Reflections from our 2023 DEI Learning Network Retreat

Author: Megan MacDavey and Chuck Colston

For two days this November, we had the privilege of joining seven nonprofit leaders at an equity focused retreat in Beverly, Massachusetts. This retreat was the culmination of years of partnership, via a learning network, with leaders from grant partner organizations who are advancing equity within their organizations and communities. 

Like any good retreat, this getaway had just the right combination of rest, fun, and connection, thoughtful content, excellent facilitation, and of course, SNACKS. Perhaps the real magic of this retreat was that it was co-created by the members of the team (something of a rarity in our world at the Foundation where power dynamics abound, even when we do our best to mitigate them). Over the past year, the team worked together to design a budget, set its hopes and expectations for the retreat, develop an RFP to select a facilitator, interview many talented facilitators, and ultimately pull it all together. 

While our learning network is made up of many skilled facilitators, we consciously decided to hire a facilitator to lead this retreat so that everyone could be a participant, and so that we could give network members an opportunity to reflect. The retreat was facilitated by LoveSeed, a Boston-based consultancy that specializes in equity work. During the planning process, the group was clear that they wanted a facilitator who would create a custom experience, not a cookie-cutter training, that included new content that they could bring back to their respective organizations. LoveSeed did just that: They developed and executed a two day agenda that challenged this talented team with new content and reflection opportunities, and left us feeling like they’d been a part of the network the whole time. 

We were able to come away from this retreat with deepened relationships with network members, better awareness of one anothers’ challenges and victories, personal inspiration,  and several racial equity tools/frameworks to apply to our work. LoveSeed also helped us hone our own facilitation skills by modeling the pieces of the work that can be so hard as facilitators: slowing down to make time to hear everyone, pivoting when the discussion wasn’t matching the content, and responding to the cues of the people in the room at every turn. 

We also spent time doing the work of connecting with one another and resting up for the work that awaited us outside of the two day retreat! We shared meals and laughter and rental cars. We even spent one particularly cold night touring the city of Salem and learning about its history and lore. 

This team has been an essential part of our journey at the Foundation to become a more equitable grantmaker. Network conversations over the years have reinforced for us how important equity is to our grant partners’ work and our communities. This team has also taught us to be better conveners and facilitators, how to bring together a diverse group of leaders, and how to eat an elephant (one bite at a time).

DEI Learning Network Members: 

  • Hehershe Busuego, Director of Programs & Racial Equity – Essex County Community Foundation, Danvers, MA
  • Chuck Colston, Program Officer – Peter & Elizabeth Tower Foundation, Buffalo, NY
  • Kelly D. Dumas, Executive Director, Healing Hub, Buffalo, NY
  • Lindsay Haldeman – Private Consultant, Rochester, NY
  • Gary Lyon, consultant – Centerboard in Lynn, MA, and VP of Innovation and External Affairs/Senior Diversity Officer – Judge Baker Children’s Center, Boston, MA
  • Megan MacDavey, Program Officer – Peter & Elizabeth Tower Foundation, Buffalo, NY
  • Samuel Mattle, Executive Director – Center for Self Advocacy, Buffalo, NY
  • Dina Thompson, Executive Director – Erie County Restorative Justice Coalition, Buffalo, NY
  • Meredith Shaw, Executive Director – Tri-Town Council, Topsfield, MA