Building Transformational (Not Transactional) Community Partnerships

Teresa Pelletier, Vice President of Community Relations
Fidelity Investments

At Fidelity, we are committed to the financial health of communities. In recent years, our community relations strategy has focused on financial literacy and expanding access to financial education.

As a result of the events of 2020 and the pandemic’s disproportionate impact on communities of color, Fidelity (along with many other organizations) arrived at a moment of self-reflection regarding our approach to community support. We recognized the need to be more intentional in our efforts to help close the racial wealth gap, which meant first acknowledging and understanding systemic inequity. We also knew that to be an authentic partner, we needed to better understand the strengths and challenges of communities.

In late 2020, we embarked on a listening tour to do just that: to understand not only our communities but also how communities want us to show up.

Here’s what we learned:

Engage a partner – and get the right people in the room

First, we had to learn how to do a listening tour – and how to do it well. Fidelity engaged with Ichor Strategies, the largest Black-owned professional services firm in the country, as a partner on this journey. Together, we navigated a fully remote listening tour. Through their expertise in engaging diverse communities, Ichor helped identify the right organizations and community leaders for this undertaking. Specifically, we wanted to include organizations that we didn’t already know, work with, or fund. We didn’t need to hear about the good Fidelity may have done in the past – we wanted to hear about how we can truly make a positive impact in the future.

Shift the power dynamic

Entering these conversations without funding or other partnership on the line immediately shifted the power dynamic that we often experience. Organizations were open about what they were experiencing and what they needed. There were no judgments, no funding decisions tied to these conversations. This allowed for transparent and raw conversations around building transformational, not simply transactional, relationships.

Be ready to be uncomfortable

It was – and is – essential for us to remember that the community members and nonprofit leaders are the experts in what communities need. The corporate partner’s job is to listen and to learn. That also means being ready to sit with things that might be uncomfortable to hear. I remember a moment in one of our sessions when a conversation felt as though it was going “off the rails.” I realized that at that moment, “off the rails” was exactly where it needed to go.

Now the work begins

The listening tour was just the first step. Implementing serious and meaningful change at a large company (or any organization) is hard, and it’s an ongoing process.

To learn more about our Fidelity’s listening tour and learnings, check out this episode of Common Impact’s Pro Bono Perspectives podcast featuring a conversation between me and Wendy Matheny, Principal at Ichor Strategies. Additionally, you can learn more about Fidelity’s financial education efforts here.

Fidelity Investments and Ichor Strategies are independent entities and not affiliated.

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