48: Creating an Equity Centered Approach to Coaching & Leadership with Trudi Lebron

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“It was a scary decision (to go out on my own) but I’m able to do super-meaningful work and in some cases, it’s more meaningful and transformational now that I’m in control.”

– Trudi Lebron
Episode #48


In this episode of What the Fundraising Podcast…

Stepping from a nonprofit career trajectory into a for-profit consulting practice required some adjustment on the part of my guest on this episode of What the Fundraising. Trudi Lebron had to recalibrate in some unexpected and liberating ways, changing outmoded practices that are now helping her change our world.

Today Trudi Lebron Impact Coaching serves a wide variety of leaders looking to get beyond old, harmful power structures and processes that have shaped the corporate and service sectors. She and her team are disrupting entrenched systems, the default to a “normal” that has for centuries marginalized people based on color, gender, and class. This work requires sustained, intentional, and fearless education and Trudi is here to walk us through the fundamentals.

In this episode we get to hear a lot of details of Trudi’s experience in the nonprofit sector, and what it was like to transition into running a successful consulting business. We talk about why equity-centered coaching is so critical – recognizing that coaching generally defaults to a version of success that is biased and based on a normative model that defers to white, colonial, patriarchal standards.

To move out of this, we need to redefine what success looks like in a number of ways, including how we track it and what metrics we truly value. We go deep in this conversation into the broken nature of nonprofit funding and how the system is set up in a way that often diverts the executive directors from their organizations’ core mission into a never-ending fundraising role and distracts from the organization’s primary focus and mandate.

Throughout the episode, Trudi gives so much advice for nonprofits that want to break the cycle of white supremacy in the service sector. You’ll come away from this conversation with plenty to contemplate and new perspectives to consider. Listen now to learn about how this work intersects with your organization’s leadership and how you can shift your practices now!

After this episode, click here to learn more about and purchase Trudi’s new book, “The Antiracist Business Book: An Equity Centered Approach to Work, Wealth and Leadership.”

We also want to make sure that you know about The Collective. This is Trudi’s community in support of coaches and leaders looking to level up impact-driven business and disrupt old-school patterns. You can also check out her The Institute for Equity-Centered Coaching, a leader in comprehensive DEI education and the application of anti-racist and equitable business practices.

Many thanks to our sponsor, Learn Grant Writing, an online learning experience that makes grant writing approachable and fun. If you want to learn more about how to align your fundraising and grant writing practices – watch a FREE fireside chat with me and the Meredith → learngrantwriting.com/mallory  


sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable 

Trudi Lebraon


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Get to know Trudi Lebron Impact Coaching: Trudi Lebron Impact Coaching provides coaching and consulting to social impact leaders in the nonprofit and for-profit sectors. We offer a series of coaching opportunities, including Executive Coaching, Professional and Personal Development Coaching, Business Coaching for Social Entrepreneurs, and Race Equity Coaching, and Leadership Coaching for Millennial Women of Color. Trudi also co-hosts the podcast That’s Not How That Works, a show about race, equity, and decolonization in the coaching industry. 

Click here to learn more about and purchase Trudi’s new book, “The Antiracist Business Book: An Equity Centered Approach to Work, Wealth and Leadership.”

We also want to make sure that you know about The Collective. This is Trudi’s community in support of coaches and leaders looking to level up impact-driven business and disrupt old-school patterns. 

Many thanks to our sponsor, Learn Grant Writing, an online learning experience that makes grant writing approachable and fun. If you want to learn more about how to align your fundraising and grant writing practices – watch a FREE fireside chat with me and the Meredith → learngrantwriting.com/mallory 


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episode transcript

Mallory Erickson: Welcome Everyone. I’m so excited to be here today with Trudi Lebron. Trudi, welcome to What The Fundraising. 

Trudi Lebron: Thank you for having me. 

Mallory Erickson: I have been following your work and really have been such an admirer and just have such respect for you and your leadership in this space. And so I’m really honored to get the chance to talk with you today. And maybe we just start with you giving some background and what brings you to this moment in  time?

Trudi Lebron: Yeah. Oh man, so I started my career in the non-profit industry. I worked in non-profits for maybe 15 years or so, doing a lot of direct service work in inner city communities, where the same communities that I grew up in working with young people. And then like most of us do in the non-profit world just like working up from direct service, to coordinating programs, to directing programs and departments, et cetera, et cetera.

So when I left the non-profit industry, I was an assistant director of a department running multiple programs and managing millions of dollars in both federal grants, state grants, and then local foundation grants. So doing all of the programming and reporting, et cetera, and continuing to feel burnt out.

And like we were doing a lot of treating symptoms of problems and doing great, like meaningful work, but still really feeling like there was no end in sight. And also feeling very frustrated about the amount of time I was working and the amount of education I had amasked and not feeling like I was being equitably compensated for that time.

And I had a real need for making more money. I will never be able to pay back my student loans. I will never be able to purchase a home if I just continue. So I was on a path to be an executive director and decided to just start my own company and learned a whole bunch. I started really learning about entrepreneurship and participated in a number of business incubators and coaching programs and things like that. And doing a lot of consulting on the side while I was working in the non-profit industry. And eventually I was able to, my consulting firm was growing, and I was able to replace my income. And once I saw that was a real possibility, I was like, okay, I’m gonna put all my focus here and see what happens. And that was the best decision that I could have made. It was a scary decision, but I’ve been able to really do super meaningful work. In some cases, I feel like the work is more meaningful and more transformational now that I’m in full control of the work that I’m able to do. And equitably feeling, like equitably compensated, being able to hire people and paying them. Yeah so that’s kind of how I got here. It was very old school, non-profit boots on the ground work. 

Mallory Erickson: I love that. And I share a lot of overlap in your story that brings you here and really appreciate you sharing that background.

And I’m curious, when you started to make that shift from non-profit into the for-profit world, were there any realizations or things you noticed or mindset shifts where you were like, gosh, I wish someone had told me this when I was working in non-profit. 

Trudi Lebron: Yeah. For me, it was actually that someone had to tell me, and there’s a very, I will never forget this moment. I was in an incubator, like a business incubator program. And I had been consulting at this point for years and I have really started getting serious about putting more and more focus on my own business. And I was sitting with a mentor during this incubator program and putting together my business plan and working on the budget for my business that I was going to build. And the mentor who was someone who was a successful business person, sitting next to me said, this is a great plan, but why does your budget end with zero?”

And I literally could not comprehend the question. Like when I legitimately I looked at the person with a blank face, what do you mean the budget ends in zero? And so they pointed out, here’s all the money that you brought in and then here are all your expenses. Like you’ve spent all the money you’ve made and all this. Yeah, of course I did. I could not wrap my head around what they were saying because in the non-profit world, that’s how you build a budget. Like you tell the funder exactly to the dollar, what you’re going to do with that money. And if you don’t do it, you actually have the return, the money, and it puts your future funding in jeopardy. 

So literally until that moment, it had not occurred to me that I didn’t have to spend all the money that the business was going to make and I was like, it seems so obvious, but it’s just not if your whole career was spent doing non-profit work, it just doesn’t occur to you. So that was a transformation and it changed my whole life. I was like, what? And as soon as I saw it, I was like, oh, obviously right. But it took a little work for my brain to reconfigure, to just understand that this is different. 

Mallory Erickson: Honestly, you even just saying this right now is shifting, is making me realize how many similar things I’ve done in my business.

Like when someone first was like, you’re profitable. And I was like, what  does that, what do you mean? Oh, so I can pay myself more now or they’re like, you can, and you can also leave money in the business. And I was like, oh okay.

Trudi Lebron: I know it seems so silly. Yeah, that’s a learned behavior and thought process. And again, in an industry where having money left over is actually a liability. It just doesn’t occur, like you just bring that skill with you. It’d be like, oh, I can maximize a budget and do really good things is a bit weird. Yeah. I’ll never forget that moment. 

Mallory Erickson: Yeah. That is wild. And I’m curious what do you think that lens that we look through in the non-profit industry, that this is such a good example of just how much our beliefs and learned behaviors impact our ability to do things differently or manage change. And to me, one of the things that always rattles me around this is okay we are supposed to, in the non-profit sector. And I’m just going to go with this for a second, given your history, we’re supposed to be solving these massive challenges in society supposed to, with air quotes. And yet the way that funding happens and is restricted and creates this belief system and us, about the use of money. It makes me wonder if it’s possible for us to really be the innovators and the change makers here without those pillars of the sort of financial regulations, fundamentally changing.

Trudi Lebron: Yeah. I think the answer is no, I’ve thought a lot about this and I’ve read a lot about this. This is the kind of thing that for non-profits who don’t have an endowment of their own and who don’t have earned, like a significant earned income, like revenue stream or plan and are solely dependent on grants.

You are  beholden to your funders. And unfortunately, this was my biggest frustration outside of just the fact that I wasn’t making enough money to improve my life situation. One of my biggest problems was that there is such a gap between the experience and understanding of the problems by people who are most affected by them and who are indirect service and the funder.

And there’s a similar kind of phenomenon in Higher Ed, where professors are theoretical and historical experts on things, and they’re teaching in a classroom, but they haven’t actually been doing the solving of the problems, like on the ground. And so there’s this disconnect between practice and theory.

And so the same thing exists in the non-profit world. This real breakdown between what funders understand the problems are believers of solutions are and what we know to be true on the ground. And so if the people who are asking, or who we’re giving money to say, this is what we’re giving money for, I’ve seen non-profits contort themselves and their programs to suit the funding opportunity, even when they know that this plan is not the best for the population that they’re serving. And I don’t think that you can do anything about it unless there are significant changes to the way that funders are collaborating with agencies and people who are most affected, that there is more access to unrestricted funds. There just needs to be so many changes, including the fact that I just wish that more non-profits were more entrepreneurial and weren’t so afraid to do some of the things like have earned income, revenue streams, and collaborations so that they can have more of their own income that they can do things with. I think the whole thing needs to be re-imagined. 

Mallory Erickson: Me too. So I really agree with everything that you said, and there are so many organizations that are not primarily grant funded, but the mental framework of the grant funding process is still running how they do things.

Trudi Lebron: Absolutely. 

Mallory Erickson: And so they’re not pushing back on a restriction suggestion from an individual where that person’s just throwing something out there. They’re throwing noodles at the wall and the person could totally push back and say, actually, I think what you’re trying to do is have this impact, which actually would best be achieved this way. But because of that, this sort of paternalistic structure of the grant funding, it just is adopted or used in all of our relationships with funders. So I really appreciate you saying that. I’m curious, you mentioned this piece around needing to leave the sector in order to have a more financially sustainable life for you.

And then you share this sort of the way in which the sector really impacted your beliefs about money and spending and all those things. So tell me a little bit about that transition. What was it like for you to start making more money 

Trudi Lebron: It was weird and continues to be weird. Like I tell people all the time, you don’t realize the toll that it takes on a person. And toll, maybe that’s a strong word I put there, but there is definitely an impact, psychological impact, it’s like, there are a lot of things that shift when you start making more money.

So there’s a social experience of just having more and being able to do things that you couldn’t do. And there’s also a little bit of survivor’s guilt that will kick in, especially if you grew up and spent large amounts of time without a lot of money and just like coping and surviving, and then your social environment becomes connected because of those struggles. And then, so if those struggles aren’t there anymore, you start to wonder how you relate or if you relate. Then obviously there’s all these things that you can do because you have more money and all of the, should I do it? Like how I feel bad? What’s really important? So there’s a whole lot of stuff that starts to happen when you start making more money. And then even when we bought a house, we moved, we’re in a different kind of neighborhood. The people who live in this neighborhood don’t share a lot of the same kinds of life experience where we live.

So just like even the ability to relate with some of the new people that we’re interacting with is a little, it’s just odd. You just wonder, sometimes people make assumptions about who you are and where you came from. And it’s just very, there’s a lot of culture shift that happens when you start to transition social classes 

It just takes, there’s a psychological and a social impact. I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining because obviously it is much easier to deal with that then the stress of not having heat or lights, which I have experienced also, so it’s like very different circumstances. But it’s certainly not like business as usual, you just don’t go about your day exactly the same, like things do start to change in your life. And there are a lot of feelings and processing that you have to go through because life is different. 

Mallory Erickson: Have you done any sort of intentional processing around sort of money stories or been coached around money as you’ve experienced those pieces?

Trudi Lebron: It’s actually really interesting that you asked that question because part of the reason that I do the work that I do right now and focus a pretty significant amount of our time, like talking about coaching, and thinking about coaching, and writing about coaching, teaching coaching is because when I started my entrepreneurial journey and was exposed to some of the coaching around like money mindset, I found it to be very gaslighting and very really anchored in patterns of whiteness and racism.

And I had really bad experiences with some of the coaching that I was seeing take place. Like it was just rooted in so much privilege and didn’t relate at all didn’t sound like the experience I was having. And that’s because historically coaching doesn’t account for culture, it doesn’t account for race. Like the training that people get either comes from a formal coach training program. That, again, historically those haven’t been prepared to teach people about those things. Or people are teaching from their own life experience. And so if they’re white and wealthy, or even if they have overcome different levels of poverty, they’re not able to account for the type of racialized, poverty, and marginalization that a lot of black and brown folks and indigenous folks and other racial minoritized communities have faced. And so it’s just different. So I experienced it, not a good experience, but that is what fuels a lot of my work. 

Mallory Erickson: So, inside your coaching work, do you do work intentionally around money that provides a more equitable framework or has decoupled some of those pieces that you feel like are particularly harmful?

Trudi Lebron: Yeah, so we teach an approach to coaching. Our proprietary approach to coaching is called Equity Centered Coaching. And so we actually teach an approach to coaching that centers equity across all identity, social identities, so race, class, gender all of the ways that people can be oppressed or marginalized, we teach a style of coaching that doesn’t make someone a DEI expert. That’s not the intention in our coach certification program, but it does help people be a coach that accounts for those things so that they are not gaslighting people so that they can allow the client sitting in front of them to be the expert in their own life. And to be able to account for different ways that people have experienced their identity and to support people and coming through that. 

So whether it’s money or performance or business coaching or health coaching, or whatever type of coaching someone is doing, there are ways to approach your coaching practice that really rejects just all of the ways that we have normalized whiteness and normalized toxic capitalism and normalized unhealthy power dynamics. Those things are taught and replicated and all these systems. But they are also choices, like we don’t have to do that. 

Mallory Erickson: Yeah. I really appreciate you sharing that and I’m thinking about one of your podcasts recently and you were talking about this piece around the relationship between the system and the personal experience and how the Coach Institute, one of the reasons why it’s so critical is because there isn’t a way to just lay over maybe other forms of DEI training or something like that with coach certification and say, oh I am a equity centered coach, because I have this framework and I have this framework because inside the coaching framework fundamentally, right are racist practices. Can you give us an example or two of that, of how that materializes in coaching?

Trudi Lebron: Yeah, I think that there are lots of examples, but what’s hard about examples is that coaching isn’t standard. So everybody has their own way of coaching. But what I can say is that typically when people are coaching, let me, I want to make sure that I’m saying this so that it’s clear and that I’m not, I don’t want to be dismissive of just the practice, right? So typically when people are coaching or many times when people are coaching and they don’t have this kind of framework, this equity centered framework or anti-racist framework. They are coaching with the intention of moving their client to this very, this fixed idea of what success looks like. But typically that version of success is really biased based on what we have been taught, like this is what everybody should want. And that model, the house and white picket fence and two kids and a dog, that kind of whatever and making all the money. That’s a biased idea, right? That idea that there is one fixed version of success is in and of itself is biased and is based on white colonial patriarchal standards, right?

That’s how our world, that’s how our nation was built. So everything, unless it’s intentionally not that, defaults to that. So a lot of times coaches are operating from this idea that moving their clients to that version of success is the goal, but it may not always be the goal, right?

That goal, in some cases I’ve seen this a lot, that goal is the very thing burning people out. We need to have more versions of what success looks like. We need to have space for our clients to dictate what their version of success is and that when we support them in interrogating, even their own idea of what success is so that it’s an authentic one and not based on what they think they should want based on what everybody else has.

And so there’s a lot of detangling that needs to happen in relationships with clients to really get them to a place where they’re setting goals and visions for themselves that are aligned and are authentic and are best suited for the kind of life that they want to live.

Like right now, everyone, if I see another ad learn how to have a six figure launch or a seven figure year, or this figure that. That’s not what everybody wants. Like you would think that everybody is out here trying to have million dollar businesses but I can tell you from experience that not everybody wants that. Like you get that and you start to see the kind of responsibility that it is. And sometimes you’re actually better off and more profitable if you don’t have a seven figure business. But if you have a multiple six figure business, or if you have a solo practice with you and a VA, and you can keep most of the money that you make. But everybody has something different, like everybody needs to find what their thing is, what their right fit is. 

Mallory Erickson: I so appreciate what you’re saying. And I think there’s two pieces here that are coming up for me.

One is that I very much went through that process in my own business, and it’s interesting because I do feel like it goes back to that conversation about money a little bit. And some of what you’re talking about is really similar to how I talk about non-profits, through the grant funding world that we view and that we let define a lot of the metrics of success for the sector, in general. We have this grow, like that’s what success is an organization that went from 300,000 to 2 million or 1 million to 4 million. 

But is that success? What about that $300,000 grassroots organization that has been doing incredible work in a local community that needs to be lifted up as success. And that all the ways we look about funding and sustainable funding and all those things are as exactly as you’re saying for the coaching industry and everywhere is being dictated by these things. So that’s a really, I think that’s just a really big takeaway for the non-profit leader who’s listening to this, which is you also taking a step back and saying like, how am I defining success? Who, what structures and systems are impacting, how I’m defining success.

Does it really matter to my donors that we’re growing year over year? It might not. That might be a total assumption that you’re making. I’m curious what are some of your thoughts about that?

Trudi Lebron: Yeah, I think that especially in non-profit work, one of the biggest metrics of success should be outcomes, right, like not and real outcomes. Yeah, like actual outcomes. I write about these different dimensions of impact, right? So in this model it’s called the five dimensions of impact that talk about the different ways that we can conceptualize impact. And most of the time people are talking about what I call reflexive impact.

So outcomes that someone experiences themselves, so basically the definition for reflexive impact is the impact of your effort that you experience. So you put all this effort out and you make a whole bunch of money and your budget increases. That’s a reflexive impact, right? Like you yourself are experiencing it. Your team grows, right. Like these kinds of things, your email list grows. Your donor list grows, right. And we need to be more focused. I think that any impact driven business needs to be more focused on primary impact. So the impact of your effort that your direct client is experiencing, and those should be dynamic, not just like attendance rates and like the number of people you served, but what actually is the difference in their life.

And one of the things that was really demoralizing in working in non-profits, especially the last couple of years that I was working because I started graduate school. I started a PhD program, I was learning a lot about data and outcomes and research and all this and realized by both running programs and managing grants and at the same time, taking these advanced quantitative statistics and like in particular, like statistics and outcomes for social science work, that I would spend lots of time writing a report and we would send it to the funder and no one would look at it. Like the funder would look at it to make sure we spent the money but there was no systemic process for taking the report, sitting down with the team and the funders and saying let’s look at our outcomes. How do we improve them? What do we learn from this effort? And that’s really where data is super powerful is when we can learn from it and make strategic improvements.

But the cycle of non-profit funding was so aggressive that it was like, get the report to the funder. Cause we got to start the next program or we got to get the next report. So I think that we could do a lot more if we slowed down the way that we thought about our strategic impact and what that means. And then what we learned from the impact that we’re making so that we can make both improvements to our programming, to our leadership, and to our funding, because the information is sitting there in the grant reports that no one has looked at in a year. You know what I mean? And what we have as a whole bunch of program directors and program coordinators who are investing way too much time in reporting and all the administrative things, which takes them away from thegroundwork and unless anyone is actually looking at that data, it’s really wasted time. 

Mallory Erickson: I love it. And I totally agree. And it’s interesting because at the beginning of this conversation, one of the things that came to mind when you were talking about your experience in non-profit and watching your work, over the last five years or so, as long as I’ve been along for the journey is how iterative you are as a person and your business is. And just that you always really strike me as someone who is listening and learning and changing your practices, your offerings based on the needs of your community and the larger community. And I can imagine that sort of disposition could be really frustrating in a non-profit environment.

Trudi Lebron: Yeah, because, so in our process is, and we have made, I would describe the changes that we’ve made over the last five years as really like slow transitions and deepening of our practice. We essentially do the same work that we did five years ago or six years ago now when I left the non-profit industry. It’s just that we’ve scaled it, we’ve deepened it. We haven’t radically shifted our audience or our brand or anything like that. It’s not like we’re doing youth programming one year, food justice work the next year. Like chasing a grant.

But we’re really thinking about what’s shifting in the world? What do people need? Like where do we create knowledge? Where do we partner and listen? We’re really doing that so that we can deepen and scale. And then as we’ve grown, for example, a certification program, that’s something that I have been talking about wanting to do for years, but I knew that I could not do that with the kind of integrity and rigor that I would have wanted to do it like three or four years ago, because we didn’t have the capacity. I didn’t have a team. We didn’t have our systems set up for that. We didn’t have the audience to support that kind of initiative yet. And so we grew into that. And that is based on looking at our audience, talking to our audience, understanding what they need, understanding what’s working. What’s not working, cut, stopping, not doing things that aren’t working when we realized that they’re not working, right. 

And in a non-profit that becomes so hard because especially if the funders are not really collaborative, because you’ve essentially pitched an idea, that’s really a concept, it’s a theory, right? You, when you design a program, you’re like, we think this is going to work. We hope this is our idea. And if you get three months into that initiative or four months into that initiative and need to pivot, a lot of people don’t want to get on the phone with the funder and say, Hey, this isn’t working, let’s renegotiate this. They just want to be like, oh, we have eight months left on the grant so we’d just better do it. It is such a waste of time. I would much rather get on the phone. When I was working in non-profits, I did this not all the time, but like when, whenever we needed to call the funder, this isn’t working, we learned this or something has shifted in the last couple of months or in the law. We need to explain that this can’t happen anymore. 

I remember one time, this is sticking out to me. The first week of working, I asked for all the grants that I was going to be responsible for, which apparently no one had ever done before. Like you will have in some institutions, grant departments send out grants and never even talk to the programming team, that happens all the time.

I come in, I asked for these grants to see what was promised and immediately saw that what was promised, was not a good plan. It was good in terms of numbers, right? Like we would serve a thousand kids and bring them in and do this and that, but it was just not really feasible. It would take a lot of effort to do, and the long term impact would be minimal. And I’m like week one at the job, I’m like this needs change. This is not a great program. Like I get why you thought it would be, but you hired me because I have this expertise in youth development and youth programming. We need to get them on the phone with them and see what we can do. And we were able to make strategic shifts and come up with a plan that would be much easier to execute and also more effective. And that thankfully the funder was like, not just like fine with it, but they were happy to be included in the conversation.

Not all funders respond that way but they should, funders need to understand that just like in a business, there needs to be an iterative approach. We need to be open to pivots, to changes, to transitions, to trying new things. Yeah, it’s still a business, just because you are a non-profit, you’re still a business. 

Mallory Erickson: Yeah. I really appreciate that. And I think, certainly there needs to be a big shift in the funder world and the understanding of the power dynamics at play for foundation funders and grant funders to take the lead on the conversation. And I think that non-profits are seeing more than they have in the past, that when they do things like that, say, Hey, this isn’t working like we believe that you are really committed to this outcome and impact with us. And this is a hard pill to swallow for us too, because we really did stake a strong belief in this framework but we need to shift. And I think more often than they have in the past, they’re seeing reception from the funder, it’s mucky, it’s not easy, it’s not clear cut, certainly takes some time. And time that maybe can’t be accounted for in the same way that just continuing the program would, but what’s the point of just continuing a program for eight months that isn’t working.

Trudi Lebron: Yeah. But this is also a bias right on the part of the funder and I’m like, it is shifting and I’m glad to see that it’s shifting. And funders historically being less flexible comes from this belief that people who have money and people who have these fancy degrees are the experts and are supposed to know what to do to fix the problem, right?

And that oh, you said you were going to do what, or you have to do what you said you were going to do. Those rules apply in a non-profit context because people historically who have had money and power want to be in control. But that is a double standard, because if that same money were an investment in a for-profit company, the funder or the investor in this case would want any strategic pivots to happen as soon as possible.

Mallory Erickson: I think this piece that you’re bringing up right now is actually really interesting and something I think about, and talk about a bit too. And I’m curious from your perspective, what is that rooted in, the oversight process given to non-profits and non-profit leadership versus a for-profit business imagining for a second, because I’m trying to decouple like a number, like imagine for a second that, or maybe this isn’t even possible that the founder of the for-profit and the founder of the non-profit are the same person, in like parallel reality. What fundamentally shifts the way they’re treated.

Trudi Lebron: Yeah. I think it’s the dependency, the financial dependency, honestly. I think that once, there’s a couple of big differences between the non-profit founder and a founder of a for-profit company. They’re usually motivated by the same thing. They’re usually motivated by a desire to, and I’m talking like impact driven entrepreneurs, right? They’re usually motivated by a desire to improve the world in some way, or improve people’s lives in some way, whether that’s through providing a service or a product or really anything.

But the difference is, and they’re significant, one is that the executive director in this case, half of their job becomes to be a fundraising professional and like a liaison, like a board liaison. Which immediately, it takes so much time away from the actual work that has to get done. Usually like all of your board obligations and fundraising have nothing to do with actually delivering the service or designing the product that you are fueled by, like to want to create. 

Whereas the CEO that becomes the majority of their job is to actually get this product or service to market. Whether they’re bootstrapping, now if they have to fundraise, that’s a little bit different. They have to go on like a tour and find investors and all of that. But if we’re talking just two people who want to just bootstrap and start up a business, the executive director becomes part service delivery professional, like direct service personnel, and part time director of philanthropy and fundraising. And that ask, the fact that you can’t deliver your service without the financial contributions of other people creates this power imbalance. It just does, it creates a power imbalance where the people who have the funding can dictate how that money is used, what it’s used for, how it’s used. They get to critique the effort, give input into the effort. A for-profit founder does not have to deal with that unless they’re taking significant investment and giving up shares. But usually that founder already has a business plan. People are investing in the idea already, so there’s some buy-in and usually those, not necessarily usually, but ideally those investors become collaborators and like advisors and kind of mentors instead of like critics.

And I don’t know experts in this way that I’ve seen play out in the non-profit world that is just very different. And I think that is, I think that is that major difference fundamentally shifts how people work in their business or the executive director is this intermediary role between funders and the community that they’re trying to serve and whatever team they’ve put together and is trying to keep everyone happy.

Whereas a funder, a CEO founder, their priority becomes the business, like selling the product, making sure you’re sustainable, like getting it out there. There’s not all these personality things to deal with and permissions and it’s very different.

Mallory Erickson: Yeah, it has been a fascinating journey from non-profit and for-profit for me to have just been like, whoa, this is a whole other world. And so yeah, I really appreciate you sharing some of your insight there. I have one more question before we start to wrap up and tell everyone where to find you and how to sign up to join your programs and get more invested in your work.

And maybe this is actually a little bit of the feeder into the leadership track that you have, which is I’m thinking about a few of the different components we’ve been talking about this piece around money and the historical ways where we are taught both about money, but also about how to unwind our beliefs about money being rooted in like white supremacy culture. I’m thinking about fundraisers, black, brown, indigenous, Asian fundraisers, and they’re expectations around raising money in these massively inequitable power dynamics, oftentimes overseen by a white leader. What’s a piece of advice that you would give, not from a certified coach perspective, but just like an internal coaching perspective around how to support those fundraisers in their work.

Trudi Lebron: So I think that every person who is doing any kind of leadership work in any non-profit or any institution, especially if you’re committed to impact and equity and anti-racism, needs to go through intense anti-racism and anti-oppression work. Because the system is so entrenched with things that we just think are normal. Like in the day-to-day operations of a business and the way we supervise people and lead and do performance appraisals. And all the things that we think are just normal business things, that a lot of them actually replicate oppression, like systems of oppression. And so understanding how that is the case and examining what you might be holding on to as professional standards that might be impairing your ability to actually lead equitably and support your team.

I think that’s work that everybody has to do, just the same way that everyone has had to, or has to take, professional development on all different kinds of things. This is one of those areas that people really should be paying attention to because we have been so conditioned to a lot of standards of oppression and whiteness that are just toxic in the workplace.

And that’s why we have so many people leaving the workplace right now because they don’t want to, regardless of race, but this is work that everybody should be doing. I think the other thing that I think should be happening is just creating space to hear from your staff about what they need, right? Just what are the challenges that they’re facing? What are the professional development needs they have, where do they feel stuck or stalled. And look for patterns and take it seriously. Start thinking about what you can address from a policy perspective and a procedure perspective versus what we hope people’s personalities are. 

For example, if a fundraiser is courting a philanthropist and is dealing with microaggressions, they shouldn’t have to play nice with that person. Like at some point you have to decide, do you step in, do you call them out? Is that person’s money really worth it? Is that you really have to make hard calls around all of those kinds of things. And you don’t know, unless you’re talking to your team, you need to have space for those kinds of candid conversations, and you need to be making decisions about where you stand. Where are the lines in the sand? 

Mallory Erickson: Yeah. All right. I’m going to hold myself back from asking a bunch of other follow up questions.

Tell everyone where they can find you, and if they are interested in diving deeper with you, what are the best avenues to do that? And if you want to talk about the book, just all the things. 

Trudi Lebron: Yes. So the book will be out on April 19th, so we’re recording this a couple of weeks from then, it’s available for pre-order now and all the places and also an Audible, audio book, if that’s what you prefer. So get the book, The Anti-Racist Business Book. That’s a great place to start. 

If people are new to this kind of conversation and they want to take the next step we have a membership program that’s like a professional affiliation. It’s called The Collective for Equity Centered Business. And you can come to my website, Trudilebron.com and check out The Collective. That’s a great first step and of course we have our certification programs. We certify people in coaching and in leadership. So these are 12 month programs that really help people examine their leadership practice and learn new leadership skills or coaching skills. And this is, we have business coaches, life coaches, health coaches, all different kinds of coach, executive coaches, all kinds of different coaching. How to do that work in an equity centered culturally responsive way. So those are the things that we do, but come hang out with us on Instagram, that’s easy and free to just come and hang out with me there. Say hello at Trudi LeBron. 

Mallory Erickson: Amazing. And there’s actually one more question, is there a non-profit you would like to highlight? We always invite our guests to highlight a non-profit that’s near and dear to their heart.

Trudi Lebron: Oh man, there are so many. Who’s coming to me right now is the agency called Compass Youth Collaborative. They’re based in Hartford, Connecticut, and they are one of the few non-profits locally that is exclusively focused on young people.

There are a lot of agencies that serve youth as a component of all of their other services, but Compass Youth Collaborative is an organization that I’ve known for years. And I’ve always been very impressed with their focus on serving youth and young adults who are underserved and marginalized and they just have done a really good job at sticking to that population, serving them well, not succumbing to any mission drift. So I think that, because of our conversation today, there are other people that are sticking out to me. And they have also, they’re also one of the agencies that have done a really good job at diversity throughout their leadership. And really having an identity match between the people who are working in the agency and the people that they’ve served. 

Mallory Erickson: I love that, we’ll give links and shout outs and everything below. So thank you for sharing that with us and thanks for joining me for this conversation today.

Trudi Lebron: Thank you for having me.

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