Partnerships Move at the Speed of Trust

Before I write this week’s fakequity post I want to address what is happening in the world. Last week I wrote about subtle forms of racism. This past week’s news is exploding with headlines about race—everything from Justice Anthony Scalia and his disparaging comments (he needs a historical lesson and to learn about structural racism), Donald Trump’s endless mean spirited comments towards Muslims, locally in Seattle hate crimes. I think we sometimes forget about the personal impact and the everyday experiences.

A friend, who is Somali, shared that her elementary age son came home from school saying another student told him: “All Muslims are bad people and they kill all of the Christians.” The vitriol and hate in this one line is enough to crush a parent’s soul.  My friend is now dealing with reassuring her son that Muslims are not bad people and they don’t all kill. She’s also having to talk to teachers, school leadership, and others about the implications of what is happening in her son’s school.

I grew up learning about the internment of Japanese-American after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, in fact I am writing this on 7 December—the anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. I remember watching in the days after 9/11 as then U.S. Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta resoundingly say U.S. airlines were banning from practicing racial profiling or subjecting Middle Eastern or Muslim passengers to extra scrutiny in the wake of 9/11. I remember thinking despite the turmoil of 9/11 “we got this one right.” As a country we learned from history, we learned from the internment, we learned that we cannot project fear and hate on a group because of the actions of a few.

I am reminded that while we have made progress we still have to be intentional and persistent in calling out racism. To my friend and her son, while I haven’t personally experience internment, Islamaphobia, or bigotry of the overt nature you are experiencing, please know I will actively work to prevent history from repeating itself. Fakequity is about calling out fakeness and working to create better systems to prevent inequities. I challenge you as a fakequity follower and reader, what are you doing to call out the racism you see or hear?


A flame that burns as hot and bright as Justice Scalia or Trump’s racism cannot sustain itself forever, and many of us will be working to douse it with a fire hose.

Partnerships move at the Speed of Trust
I’ve been thinking a lot about partnerships this week. I’ve been thinking about how amazing they are or how draining they can be. At the PolicyLink Equity Summit I heard the line “Partnerships move at the speed of trust.” This one phrase captures the sentiment so well. Within my organization we’ve brought great content and projects to our coalition quickly because of partnerships that we built or nurtured. In a few short months we’ve taken on more work and projects because we were able to partner and work with coalition partners.

Behind the Partnerships – Trust
Trust can be magical and soothing, like watching a baby panda roll around or torturous like listening to overly long and boring introductions at meetings. Trust starts with little things—returning an email even if it means you’re working while watching Master Chef, showing up on time (or within the five-minute grace period), picking up the phone even when you see on caller ID who it is and you’re thinking “crap this going to take a while,” to just being a nice person. My strongest community partners are those who I know have my back and I will do my best to support them as well.
Trust takes time to build and earn—If you want to go fast, you need to be patient
When I first started at my job we were approached by an organization that wanted to financially support us. We needed the funding, but I was hesitant to accept the money because they have strong political views and influences and I didn’t want to get caught in their politics. Because I was new I didn’t have relationships to help guide me, nor the trust with the leaders. Many questions ran through my head– were they going to use us, were they genuine, what do they expect in return, what would others think? We ended up accepting the funds and using them to support a community building event.

After the event we hosted a lunch between our organizations. We needed to build relationships and to get to know each other. We invited about a dozen diverse community partners, and on the funders side they brought a group of their members. Over papaya salad and rice noodle bowls we shared a meal. As I welcomed everyone, I told the group there wasn’t an agenda, there weren’t going to be formal remarks, we were there to get to know each other. I asked people to talk to each other, and to rotate seats so they could get to know each other. Spending time together and learning about each other was so important and the right work. Working towards racial equity was present at that meal because we were learning how to be together.

Spending time lingering over a noodle bowls and dessert allowed us to accelerate our work. A colleague just told me the phrase “If you want to go fast, you need to be patient.” By being patient and building the relationship we’ve been able to do more work together versus having it be a one-time opportunity. We’ve also been able to support each other through some tough times.

A few weeks ago I flipped through my Netflix account and rediscovered the Tom Clancey movie Sum of All Fears. Towards the end of the movie Jack Ryan, a US intelligence officer, is covertly talking to the President of Russia (or the Soviet Union – can’t remember which) trying to convince him not to blow up America. Ryan basically says: you sort of know me but not really, I’m telling you America is vulnerable, please trust me when I say you need to stand down first, hopefully we won’t blow you up as you stand down. In the end Russia disarmed first and the countries went on to sign nuclear arms agreements. While trust in the nonprofit world is rarely this dramatic, the same idea of showing vulnerability in our sector. In my work I sometimes feel the pressure to impress others, the opposites of showing vulnerability. No one wants to go into partnership with a know-it-all.

The vulnerability has to go both ways. In order for trust to build I need my partners not to throw me under the bus when I say I don’t know. At some point I also hope they can feel equally vulnerable with me. This could be something as simple as saying “I trust you to choose where to eat cause you know where all the good food is,” to something more complex and saying “I’m stuck on a problem, can you help?”

Communities of Color and Building Trust and Partnerships
In communities of color we have to work to build trust in multifaceted ways. We have to work to build trust with mainstream organizations and funders. We have to prove to them that we can do the work and we are able to achieve the outcomes expected.

We also need to build trust within our own communities and often times across communities. Within my coalition I work to build partnerships across my community and to foster trust between partners. There are times we nail it, and there are an equal amount of times where we haven’t done our work on building trust and need to continue working. I continue to work at learning about communities different than my own. It is amazing how fast some of our projects have gone because we have built trusting relationships with partners.

I’ve also experienced how quickly a partnership falls apart because the trust was violated or not as strong as it needed to be to begin with. As an example, a colleague told me about a grant she recently wrote and invited another organization that works with a different immigrant community to join her in applying. Partnering allowed them to apply for more funding and leverage their work. However, when I last talked to my colleague the grant application was falling apart because they are both concern about how the work will happen and the funds will be handled—code for there isn’t enough trust in place yet to ensure both of their agendas and organizational needs will be met.

Be a Partner for Equity
Partnering for racial equity means partners need to ensure their partnership is equitable—not equal, but equitable. For larger established organizations this means looking at how money is distributed, are you passing through enough to make the work happen, are the outcomes being asked for proportional to the size of the grant, are the right conditions in place to make the partnership a trust building one, are all of the partners on board with what it means to work towards racial equity outcomes?

For smaller organizations we have to have the courage to say no to partnering when it doesn’t drive towards equitable outcomes or authentic partnerships. When I first took this job I almost said yes to a small grant that wasn’t aligned with our racial equity agenda. It was hard to say no, but I said no because we didn’t have a firm relationship and trust in place. We’ve since gone on to learning more about each other and having some hard conversations have led to better results. In many ways saying no to the grant upfront, has allowed us to build a stronger more equitable relationship.

Thanks for being a partner in our blog and for trusting us with five minutes of your time. We know you could have spent your five minutes looking at panda videos, but you trusted us with them—thank you.

I would like to give credit for the original quote, if anyone knows who said “partnerships move at the speed of trust,” please comment or email so we can properly acknowledge the originator.
Posted by Erin