack accurate record-keeping and bookkeeping. Compliance is a factor that must be top of mind for all leadership decisions. It's not optional, according to the entities that govern Not-for-profit organizations. We provide productized services that include policies, processes, and procedures to improve their internal control measures.  


We provide TA (technical assistance) for companies and organizations that educate leaders through accelerators and cohorts. This work allows us to reach the thought leaders and assist them with best practices regarding their finances and the importance of focusing their time, attention, and resources on learning, continuing education, and building a team to support the works of the organization. It's critical for leaders to learn how to use their financial data to make key and informed decisions. 


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