At the start of this year, Alliance magazine announced plans to conduct its first Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) audit. Our stated aim has been ‘to better understand how to further our mission to provide an inclusive platform that represents and celebrates a diverse range of practitioners while highlighting equitable philanthropic approaches from all regions of the world.’
Good EDI practice can mean many things but in essence – and critically for Alliance – it’s about reflecting those you seek to serve and amplifying the voices of marginalised people and communities. That’s notoriously hard in the field of philanthropy where the structures, values and norms are all too often shaped by those with power and wealth. Philanthropy reflects the elites and not the streets, as one veteran observer put it.
But what does philanthropy’s widely documented diversity deficit mean for its specialist media? Philanthropists and philanthropy professionals alike – our ‘target audience’ – write for us, serve as our guest editors and on our boards. Yet, as a ‘critical friend’ with an aspiration to be a reforming voice, we may be tempted to consider ourselves immune to the shortcomings of our field when, in reality, we simply reflect them.
Thanks in part to support from the McKnight Foundation, we were able to work with independent EDI experts Impact Culture to see ourselves through an EDI lens. Since January, they’ve examined our practices, policies, and contributors. To do so they conducted surveys, focus groups, and interviews with a cross section of readers and stakeholders.
Today, we’re publishing the results of Impact Culture’s investigation of Alliance, in full.
The encouraging news, according to 75 percent of respondents, is that ‘Alliance is a magazine that prioritises EDI themes’. Moreover, the report states that ‘Alliance is seen as an organisation that is professional and well-run. Participants repeatedly shared their appreciation of the high quality of the magazine and its contributions.’
Equally encouraging was survey data which showed that 78 percent of people either agreed or strongly agreed that Alliance ‘was doing a good job when engaging speakers and writers from underrepresented regions.’ We are glad that our consistent effort to ensure a diversity of voices is paying off.
But, while the report was positive overall, it also documented several areas for improvement.
First, it identified a need to do more to break down barriers for people to contribute. As one respondent out it: ‘If Alliance had the means to pay contributors in some instances, this would bring more voices of all backgrounds to contribute, without being expected to volunteer their time for free.’
These barriers are not just financial, they are also linguistic. As another put it: ‘There should be proactive calls for contributors to write in their language and Alliance to arrange and pay for translation…this should be policy not an ad hoc offer.’
Second, there were calls to make editorial processes more transparent including how we decide who and what to publish, and how we choose special feature subjects.
Third, some raised concerns that organisations who use our paid for content services create biases which risk skewing our coverage. ‘Your business model means that paid-for content from big companies…may be more visible than content from smaller and more marginalised voices’ warned one respondent.
These are all fair concerns. To address them, as Alliance looks ahead, we’ve been working on how to bring these considerations into our strategic planning. So, what will be do differently?
Breaking down financial and language barriers
Top of the list, we will be seeking to remove financial barriers for marginalised contributors. That could include a fund designed with a clear process setting out who might qualify. We’re also mindful that English is not most people’s first language. As Alliance is a global publication platforming voices from all over the world, we will seek funding for a translation service allowing contributors to write in their own language, where needed.
We’re also taking active steps on our editorial decision-making. It’s true that we are more likely to be aware of certain foundations than others and therefore they could be overrepresented in our coverage. We’re already addressing this by widening our networks and sources through the employment of a news editor and representatives in every region of the world.
Transparency of submissions process
In response to the report, we’re now improving transparency of editorial decision-making. Today, we’re launching a new permanent space on our website with improved submission guidelines. These guidelines explain how to submit opinion, news, and analysis, and how to propose special features. They make clear that financial support of Alliance does not provide editorial access or preference. Our editorial processes are the same for everyone.
In response to perceptions that paid-for content services such as conference reports or event organisation services can skew coverage, it’s worth noting that these make up less than 4 percent of our overall annual output and in no way remove opportunities for others to contribute. They are additional, meet our editorial standards, and do not restrict or determine the editorial choices we make for over 600 pieces of written content per year.
Demarcation of paid advertising
As well as ringfencing the impact of paid-for content services, we will continue efforts to ensure that paid advertising and communications are clearly presented as such. They are an important part of our sustainable business model, but it is our responsibility to ensure readers are aware of the editorial ownership and provenance of anything they receive.
Ultimately, the philanthropy media should be a critical friend to the field. In truth, that’s a difficult balancing act. As one respondent put it: ‘Where is Alliance a voice of the system versus where is it meant to push the system?’
Good question. We need to lead by example to preserve our readers’ trust. That means constant improvement and vigilance directed towards us, as well as our field.
Today’s report is an important milestone as we become the place to be for what’s happening in philanthropy, everywhere. In doing so, we’ll bear in mind a comment from one of our readers:
‘How different would these conversations be if we talked about liberation, anti-oppression and justice rather than EDI?’
That is the right question for everyone in philanthropy to continue to reckon with, ourselves very much included.
We remain committed to this endeavour for the long haul and welcome your feedback.