2019 - 2021
To mark our 30th anniversary Seattle Works wants to learn from our past and chart a path into our future. Read the letter from our Executive Director and our Board President detailing our strategic direction for the next three years.
We are writing to share some exciting updates about Seattle Works, and how we’re thinking about impact. We hope this letter will inspire you to learn more and continue with us on your own journey.
Acting locally matters. Seattle Works strives to be at the epicenter of how people and institutions connect in this town. We are an early point of contact for millennial transplants looking to plug into their new city; a leadership trainer for employees at local companies and neighbors-at-large; and a capacity-building partner to nonprofit organizations all over town. Through local action, our organization has been an integral part of the fabric of this community for thirty years.
In 2018 alone Seattle Works connected around 4,000 of our neighbors to volunteer opportunities. Some of those opportunities were one-and-done work parties like restoring a wildlife refuge at Lake Sammamish; others were ongoing, like serving on a nonprofit’s board of directors. People have found their causes, their besties, and their partners thanks to Seattle Works. And most importantly, they have felt an increased sense of belonging and thus accountability to support this town we love so dearly. That’s why Seattle Works exists: to help people plug into their community in a fun and meaningful way, and one that is rooted in meeting the needs of our nonprofit partners. We’re not just here to help you feel good, rather to truly do good.
We are proud of our work over the past thirty years, as well as the progress we made on our last strategic plan over the past three years, from 2016 - 2018. For example, since 2016 the number of annual sign ups on our volunteer calendar has quadrupled to around 3,000; the number of Bridge: Board trainings we are leading each year has nearly tripled; and the quality of all our programs has been strengthened by technology, expectation-setting with partners, and overall world class leadership by our staff team. In the spirit of our core value of “We Have Fun”, we relocated our Seattle Works Day [our epic day of service in June] afterparty from an indoor cafeteria-style basement to the outdoor terrace of a beloved local brewery. And, we have increased our brand’s visibility significantly, through op-eds we have co-authored, features by local and national media outlets about Seattle Works, and a more prominent social media presence which now boasts over 20,000 followers. Internally, in effort to recruit, retain, and value the best talent in town, our staff members receive much more competitive compensation and benefits; we moved our office to Impact Hub Seattle, one of the largest concentrations of social entrepreneurs in the country; and we’ve welcomed a new and diverse set of funders into the fold. Our staff, board, donors, and partners have been beyond and truly breathed life into the plan we launched in 2016.
As we’ve executed on our last strategic plan and seen our reach grow, we have become more intimately aware of our role and potential in the community. We work closely with nonprofits, individuals, and businesses, often serving as the glue that brings it all together -- Seattle Works is a gatekeeper and connector of valuable resources and human capital, and that’s a big responsibility. We have gained clarity that the best way to honor this responsibility is to acknowledge and address race, power, and privilege, both in our organization and in our community.
To us, “diversity” is defined as the full participation, inclusion, engagement, and empowerment of individuals from different races, ethnicities, genders, gender identities, sexual orientations, national origins, ages, socio-economic backgrounds, physical abilities, religious beliefs, political beliefs, ideologies, and other attributes that make us human. We want everyone who aligns with our mission and values to see themselves in Seattle Works and as changemakers in this town. We will continue to champion and protect diversity of all types, and we recognize we must simultaneously and specifically lean into courageous conversations about inequity. Our paid equity consultants, experts in the field of building inclusive efforts, have advised us to start with a laser-focus on race, as it will hold us accountable and translate to other facets of diversity.
Thanks to support from these consultants as well as trainers, authors, peers, implicit-bias tests, and feedback from staff, board, and community members about their experiences with Seattle Works, 2018 led the Seattle Works board and staff to double down on our strategic priorities of Programmatic Excellence, Brand Awareness, and Organizational Sustainability, while revolutionizing the plan by rooting our goals in racial equity. Our mission hasn’t changed at all, we just want to be better and more intentional. And we have a lot of work to do.
Racial inequity in this country has been consciously and systematically erected, and can be undone only when we acknowledge it, and work deliberately to dismantle it. Our ally and author Ijeoma Oluo discusses how an inequitable system does not care about intentions, “it only cares that you participate in the system.” So, the goals in our strategic plan relate to “the active process of changing systems, organizational structures, policies, practices, and attitudes, so that power is redistributed and shared equitably.” The goals in our three-year plan (2019 - 2021) touch all aspects of our organization, from our staff’s decision-making processes, to how representative our own board is, to how we’re using our social media voice, thanking donors, educating program participants, and showing up and learning from local coalitions. The plan is rooted more in relationships and intentionality than sheer scale. Our goals aren’t perfect. But they’re in writing and we’re going for it. The plan will be posted on our website soon; for now, we wanted to give you a preview of how we’re thinking about realizing our potential, and thus the potential of this beloved town.
The need for this approach is clear, and underscored in findings from the City of Seattle’s Race & Social Justice Initiative that clearly highlights racial disparities in our own community, and BoardSource’s ground-breaking piece Let’s Stop (Just) Talking About Nonprofit Board Diversity that discusses the “dangerous” racial leadership gap on nonprofit boards. And as we’ve learned from our colleagues at Repair the World, there are key questions that should serve as a baseline for any volunteer project. For example: Is the project framed for volunteers as partnership and “service with” the community rather than “service for”? And we’re listening to people like our friend Ruchika Tulshyan, a leading expert on the power of diversity in the workplace, who recently authored “Seattle-area women of color share how they navigate the workplace”.
At Seattle Works we believe the millions of people of color who have testified to how their lives are impacted every day; as an employer and community mobilizer, Seattle Works has a moral obligation to be part of the solution. And we have a responsibility to ensure that everyone, including people of color on our staff and board and in our programs, feels a sense of belonging with Seattle Works, and that their human potential and spirit are fueled by our organization. Seattle will simply not be the “thriving community” we envision if we do not focus on representation and equity during this critical inflection point in our region. With a mission that includes “developing leaders”, Seattle Works has an opportunity to cast an even wider net and invest in leaders and organizations from all backgrounds that will ultimately strengthen the core of this city.
Working to dismantle systemic inequality will never end for Seattle Works, though we crave the day when all of this will come much more naturally, through “unconscious competence” if you will. In the meantime, by formalizing equity goals into our 3-year strategic plan, we will ensure that this work will no longer default to staff and board members of color, or people who happen to care most.
We hope this update encourages you to re-engage with Seattle Works or join with us for the first time. We are hopeful for this city that we love so dearly. Acting locally matters; we hope you’ll act with us.
With much love and appreciation,
Board Chairperson Almeera Anwar, Executive Director Ben Reuler, and the entire staff and board.