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Oct 23, 2014 | Insights

Transforming Leadership Structure as Social Change Catalyst

“Leadership, like a piece of cloth, is strongest when its different parts are woven closely together, when there is a seat for everybody at the table.” – Trina Jackson, Leadership Team Member

TSNE’s story has always been one of transformation. Since 1959, we have evolved into a multi-faceted organization with a unique mix of services for nonprofits – but we’ve also evolved our social justice aspirations, for example by developing the NonProfit Center building, launching the Nonprofit Quarterly, and giving grants for diversity and inclusion.

Our commitment to creating a more democratic society starts with our own staff, who have working groups on diversity and inclusion and on facilitating difficult staff conversations.

TSNE’s diversity work became critical in 2011 when external factors unexpectedly  intervened, and some of our long-time staff colleagues were laid off. The cutbacks left our senior leadership team composed of only white, long-tenured senior managers.

Thinking Differently about Leadership

TSNE’s Diversity Committee proposed to work with Class Action for a year to help facilitate the difficult conversations about power and class within the organization. After two all-staff workshops, staff gave the senior management team a powerful message that the leadership structure did not reflect TSNE’s core values of equity and diversity.


It was a call to action for the senior team. Our executive director, Jonathan Spack, embraced this as an opportunity to creatively explore how TSNE might be more equitably structured.

TSNE’s new leadership team now includes staff at all levels of the organization and from diverse backgrounds. Thanks to our work with Class Action, the newly composed leadership team was able to explore various dimensions of diversity in its selection process.

The new leadership team includes one member of the Diversity Committee and two at-large staff members, as well as 5 senior managers. It is now more diverse than ever before in terms of gender, race, abilities, socioeconomic class, sexual orientation, marital and parental status.

Working Together as a Team

The new leadership team’s first organization-wide task – after two meetings laying the groundwork for ‘how we will work together’ – was to set the organizational budget. Four members of the team had never participated in TSNE-wide level budgetary discussions.


As one new member shared, “It was intimidating, scary, exciting and fun. We asked a lot of questions, and no one made us feel as if our questions were not relevant.” Jumping right into a high stakes task was a good way for the newly formed leadership team to put into practice its agreements about how to deliberate and make decisions together.

Progress toward social transformation is a journey of many steps. At TSNE, we acknowledge our steps forward, while recognizing how much further we still have to go. We can start to shift power in society by partnering with many great organizations, such as Class Action, and by looking for ways to walk our talk.