BY Dominick Albano, Vice President, Full Circle Fund

For organizations tackling diversity, equity, unclusion, and belonging (DEIB), the issue of “power and privilege” can be challenging in order for historically underrepresented people to embrace their power in decision-making. 


Full Circle Fund (FCF), a nonprofit that connects nonprofits with individuals and corporations who provide their pro bono skills and financial resources to help build resilient communities, launched its first “Power and Privilege” training workshop in 2019. The interactive training helps volunteers reflect on how issues of power and privilege are present in their workplace and nonprofit volunteer interactions. 


In 2021, FCF staff conducted a community-based redesign of the training. There is sometimes a bit of ‘culture shock’ when professionals from the private sector volunteer at nonprofits which typically have fewer resources. What might seem like standard business practices in the private sector can be challenging for nonprofits whose staff focus on underserved communities. 


While most corporate DEIB training programs typically focus on unconscious bias, the FCF workshop starts with personal identity. By understanding parts of our own identity—what we choose to share or hold back—we begin to listen to learn, instead of listening to respond. Simply put, power is the ability to effect change, according to The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. Privilege is a benefit or advantage that an individual or group of people have over other people in a society. Much like power, we can neither own it nor claim it, but we still have it. 


Many of the key learnings from the “Power and Privilege” training can be applied to almost any volunteer management program (including volunteer boards) or work setting looking to advance their DEIB goals. Power and privilege can be hard to recognize because they’re not a dashboard or a pie chart. Recognizing power and privilege requires personal reflection using these five benchmarks: 

  • Recognize Perceptions: Volunteers and work colleagues must recognize systemic and racial inequity is key to knowing our identities. 
  • Understand Relationships: Recognize the differences between nonprofits and for-profits and that both types of organizations deserve equal respect. 
  • Become More Self-Aware: Volunteers and workmates must be self-aware of assumptions they bring to engagements, the space they occupy, and time they take up. 
  • Embrace a Growth Mindset: Practicing an active open mindset is key to sharing power. While skills-based volunteers have a lot of expertise, they also have to be willing to be humble and take a step back when they don’t know a lot about the communities served.
  • Own Accountability: Practicing self-awareness, humility, and acknowledging or apologizing when at fault is key to sharing power in order to build trust between volunteers and nonprofit leaders.

Learning about power and privilege isn’t a check box, it’s an ongoing journey. Once you see systems, you can see ways that you’re benefiting or perpetuating them, and you can practice sharing power and making change. Download the free “Power and Privilege” Insights Report here.