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For the past few years, the Black Equity Collective has been honored to partner with 30-year non-profit veteran and philanthrepreneur extraordinaire Amber Wynn to lead our BUILD organizational resiliency program and compliance series. Thanks to Amber,  our members were audit-ready!




In celebration of Women's History Month, the BEC is highlighting the dynamic and inspiring women we are honored to partner with. This week, we spoke with Amber Wynn a philanthrepreneur and non-profit consultant, and how she uses her skills to promote racial equity and inclusion in philanthropy. Learn more below.

 


Tell us about your journey and what motivated you to establish your agency/firm.


In January of 2011, my aunt unexpectedly died of COPD. Two weeks later, my mom succumbed to breast cancer. And three months after that, my boyfriend of 4 years died suddenly from lung cancer. Two months after laying them to rest–despite four years of stellar performance reviews and multiple promotions at a Fortune 500 healthcare company–I was placed on a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP). It was the aftermath of taking down a Sr. Vice President for attempting to fire my direct report, a beautiful, thick, dark-complexioned sistah with big full braids that he felt “wasn’t a good fit.” 

I fought for three months to keep my job until one day, I didn’t. I woke up one morning and thought,” If they don’t want you here, you don’t need to be here.” So I went in at 6 a.m. to pack up my office and sent my supervisor, a younger white male I had trained two years earlier, an email informing him that I had resigned effective that day. 


I grieved for three years. I took a couple of contract positions that helped me become clear that I just didn’t want to work for anyone anymore. My sons were adults, so I didn’t have the same level of responsibilities. However, I have over 25 years of experience in nonprofits, which could help nonprofit leaders strengthen their organizations. So, that’s what I did.


How did your personal and professional experiences shape your commitment to racial justice and equity in the philanthropic and nonprofit sectors? 


A native of Watts, I saw nonprofits come and go. But when they were there, they exposed the residents to experiences we might not otherwise have had. These nonprofits were typically white folks. After a while, we stopped trusting and getting attached because the programs never lasted long. It made me curious about funding cycles and the impact of the lack of program continuity played in marginalized communities. It’s one of the reasons why I focus on resiliency, diversified funding streams, and long-term sustainability–I understand how a community is impacted when vital services are no longer available. 


However, my time as a grant writer has had the most impact on my commitment to racial justice and equity in the philanthropic and nonprofit sectors. I realized that Black folks started nonprofits because there was a gap in their community, and they were committed to filling that gap. But they had no idea that starting a nonprofit was starting a business. 


As a grant writer, I saw it all. BLOs needed infrastructure, an understanding of the nonprofit sector, funding, rules, or skills. But they were passionate about making a difference. Passion is not enough for an organization to be successful and certainly not enough to create sustainability. 


After realizing that writing successful grants did more harm than good (because the leader would blow through the grant without understanding all that came with it: compliance, reporting, stewardship.) I shifted my focus to teaching BLOs how to run a successful nonprofit business. Having that knowledge is much more powerful because it positions the organization for continuous funding, growth, resiliency, expansion, and long-term sustainability. 


What does Black permanency mean to you?


Black permanency means legacy-building. It’s creating a nonprofit organization that exists decades after the Founder is gone. It’s a strong culture, strong processes, diversified funding, and a vision that meets the needs of the communities it was created to serve. Black permanency means we’re more than just an initiative, more than a marketing catchphrase, more than the flavor of the month. Black permanency is our birthright; it’s unapologetically speaking truth to power, staying ten steps ahead, and getting what is rightfully ours so that our legacy lives on for generations beyond us.


Can you share how your strategies are rooted in equity and inclusion?


Having been on the Funding side of Philanthropy, I am keenly aware that BLOs are not privy to the culture of giving. My strategy is to provide BLOs with insider secrets, knowledge, approaches, values, and beliefs from the Funder’s perspective to help powerfully position BLOs for success. 


My strategies are straightforward: speak the Funder’s language, understand their rationale, and remove the Red Flags that prevent BLOs from passing the eligibility screening. My strategies are to teach BLOs the rules and then teach them strategies to win the game. Those are rooted in equity and inclusion because, to me, that’s leveling the playing field. 


I can’t change the racist players, but I can equip the BLOs to play the game to win.


In your opinion, what are the key elements of building equity in philanthropy?


It’s representation. If I were a billionaire in Philanthropy, more Black–led nonprofits would be funded because I understand their plight. I wouldn’t question their ability, integrity, delivery model, etc. I’ve lived it and know what they do and how they do it is effective. But when you have white people with no lived Black experience making funding decisions, our organizations don’t get funded. So, building equity in philanthropy requires more representation in the room. 


It also requires a clear path. BLOs are not privy to so much knowledge that it prevents them from competing on a level playing field. A clear path outlines the steps, the requirements, the expectations, the culture, and the rules. When we have the knowledge, we can compete. Knowledge is withheld so that we are systematically eliminated from funding opportunities.  


How does your work with nonprofit organizations place them on a path towards long-term help sustainability? 


My nonprofit management training provides leaders with a clear understanding of how to run an effective nonprofit business. From operations to accounting, marketing to fund development, community engagement to human resources, and all the intricate details that come with running a business, place BLO leaders on a path toward long-term sustainability. 


I share this knowledge so they are powerfully positioned to make informed decisions. When our leaders have this knowledge, understanding, and skills, they have the confidence to bob and weave and create opportunities leading to long-term sustainability.  


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


Knowledge is power. I advise Black people and nonprofits to equip themselves with accurate knowledge. Passion is good, but knowledge, or lack thereof, is where we get cut off at the knees. Promoting racial justice and inclusion is a long game. If we are not in a position to fight the good fight, we cannot make a difference. So, we have to stay ready. Ready to respond. Ready to move. Ready to do the work. But we cannot win the battle if we walk into a room unprepared, without accurate information. If we lose too many battles, we lose the war. Promoting racial justice and inclusion brings attention and scrutiny. So, as Black leaders, we have to stay ready. Knowledge, in our case, is not only power but essential if we achieve justice and inclusivity in philanthropy.


To learn more about Amber Wynn visit www.amberwynn.net


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