Putting Equity at the Center

December 13, 2016

Gateway Center for Giving Member Blog Post: Putting Equity at the Center

by Claire Schell,  Assistant Vice President, Employee Experience, U.S. Bancorp Community Development Corporation

claire-schell-imageI’ve found that there are a lot of companies making commitments to diversity and inclusion. Because of the work U.S. Bancorp Community Development Corporation (USBCDC) does in communities and because of the very real inequities that we know exist, it is important for us to put equity – particularly racial equity – at the center of our diversity and inclusion work. Part of determining our “why” also has to include an assessment of where we were starting from and where we want to go. If we really want to close the gap between people and access to opportunity, we have to know where people are now.

For us, this assessment had to start internally – applying an equity lens to our organizational practices and policies. Becoming more equitable within our own organization will help us to do better work externally. So we embarked on a climate assessment: asking our employees where they thought we fell on the spectrum of being inclusive and equitable. This has allowed us to minimize assumptions about where one or two people may have thought we were. It has allowed us to become more aware of the different experiences of different people within our organization – different racial and ethnic groups, different teams, different levels of awareness about what diversity/equity/inclusion mean. It has helped us to create a baseline for future work.

As we set out on this internal work this year, some of our major goals at USBCDC were increasing each employee’s understanding around our “why,” developing shared language, and building relationships across difference. As you might guess, these required and have led to new and courageous conversations – in anti-racism workshops, monthly racial equity lunches, in team meetings, in 1:1s, and in the kitchen around the coffee machine. Building this internal capacity around naming the issues and normalizing difficult and honest dialogues has helped to reinforce that conversations are real work. They’re certainly not the only work, but are such a crucial first step toward being able to do more of what we want to do. They help people learn. They encourage people to value different perspectives. They allow people to bring more of themselves to work. They demonstrate our commitment in a more active, and vocal, way. They help us get to know each other better. Practice makes progress, and none of us can afford to shy away from these conversations if we really want to make progress.

We’ve also had to ask ourselves the hard questions if we’re really going to make progress. Are we living up to the commitment we’ve laid out for ourselves? Do people have the right tools (language, knowledge, resources) to be successful? Who else needs to be at the table for this conversation? How do we hold each other accountable in different ways? Where are our spheres of influence? What processes do we need to change or dismantle and how do we design equity into new processes? To whom are we accountable in our decision-making? If we do X, how does it advance USBCDC’s DEI commitment? Asking these questions helps us to determine where the pain points are, where we’re moving the needle, and where we need to stop and start certain behaviors and practices.

Our work this year has helped us to create shared value within our organization, to build skills and capacity that we need for the work ahead, and to make sure that as we’re determining each day what we’re going to do, we’re clear about who want to be along the way. As we have intentionally pursued a more tangible commitment to equity, we have seen the power of change in action by aligning more thoughtfully with others and deepening relationships around this important work. This “contagious commitment” – with our employees, community partners, customers, vendors – will ensure that we continue to build momentum, excitement, sustained support, and mutual accountability for the long haul.

So –

  • What is your organization’s “why” for equity and where are you starting?
  • What important conversations do you need to be having to advance shared understanding and learning?
  • What hard questions do you need to be asking?


Note: The Gateway Center for Giving invites Members to submit guest posts that foster knowledge transfer and relationship building to help inform the work of philanthropy.

Stay tuned: USBDC’s experience, as well as that of other regional companies making a commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, will be highlighted in an upcoming GCG program in 2017.


Sex Trafficking in the St. Louis Region & Beyond: Funder Strategies & Responses

September 26, 2016

img_4204Sex Trafficking in the St. Louis Region & Beyond: Funder Strategies & Responses

Blog post by Hudson Kaplan-Allen, Gateway Center for Giving intern, about a recent GCG topical program.

Gateway Center for Giving Members and other philanthropic leaders recently convened to learn from three experts on human trafficking, which, according to the U.S. State Department is “one of the greatest human rights challenges of this century, both in the United States and around the world.”  Sex trafficking, in particular, was the topic of the morning’s discussion.  Amanda Colegrove, Director of the Coalition Against Trafficking and Exploitation (CATE), Kathy Doellefeld-Clancy, Executive Director of the Joseph H. & Florence A. Roblee Foundation, and Rhonda Brewer, Vice President of Sales at Maritz Travel all shared the steps they are taking to raise awareness and implement preventative measures against sex trafficking in the St. Louis region and beyond.

St. Louis has been listed as one of the top 20 trafficking jurisdictions in the United States. It is located in the center of the country, where many highways meet and, thus, it is a prime transit point for traffickers bringing their victims across the country.

Colegrove started the conversation with a definition of human trafficking.  On the most basic level it is the “exploitation of persons for commercial sex or forced labor” that “involves recruiting, transporting, harboring, receipt of and transferring of persons.”  Children are often the victims of sex trafficking. In particular, children who identify as LGBTQ or who have disabilities are generally more vulnerable and easier to separate from their families.  Organizations like CATE have taken steps to put an end to sex trafficking and create safe spaces for survivors by taking part in trainings and outreach as well as expanding the network of organizations involved in the cause.

Doellefeld-Clancy then spoke about the Roblee Foundation’s involvement. The Foundation decided that it wanted to devote its time and resources to an emerging issue and a cause where they could truly make an impact.  They started by educating their board on sex trafficking, reading the book Walking Prey by Holly Austin Smith, a sex trafficking survivor.  The Foundation wanted to pinpoint the best curriculum for training the region on the issue, and they identified CATE as a partner.  Subsequently, there has been increased interest among local organizations to partake in this training and participate in the fight against sex trafficking.

Lastly, Brewer told the audience about the focus that the company has taken on the issue of human trafficking.  Maritz recognizes that “the travel industry is unwittingly used by the chain of human trafficking” and by taking steps to put an end to trafficking, they have the power to help break that chain. Maritz has made a commitment to assist in the fight against human trafficking by agreeing to “The Code”– a promise they have made to “encourage the practice of responsible, sustainable tourism” along with a number of other tourism-related companies. In addition, Maritz has also partnered with ECPAT-USA, an organization devoted to ending the sexual exploitation of children, to raise awareness as well as provide training on the indicators and steps that can be taken by individuals when they see possible signs of trafficking.

St. Louis-Based Crowdfunding

March 29, 2013

With nationwide conversations about crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo, its also important to notice creative use of new media fundraising on the homefront – where St. Louisans get to collectively choose the project they think our community needs, and act as everyday philanthropists to make it happen.

St. Louis-based crowdfunding platforms seem to fall into two basic categories: Supporting Entrepreneurs/Start-Up Business Investment, and Grassroots Community Development.

1. Supporting Entrepreneurs/Business Investment

Rally St. Louishttp://www.rallystl.org/

Rally Saint Louis launched November 14th, 2012

Rally STL is a grassroots funding platform for ideas to impact St. Louis.  Ideas are submitted to Rally STL, and then voted on by the public.  The top 5 ideas receiving the highest votes each month will be selected to move into the “funding phase”, where the general public can pledge dollars towards the project’s fundraising goal.  Unless the fundraising goal is met, pledging donors are not charged for their contributions.  Once an idea is fully funded, the Board of Rally STL (made up of prominent community members) solicits three bid responses to implement the project.  The idea-contributor can offer input to the decision, but does not have exclusive rights to the implementation of the idea.

While not publicized, it appears that Rally St. Louis grew out of Fund St. Louis (http://fundstlouis.org/).


SoMoLend is a peer-to-peer lending company that provides business owners with the platform to raise money from investors or friends and family members looking to make a return on debt.  “Entrepreneurs fill out a loan application and create a SoMoLend profile; local lenders connect with entrepreneurs to request more information and make loan offers.  Entrepreneurs get funding and lenders are repaid with interest.” Businesses seeking loans are mapped using a GPS tracking system, so investors can invest directly in their communities.


OverFundIt is based in Fresno, CA, and is the in planning stages of opening operations in the St. Louis community.  OverFundIt is a community-specific platform for crowdfunding projects within a two-week fundraising window.  Contributors can donate ‘conditional’ or ‘unconditional’ funds; conditional funds typically call for a match from other donors in the network, while unconditional funds do not.  Unless the fundraising goal is met, pledging donors are not charged for their contributions.   Most contributions are not tax-deductible.

2. Grassroots Community Development

Brickstarter STLhttp://brickstarterstl.com/

In response to community conversations about building preservation and restoration in St. Louis, BrickStarter is a crowdsourcing platform for preservation projects.  Brickstarter is currently doing their first project with Old North Restoration Group.  Future projects have not yet been determined.


InveSTL was launched in September 2012.

InveSTL is a charitable fund at the Greater Saint Louis Community Foundation dedicated to supporting the development of great neighborhoods in the St. Louis region.  InveSTL engages in fundraising; 25% of the fundraising goal is given as grants to community projects, selected by voting InveSTL members (who have contributed $100 or more in a calendar year).  The remaining 75% of the fundraising goal is placed in a permanent community building fund at the GSLCF.


Sloup is a grassroots, monthly soup dinner in St. Louis, MO, that supports projects, primarily artistic or communicative.  One Sunday a month, soup is donated by a local restaurant; attendees donate a suggested $10 for a bowl of soup, which is compiled into a small grant.  Artists or small creative businesses submit grant proposals to the group of attendees, who then vote on the winner to receive the funds collected.

Are there other crowdfunding platforms that we’re not aware of?  Let us know!  Special thanks to Nicole’s blog post on a related topic, for revealing some of the less visible crowd-funding platforms.

Improving the Community Development System in the St. Louis Region

November 4, 2011

Last week at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, Professor Todd Swanstrom and Karl Guenther presented the findings of a new report, Creating Whole Communities: Enhancing the Capacity of Community Development Nonprofits in the St. Louis Region” (available at:  http://pprc.umsl.edu/data/EnhancingCapacity2011.pdf).  Based on a survey of 34 community development corporations (CDCs) in the St. Louis region, the report examines the strengths of these grassroots organizations, as well as the challenges they face working in disadvantaged neighborhoods during an economic downturn and declining government support.

Sponsored by the Community Partnership Project at UMSL, a panel discussion followed the report.  The panel was composed of Justine Craig-Meyer of Lemay Housing Partnership, Kimberly McKinney of Habitat for Humanity St. Louis, and Paul Brophy, a national community development expert. The discussion centered not just on the CDCs but on the state of the broader community development system in the St. Louis region, including governments, foundations, banks, and corporations.

Panelists identified three issues facing the community development system in St. Louis:

1)      Many disadvantaged communities, especially in the suburbs, have no CDCs;

2)      Many CDCs have capacity and scale issues;

3)      Place-based community development, which affects the entire region, is not well integrated into regional economic development efforts. Read the rest of this entry »

Citi in St. Louis

May 19, 2011

Citi in St Louis is proud of what we are able to do in the community from volunteerism to community advocacy to the grant and sponsorship dollars that we are able to give in 2010.  We would like to share with you some of our highlights.

Our greatest asset is our employees and we are so proud of all that they do in the community and their generosity to support programs and projects that Citi supports.

Read the rest of this entry »

Where’s the Money? A Deeper Dive into Community Development in St. Louis

May 9, 2011

The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis and the University of Missouri-St. Louis invite you to their first-ever conference on housing data for the St. Louis region on June 2, 2011.  This deep dive into local housing data will include a sneak peek at a new constant quality housing index for the St. Louis MSA being developed by UMSL economist William Rogers.

The Gateway Center for Giving President Mary McMurtrey will be part of the afternoon panel- Where’s the Money? A Deeper Dive into Community Development in St. Louis.  Center members also on the panel include  Kirby Burkholder (IFF) and Patrick Adams (St. Louis Community Credit Union).

The afternoon program will build on the theme of the importance of accurate data in developing successful community development initiatives, including affordable housing, and provide an update on community development funding in the St. Louis region. Topics will include grants, equity, debt, tax credits, investments, new ideas and emerging trends. Presenters from the public, private, and third sectors will address the sources and uses of money and how it is or isn’t flowing through the community.

In addition, the concept of “collective impact,” a large-scale social change requiring broad cross-sector coordination, will be explored in the context of the intersection of philanthropy and community investment.


  • Mary McMurtrey, president, Gateway Center for Giving
  • Patrick Adams, president, St. Louis Community Credit Union
  • Kathy Siddens, vice president and regional manager, U.S. Bank
  • Jim Holtzman, director of community development, St. Louis County
  • Stephen Acree, president, Regional Housing and Community Development Alliance
  • Kirby Burkholder, executive director, IFF-Missouri
  • Robert Boyle, CEO, Justine Petersen
  • Walker Gaffney, Creative Exchange Lab
This event is FREE so visit the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis’s website to register.

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