| TACS' Guadalupe Guajardo Leads Nonprofits to Success
Ask Guadalupe Guajardo for a quick overview of her role as Senior Associate with Technical Assistance for Community Services (TACS), and she will tell you that she’s a "doctor for nonprofits."
Specializing in organization development, board trainings, leadership development, and cultural competency, Guajardo works alongside grassroots and community-based groups to ensure that they are functioning well. “I make sure that their vital signs are healthy. I look at their mission statement to see at what needs to happen to help their organization thrive,” she said.
She is a co-founder of Tools for Diversity, a multi-cultural training team that presents solutions to problems caused by privilege, prejudice, discrimination, and oppression. For the past 12 years she has worked with the Center for Third World Organizing based in Oakland, California, developing and supervising leadership programs for young people of various racial groups.
Recently, Guajardo spoke with Oregon Minority Business about her experiences as a Latina woman activist, organizer, trainer and a lesbian-identified Catholic nun.
What are some of the foremost challenges faced by nonprofits? Both men and women don’t get enough support for their leadership: not enough time to reflect on their leadership, time to analyze their leadership; to set goals for their professional enrichment.
Another challenge is how women in key leadership positions are struggling to find a way to integrate women’s values in what has been a male-dominated world. Most of them don’t get support for their leadership. I start with leadership support sessions and coaching.
There’s a study that shows that men only need to feel 10% confident to say what’s on their mind or to take action. Women need to feel 90% confident before they will put themselves forward. Women wait and process until they are confident enough to proceed. In the meantime, there might have been a crisis that needed attention.
In the nonprofit world, men don’t always know how to find a role for themselves in a primarily women-run field. Often, they don’t know how to integrate the best of their female culture into a manifest leadership position.
Men lead differently: they are much more action-oriented, not as interested in talking about their feelings or processing. So we made a plan on how to involve the men more, find a way to engage them and use the value-added dimension that men bring to an organization.
What have you learned from working with nonprofit management and boards? When I work with boards of directors, what I generally hear is: “My board is not stepping up to the plate.” They don’t feel that they’re stepping in to their full role and responsibilities. When I interview the board members, what I often hear is: “I don’t know what’s expected of me.” Both sides are missing each other – I call that a leadership problem. The board isn’t asking what exactly is expected of them, and executive director isn’t being explicit about his expectations.
Lack of supervision is another big challenge. Often, somebody would get promoted into leadership, and it’s assumed that they should know how to supervise. Cross-cultural leadership is a challenge: how do you supervise across class, race, gender, sexual orientation. We’re in transition from a more control model to a partnership model. The challenge is how to know when to use which model. How to know when a situation calls for decisive, urgent action, and when it is important to check in and involve others… called “tapping” to get input. It is important to apply executive leadership techniques when matters are time-sensitive and urgent.
Many people work in the nonprofit community because they don’t want the pressure and culture of the business world. They want a flatter structure, but they often haven’t clearly defined a decision-making process. Decisions still need to be made, but it’s not clear whether majority-vote or consensus is being used. Most groups I work with want to be collaborative and inter-dependent, but don’t necessarily use the word consensus. But in fact, that is the intent.
How did your family and cultural background shape your career in nonprofit consulting? Our family started out in Texas as migrant farmworkers, then migrated to the Midwest. My parents were very thoughtful not to point racism out every time we turned around. It was clear that racism was a reality when we’d go and find a home in a trailer park, and they’d say that it’s full. It’s hard to know whether it was really full or that they didn’t want Mexicans. Knowing that we’re a collective culture, so if we’re there, we’re going to invite our families and friends.
They didn’t taint us against the world. My parents always taught us that if we work hard and you’re honest, you’ll do well in life.
My parents moved back to the southwest, and eventually we became more middle-class, more mainstream. I became an Avista volunteer, got involved in toxic waste dumping in minority communities. When toxic waste needs to be eliminated, put them in poorest parts of town, which also has communities of color. I was involved with that movement with eliminating toxic waste dumping in southeast part of El Paso, Texas. I was fascinated by how much the environment was impacting poor communities, so chose to work in that area.
What makes me effective at what I do is that I have a very varied background. After two years of being a VISTA (Volunteers In Service To America) volunteer, I moved to the West Coast. I worked for Citizens Action League, a nonprofit in San Francisco, one of the first organizations committed to funding social change. When I was 29 or 30, I got a scholarship to be trained as a trainer for nonprofits. I was a political activist in the ‘60s and ‘70s, so I always had a strong consciousness and awareness of social justice issues.
As a child, I’d watched my father do fund-raising for his causes. Immigrant rights were a big cause. He also worked through our church, making sure that we have a strong faith community, because that is where we’d go for safety and comfort when times were hard. He also actively worked with white allies who wanted to know what they can do to help the Mexican immigrant community. He was the bridge person. He was also active with the Mexican-American Chamber of Commerce. My mother supported him in all his efforts. for church fund-raisers. I like to tell people that I became an organizer for my father and a nun for my mother. She’s a very prayerful woman, very spiritual. I feel like I’ve integrated the best of both worlds.
How has your cultural background – being a woman of color – impacted your work? I’m also lesbian-identified, and I believe that different perspectives add value to my leadership capabilities. I did my dissertation on leadership at the margins of society. The conclusion that I came to is that multiple oppressions offer multiple perspectives. The more intersecting oppressions one has, there is more opportunity for creativity and problem-solving. As women, we know that it’s a male-run world. We don’t give up being women to survive in the world, but we have to know how the male world works in order to survive in it. Men are not forced to have to integrate female culture, but if women are to survive, we have to have a huge awareness of the male world. Hopefully, we get to combine elements of the male culture with the female culture. As women, we’re relational, intuitive, caring and nurturing.
Could you talk about current issues in diversity or cross-cultural training? The nature of the work has changed – it’s much more than racism and more about oppression in general. Initially, we spent a lot of time describing the problem of oppression. We realized that a lot of people who were coming to the trainings knew what the problem was. What they needed were solutions. What do we do when we want to interrupt a prejudicial comment? How do I ask when I’m curious about a difference without offending? When I make a mistake, how I clean it up?
Through Tools for Diversity, we present a four-step “ally” model, a redemption-based model that doesn’t make anyone else to be bad or blames. The first step is helping people understand that human beings are basically good, and often do things that are hurtful and offensive, mostly unintentionally. Guilt doesn’t help. I often teach that it’s the lowest form of human motivation.
The second piece is awareness that one culture is not the center of the world. To have self-knowledge and self-awareness is very important, particularly recognition that we have all been hurt, and that what we are unaware that what we do is pass on the hurt to others.
The third step is understanding power dynamics. If most of the people doing the hiring are white, chances are that they will hire more white people. They are in a position of power to level the playing field. Power dynamics are always operating. If we’re in a position of authority and power, we have a responsibility if we’re in a position of authority and power to use our authority in a way that liberates human beings and doesn’t perpetuate domination. It’s easier said than done.
The fourth step to the ally model is taking action. Everyday, there is an opportunity to take action. We don’t have to wait for the right moment. If you’re in a meeting and notice that men are doing all the talking, say “I miss hearing from the women.” There are always opportunities to take action – I call it the “slow drip method.” If everyone is doing something, everyday to advance human liberation, it’s a slow, but a continuous way to bring about change.
Since you started conducting diversity training in the late 1980s, what changes have you observed? More people, especially white people, now recognize that they have culture too. Language has changed from diversity to cultural competency, and an emphasis on becoming cross-culturally effective. More people are realizing that, besides eliminating racism, sexism, classism and heterosexism are also forms of oppression. Some people contact us to say they want to look at all forms of oppression, but others might specifically want to work on class, race, gender or sexual orientation. That’s been a wonderful development.
County government used to require cultural competency training before nonprofits become eligible for a contract or grant. It was mandated. Now, when people contact us, it’s usually because it comes from their hearts. The intent is more thoughtful. They want to learn about how to become more culturally competent, because they sincerely believe that it will help improve the organization.
What do you consider as the most rewarding aspect of your work? No two days are the same. There’s a lot of variety in my work. I’m always learning about new groups that are doing good work. I love knowing that the disability organizations are forming coalitions. It makes me very hopeful when I see groups that notice what’s missing in society and want to start up an organization to help meet that need, and that I can play in helping make sure the organization is strong enough to do what their passion is.
I really like working in my own backyard. I get asked to work all over the country, but I like working in Oregon and helping make Oregon a better place to live.
From a spiritual point of view, all the nonprofits are working to heal and repair the world. If I can participate in that, that feels very good.