The Ethical Rainmaker

Tokenism is NOT Transformation w Chuck Warpehoski

Episode Summary

From tokenism to using community as unpaid consultants, from structural oppression to...more gatekeeping, and identity-based privilege, former City Councilman turned DEI consultant, Chuck Warpehoski, talks with Michelle about the common and -tired- ways in which institutions perform or attempt to work with the community and common pitfalls. Chuck also shares personal stories of mistakes he’s made while working to serve the community as a white man.

Episode Notes

Whether as a well-meaning convener of community efforts to help or as part of a community which is asked to help and then treated poorly, many of us can see ourselves in this episode. This show featured useful definitions and examples - here are links for content mentioned in the show (and check out our new Patreon page now!):


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Episode Transcription

Chuck Warpehoski (00:03):

If you're not making space for them to bring that whole beautiful, wonderful difference, you're just asking them to conform. It's tokenism, not transformation.

Michelle Shireen Muri (00:15):

This is Michelle Shireen Muri, your host and fellow traveler on The Ethical Rainmaker, a podcast exploring topics we don't often visit and nonprofits and philanthropy, including the places we can step into our power or step out of the way. Before we get started, I want to speak to something that's been weighing on me. I live in Seattle, and on the weekend of August 28th, two women who I knew and marched with in our 20s both died tragically, and in separate and unrelated incidents. Rahwa Habte and Sarah Leyrer both worked in immigrant rights and racial justice, which was also my entry to the nonprofit sector. They were both organizers. They were incredible. They were badass. They were both warm bridge builders and shining lights. And even though we hadn't been in touch recently, this news was shocking, and it's a double blow. I wish I could give them a hug or give them a call. Make sure to tell your people that you love them and to reach out to those who we work with in the struggle. There will be Rahwa and Sarah shaped holes in our community forever.

Michelle Shireen Muri (01:29):


Michelle Shireen Muri (01:30):

So back to the show, our last episode seems to have touched a nerve. We're receiving powerful feedback about how episode three: White Women as Gatekeepers, in my interview with Fleur Larsen affected you. People of color reached out to say that they felt validated, that they felt relief. I heard from many white women that this episode gave you insight and inspiration to change. So it's easy to feel validation, insight, relief, inspiration because we're all swimming in the waters of white supremacy. And when we question it, we're gaslit by society itself. At this very moment, we need to cut through the bullshit and see the message is in front of us. The message is that we must do better. And when we don't, all of us suffer. And black and brown people, kids, adults, families are put in cages, are massacred, are kept oppressed. And yes, the nonprofit and philanthropy sectors are directly related to this. They are.

Michelle Shireen Muri (03:03):

My guest today is Chuck Warpehoski. He's a diversity, equity and inclusion facilitator and consultant helping organizations move from good intentions to meaningful action and sustainable results. He's a successful fundraiser, he's a white guy, and he's led campaigns around police accountability, increasing funding for affordable housing, and expanding public transit in his hometown of Ann Arbor, Michigan. Chuck served as a city council member in that city for six years and as the director of the Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice for 16 years. Chuck, thank you so much for coming on The Ethical Rainmaker today. Welcome.

Chuck Warpehoski (03:41):

I'm so excited to be here, Michelle. Thank you for having me.

Michelle Shireen Muri (03:43):

Totally. Chuck, I'm going to start with the same question we asked Fleur in the last episode, which is why are there so many white diversity, equity and inclusion consultants making money off of the racism that they've helped perpetuate?

Chuck Warpehoski (03:57):

Thank you, Michelle. This is an important question. It's one I wrestled with deeply before getting into the work, and I still try to wrestle with it and not get complacent on it. For me, part of the reason is similar to what Fleur said, was being asked by people of color to get my own people. And especially, there's a lot of white women doing this work. There are very few white men doing this work, and you see it. You see how a lot of my people, other white men like me don't see a role for themselves in this work. There are very few models for us to say, "Yes, we have a role in this. Yes, we can show up. And yes, here's how we navigate that balancing act where we neither want to sit on the sidelines nor take the thing over."

Chuck Warpehoski (04:54):

I don't think that we will dismantle structures of oppression without everybody involved. So I think there is a role for white people in anti-racism. For most of my career, that role was I was in a positional role on city council, running a nonprofit, whatever, and bringing in these concerns to that positional role. What I found is that there is a way that two people can be in a room, and I actually experienced this through a training through the GARE, Government Alliance on Race and Equity, where their model is mixed race, mixed gender training cohorts. And part of the reason is when a white person says, "Here is how racism shows up in my life. Here's the effects of it," and owns their role in it, it creates an atmosphere, the barriers come down for people to listen in a way that it doesn't come down when somebody else says, "Here's what you did to me. Here's how you're showing up." That tends to put up barriers.

Chuck Warpehoski (06:00):

And so by me being part of a team, not the only person, but by being part of a process and sharing my own story, being vulnerable, acknowledging my mistakes and helping people work through that process, it helps people put their barriers down so they can see, "Oh, these are the decisions I'm making. This is how I'm showing up. This is the outcomes of my actions," and be able to engage in a healthy way. The question on pay is a big one. I was actually recently invited to do a training for a group and they asked if I could do it pro bono. And it's an issue I care a lot about. I would do it pro bono.

Chuck Warpehoski (06:42):

I care about the issue, but I realized, if I do this pro bono, I would be undercutting all of the people who are doing this for pay and I would be harming them, my colleagues and others who are doing this work, many of whom are people of color as part of their livelihood. So part of my work is free in different settings. But also, if it's a setting that should be paid, it's important, whether it's me or somebody else, that that money happens and that work be valued.

Michelle Shireen Muri (07:10):

Thank you. Thanks for that perspective. So now that has been launched, a project I've been very involved with, we've had around 10,000 people join our mailing list, and hundreds of people are engaging in questions. And many of the questions we're starting to hear are questions like, "What does it take to center the community?" You've spent your career working in partnership with communities to build campaigns to create change. You've seen a lot of messy shit, and you've also been part of some really beautiful community built change. So let's talk about some of the typical tired barriers we see when attempting or performing community centric work.

Chuck Warpehoski (07:55):

What I love about the Community Centric Fundraising model is how it focuses on not just the voice, but the power, the authentic power of the communities that are involved in the nonprofit world, or it applies to governance that applies to a lot of other areas. And what I've seen a lot in the nonprofit sector and in other sectors too, is this sense of, "Oh, we want somebody different, just as long as they don't do anything differently." So this is where that tokenism comes in. The nonprofit I served at, we were founded in the '60s. A lot of people, predominantly white people who were involved in social change movements from the social movements of the '60s and '70s, and we knew we needed to expand our demographics, who is part of our movement.

Chuck Warpehoski (08:45):

But it always felt like when we were having these conversations around board recruitment, for example, and then what actually happened at the board table was so an organization will want to bring people in new board members. They want somebody young, they want somebody excited, they want somebody really energetic and with a different racial background and a different family of origin and a different whole sense of self and hope that they get really, really excited about organizing the Pete Seeger memorial concert that you've been doing for the last 30 years. Right? And the thing is new people are going to have new ideas, different people are going to be different, and if you're not making space for them to bring that whole beautiful, wonderful difference, you're just asking them to conform. It's tokenism, not transformation. That's one of the barriers that I see all the time as organizations and communities begin their process of trying to say, "Hey, we need to bring more voices in." They bring the voices in, but then they don't let them be their full selves.

Michelle Shireen Muri (09:46):

Ain't that the truth? Thank you for talking about tokenism. We're talking with Chuck Warpehoski about some of the tired, common mistakes white folks make when attempting community centered work, right now on The Ethical Rainmaker. Learn more about Chuck and his colleagues at Thank you for joining us to explore these important issues. The best way you can support this podcast is by subscribing and sharing it with your friends and colleagues. You can also pledge your commitment to these conversations on our new Patriot. More in the show notes.

Michelle Shireen Muri (10:21):

One of the other inequities we see so often, our communities as unpaid consultants happens all the time in the nonprofit sector. I know in other sectors you've worked in like education and government it happens there too. I'd love to outline some of the examples of what this looks like. And listeners, listen for where you hear yourself in these scenarios.

Chuck Warpehoski (10:43):

Yeah, absolutely. So just like often as organizations are on their journey, they start with, "Oh, we need to get more voices." And it often starts as a tokenistic thing rather than a pioneer thing that helps change the process. Sometimes organizations have to get through this learning process too, and the faster we can speed up the painful part of the learning process, the less harm it will cause. I see government nonprofit, other organizations, and they say, "Oh, the way we're doing things is excluding a lot of voices." Classic example.

Chuck Warpehoski (11:17):

A lot of government, if you want to have your voice heard on a government issue, you've got to show up at 7:00 on a school night to a public meeting with arcane rules for what can be said and how you get a response. And if you've got a second shift job, forget about it. If you're a single parent, forget about it. If you've got to work two jobs to make ends meet, forget about it. Your voice is excluded by the structure of that process. It works really well for retired professionals, not so much for anybody else. So institutions are saying, "Oh, we need more community voice. We need other perspectives to help shape our policy. And so we're going to go out and we're going to ask people to give us their time, to give us their expertise, to give us their connections to make our policy better."

Chuck Warpehoski (12:02):

Well, there's a word for when somebody provides you with time, expertise, and connections. It's called consulting. And nonprofits and government and business, we pay for consulting all the time. But when it's getting that community input from the people we say we're trying to serve, all of a sudden, we say, "No, they should do that for free. Maybe we'll give them a little bit of food. Probably not going to provide childcare because that gets messy. And we're just going to ask for all this labor for free."

Michelle Shireen Muri (12:35):

That's right.

Chuck Warpehoski (12:36):

And so if we really believe that the community should be partners in making the solutions that are actually going to work, because if we exclude the voices, the solutions don't work. We've seen that time and time again. The whole premise of community centric fundraising is that model doesn't work. So if we're going to bring those voices in, first of all, we need to compensate people for the consulting labor they're providing. Second of all, we need to close that loop. A lot of people have given up on the process because they'll give input and then they won't even know if that input made a difference. So they go through a process and they say, "Well, nobody's listening to me anyway. Why should I do this again?"

Chuck Warpehoski (13:15):

And then the third piece is we need to shift how that power of actually making the decisions happens. Different decisions, different processes need different things. But if it's just, "Hey, you can say your thing, but you actually don't have any decision making power. You actually don't get to make or shape the final decision." That's being to Fleur's comment, there's some gatekeeping on the final decision. Well, again, we're not actually valuing the community as a full partner. So really shifting and recognizing, who are we inviting in? How are we compensating them? How are we helping them? How are we making sure that they see the impact they're making and ideally push power and control to the decisions that are going to affect their day to day lives?

Michelle Shireen Muri (14:05):

Thank you. Thank you. So many of us need to hear this, so I really appreciate you talking about this. I'm Michelle Shireen Muri. The Ethical Rainmaker is brought to you by our consulting collective, Freedom Conspiracy. Visit to take your ethical fundraising to the next level, bring values aligned practices to your growth opportunities at hand.

Michelle Shireen Muri (14:31):

So we've talked about tokenism, the idea that we want somebody different as long as they don't do anything different, that's expecting, for example, staff or maybe a board member to do exactly what the person before them did, maybe even be like that person and fit into some unexamined set of social agreements. Then you talked about community, which are get asked to share time, expertise and connections on an issue, basically consulting without pay. The community has asked for input but ultimately left out of the final decision, which is gatekeeping. You raised the issues of not treating community members as full partners. And most of the time, those folks don't even get to hear what impact their unpaid labor had. These are important dynamics to name. What else should we be considering?

Chuck Warpehoski (15:18):

Well, just to pull on that thread a little bit of how public meetings by their design exclude a lot of people. This happens throughout our sectors, right? It happens in our government sector and nonprofit education business. Just as another example to show again how my actions, as I start to look at them have been exclusive, have caused harm. When I was running for city council, the way you get elected in Ann Arbor is you have to get through the Democratic primary. Democratic primary is off cycle so it's not at the same time people are voting for president or governor. That means the voter turnout is lower. And what happens in those voter turnout elections is the voter profile, it's older, it's more affluent and it's whiter. And so when I'm was running for my primary seats, I was knocking on doors of people who had voted before.

Chuck Warpehoski (16:08):

And I'm shifting the voices that I'm listening to, to people who are older, more affluent and whiter. Every time I knock on that door and say, "I care what you think. I want you to help shape our policy. I want you to vote in August," I am telling those people, I am reinforcing their electoral participation. And every time somebody sees me walk past their door without knocking, I'm reinforcing for those younger, less affluent and black indigenous and people of color constituents, "Your politicians don't care for you. Why bother? You don't have a voice in shaping policy anyway." By playing that game of what everybody says it takes to get elected, I was reinforcing those cycles of exclusion. Thankfully, through reflection, I was able to pick up on that and start to put steps into place to try to shift that in terms of targeted outreach and listening and other ways to do a more inclusive voter engagement.

Chuck Warpehoski (17:01):

But I didn't eliminate that imbalance. Just because I'm moving to a solution doesn't mean I get to absolve myself from the harm that I had caused through my campaign. But this kind of reflection on every decision and every process and every policy we have in our organizations and our individual lives, right? Whose podcasts are you listening to? This process of who is being centered, whose voices are being included, who does this work for and who does it exclude? This is an ongoing policy we all need to be facing, especially those of us who have identity-based privilege or positions of power.

Michelle Shireen Muri (17:43):

I think when we look at fundraising too, if not all other places of our lives, we can see it. This example is really similar to how we do with donors. In fundraising specifically, we assume that community that we should be communicating with is our community of donors. But we actually have a much greater responsibility to communicate with a much greater community, whether or not they're on our mailing list, whether or not they've given a gift. I'm doing this work with a client right now where we're assigning folks on the board a portfolio, and the traditional way is to assign maybe 10 or 15 people to every board member. You organize the list of donors, you choose like the top 100 and have them segmented out to individual board members to reach out to.

Michelle Shireen Muri (18:32):

But very much like your example, what we're teaching is that only those that have money are worth reaching out to you and not other folks. So we're changing that. We're actually doing a mix for every board member of community members, community partners, other folks who need to know about this work, other folks affected by this work, not just those people who are giving money, because that's not necessarily your only community.

Chuck Warpehoski (18:58):

I love that example because it's a great model of how an organization can take a look at its existing practices. That made sense from a certain frame, like this donor centric frame many of us were taught in the fundraising and nonprofit world. Take a step back and say, "Who does this really serve?" And it's not like we're kicking the donors out, but it's saying, "We need to have a broader net and here's a way that we can start to expand that." And what I love too is those community voices are often excluded from the board tables, right? You hear from the donors, "Oh, how will our donors respond if we take this move?" And then the direct community voice is excluded. So by pushing the connection, the relationships closer to the people served and all of the stakeholders is one of those things that we can start doing to make all of our organizational processes more inclusive. And you can apply that same question making and shift process to other parts of the fundraising, other parts of the organizational life.

Michelle Shireen Muri (20:00):

We're talking with DEI consultant and former Ann Arbor city council member, Chuck Warpehoski, right now on The Ethical Rainmaker. Find links and more information on our website at We're going to shift into the last question for this interview, which I think is one of the most important. Knowing you, I see your persistence, you have such a true sense of service to the greater community. You are humble and persistent, and you've done so much for your community, and I love being in relationship with you. And from the moment that you were born until now, many things happen to get you to where you are. What has shaped you into doing this work? Why do you do this work?

Chuck Warpehoski (20:50):

That is a super deep question, and it's something that I think it's important for people to answer. So thank you so much for making the space for that. There's part of it for me that's about values, like valuing fairness, right? So integrity is part of my personal values, and if knowing that I get unearned advantage when I'm applying for a job, when I'm shopping in a store or whatever, because of the color of my skin, because of being male presenting, et cetera, that means I am getting ahead by cheating. If I got into a decent school based in part by my standardized test scores, standardized test scores have built in racial bias in them, I got into a good school by playing a rigged game. That's out of line with my values.

Chuck Warpehoski (21:37):

But the second piece of it... That'll get me at my head. The second piece of it though, is that piece we were talking about with accountability, relationships. Something I try to keep in front of me all the time is remembering the people in my life, the people who I love and care about who are being harmed by these systems of oppression. The trans people I know who are harmed by transphobia, the people of color I know who are harmed by racism, the women who are harmed by sexism. And by keeping close to that it's not an abstract harm to think through specifically, "This is the person I love. This is how they are harmed," is part of it.

Chuck Warpehoski (22:23):

And so that relationship piece and making it concrete rather than abstract is a second piece of that for me. And then the third piece that is growing for me as I do this work is what I was mentioning earlier, the role that, "You know what? I'm harmed too. Again, it's at a different scale, but there I experience in my relationships with people of color, I'm always navigating, tiptoeing around race issues. Am I going to say the wrong thing? I'm going to say the right thing. How is this being perceived?" It creates a barrier. It weakens the level of connection I have with people who I crave deep connection for, and that's because of these structures of oppression. And so my life is diminished by these structures of oppression too. So again, there's the famous Lilla Watson quote that I'm going to butcher here. We can put in the show notes, but basically, "If you've come here to help me, you can stay home. But if you're here because you see your liberation tied up as my own, with my own, let us walk together."

Chuck Warpehoski (23:33):

Yes, the harms are different at different scales, with different textures and different feelings, and we're all harmed by these things and we've got to get free together. Trying to make space to feel that and acknowledge it and see this as not just... In Fleur's episode, she talked about the helping and the martyrdom thing that happens so much in the nonprofit space, especially she was talking about especially for white women. When we start to say, "This is all of our struggle and we all have a stake in it," what I experience is it helps open up a space for a more... How do I say this? For a more... Use the phrase humble and persistent, right? It's humbling and it generates persistence to say, "Yeah, that's another way that it hurts me too. Let's keep at it. Let's keep at it."

Michelle Shireen Muri (24:29):

So, Chuck, what caused you to question and recognize your own whiteness? Were you raised that way or what happened for you there?

Chuck Warpehoski (24:37):

A great question. It's interesting, often in this work, I'm trying not to make it about myself. And I've been told that I hide this part of myself, it actually decreases my ability to connect with people, and so thanks for the invitation. I was raised, my parents, I remember very clearly my mom saying, "I don't see color." And even at an early age, even in middle school and high school, I was like, "Yeah, that's bullshit. You see color, because I see how you're talking to my classmate's mom who's in a multiracial family." And my classmate who's black, his mom was white, the mom was talking about how people would say everything about him except that he's black, in this very white town. So even from an early age, I could call bullshit on that.

Chuck Warpehoski (25:33):

But what started happening is through my schooling, introducing these concepts, people would say things like, "Oh, we've got institutional racism here at the college I attended," but I had no... I could talk about privilege, I could talk about all these things, but it still felt abstract to me. I didn't see it. I was looking for the explicit policy and I never found it. I was looking for the explicit behavior and I could rarely see it. And so it was a practice of having a community of people around me that helped build me up, especially through my peace work when I started with Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice, especially I want to give credit to La'Ron Williams, who's an amazing anti-racist educator and storyteller helping to see that there are practices, there are things that are going on every day that are recreating this racial hierarchy.

Chuck Warpehoski (26:28):

And his mentorship helped me to develop the ability to turn the mirror on myself and not just criticize, "Oh, President Bush did that, President Trump did that. Governor Snyder did that other thing, business leader X did this other crazy thing," but to say, "Oh, you know what? How I campaign, what books I read to my kids, all of this is part of a system that I didn't intentionally choose. But if I don't intentionally examine, now that I know that it's there, I have a choice. And back to relationships, if there are people in my life who I love who are being harmed by this, and I close my eyes, then that's not something I can do."

Michelle Shireen Muri (27:22):

Right. Chuck, I know you're a nurturer and a father. How has being a dad influenced the work that you're doing?

Chuck Warpehoski (27:36):

Thank you for that question, Michelle. In fact, it was actually being a dad that helped move me from the positional work to doing this professionally because I reached out to my colleague, Nolan and said, "Okay, I've done all this work around anti-racism and now I'm dealing with, as a father, I've learned a couple of things. I'm getting some things wrong." And we started doing workshops around talking with kids about race and racism and grew from there. Two ways that it's actually changed my work, one is it's helped me find a lot more courage. It is easier to me to talk to some stranger. Well, it's easier now. But at the beginning, it was easier for me to talk to some stranger or politicians or whoever about racism than it was to sit down with my kids and say, "Oh wow, these pictures in Dr. Seuss' If I Ran the Zoo are really racist. Let's talk about racial stereotypes and the imagery. And how do you think your friends of color, how do you think they would feel or their parents would feel if they saw people like them depicted this way?"

Chuck Warpehoski (28:41):

Getting the courage to have those conversations, practicing with the kids has been really helpful. And realizing that I've got to bring it home. You know, just to give a specific example, I was doing a workshop for white organizational leaders and people were talking about the things they're seeing at work that they were afraid to talk about. They're like, "How do I bring this forward?" And as I was reflecting that, I realized, "You know what? My daughter who's in the third grade, she's doing this book bowl thing, they've got all these books and there's some problems with the titles." We talked earlier about white supremacy culture, one of the elements of white supremacy culture is perfectionism. I was telling myself before I can say anything, I've got to read all the titles, I've got our research, all the authors, and I've got everything perfectly buttoned up before I say anything to the teachers or the parents. And the position of being a dad, it's like, "You know what? I've got to walk this talk at home in my life, not just professionally," it's helping me bring this into more areas of my life.

Chuck Warpehoski (29:48):

The other way is a little more subtle. But what I experience is that there is a way that... So when I was in college, one of my professors had, "Okay, everybody sit in a circle, just discuss the text for class." And he sat back in the corner, he didn't say anything until the very end. And at the very end of this sociology 101 class, Professor Alex Wirth-Cauchon said, "You know what? Women are 60% of this class but men did 60% of the talking." Ever since that day, I've started to make notes when I'm at meetings, who's talking, who isn't? But what that teaches me is there's a way that patriarchy, sexism teaches men that, "We're up on a dais above women." There are ways that racism teaches white people that we are on a dais, we're elevated above people of color. Heterosexism, that we are on a dais, our relationships are more important than same sex relationships or other relational structures.

Chuck Warpehoski (30:54):

You know that phrase, "It's lonely at the top?" Every time we put ourselves above somebody, we are separating ourselves from the community. And as I watched my son, it's strange, I feel this for him more than I feel for myself. And I'm tearing up even as I say it now, I don't want him to experience that separation. I don't want him in a position of dominance over. I want him in a circle of equality with. And I know I'm not going to get there in my lifetime, and my goal is to make progress in his lifetime, but these structures are centuries and millennia old. But seeing that sense of separation versus community and feeling it for myself and what my goals are for him as a boy as somebody who's white, don't know about some other identities for him, those are much later. But I want him not to have the, the isolation that these structures of domination create for us.

Michelle Shireen Muri (32:15):

Isn't that true? Love and community, not isolation on a dais. That's it for this edition of The Ethical Rainmaker. I'm Michelle Shireen Muri. Thank you so much. Being with us on this journey, deeper into the world of nonprofits and ethical fundraising. Don't forget to subscribe to this podcast so we can count you in. If you value these conversations and want to offer financial support, please check out our new Patreon at The Ethical Rainmaker is produced and edited in Seattle, Washington by Isaac Kaplan-Woolner, with socials by Rachelle Pierce. The Ethical Rainmaker is sponsored by my consulting collective, Freedom Conspiracy. And you can find us at Special thank you to Young-Chhaylee for letting us use their song, You Are Not Alone. That's it for The Ethical Rainmaker. Join us in two weeks.