Incorporating DEI Into Your Corporate Giving Strategy

Ashly Ligouri
Corporate Giving Representative
Xcel Energy

The racial justice movement has profoundly affected CSR, causing many social impact professionals to reassess their current processes and giving.

Ashly Ligouri, Corporate Giving Representative at Xcel Energy, participated earlier this year in a panel alongside Union Pacific Railroad, ACCP, and Changing Our World representatives. They shared their perspectives on incorporating DEI into corporate giving strategy.

Can you tell us about Xcel Energy and your social impact focus/initiatives?

The spirit of service shines at Xcel Energy. Whether it’s delivering affordable, safe, and clean energy to customers – or giving back to the communities we serve – making a difference is an integral part of our work. Being involved in our communities keeps us connected. Year after year, our employees step up to support our communities by contributing time, talent, and financial resources to local nonprofits. Through Xcel Energy and the Xcel Energy Foundation, we donate millions of dollars that address needs unique to each community, maximizing our impact with employee giving and volunteer programs.

How has your funding focus changed following the pandemic and racial justice movement?

We are committed to continuously improving Xcel Energy’s philanthropy, community impact, and stakeholder engagement. For the past several years, the Foundation has supported nonprofit organizations in education, economic sustainability, arts and culture, and the environment. To better align with the company’s business priorities and reflect our diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) commitments, the Foundation partnered with Changing our World, a social impact consulting firm, in addition to the Xcel Energy Foundation’s Board of Directors and stakeholders, to evaluate and improve our grantmaking program, strategy, and overall community impact.

Our grantmaking program has made a significant impact on our communities, and I’m proud of our work. Following the global pandemic and the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis—the city where our corporate headquarters are located– and the resulting tensions rising around racial inequities across our country, we wanted to do even more.

What specific steps have you taken to incorporate DEI into your corporate giving strategy?

It was an 18-month process, engaging internal and external stakeholders to create a new grant program that addresses the unique needs of our communities and reinforces our continued commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. The revised giving framework, Energizing the Future, helps to ensure our communities are strong, vibrant, and inclusive by strategically targeting our Foundation giving within three focus areas:

  1. STEM Career Pathways – focusing on diverse STEM learners (women, girls, students of color), expanding STEM education and trade school opportunities, and connecting talent to STEM and technical careers.
  1. Environmental sustainability – supporting programs and services that protect air, water, and land and minimize impacts among vulnerable populations disproportionately affected by environmental harms and risks.
  2. Community Vitality –help communities thrive with programs and services that address economic prosperity, and foster arts and cultural expression and inclusion while supporting historically marginalized groups​ and diverse business owners.

These three focus areas reflect the importance of supporting diverse individuals, vulnerable populations, and marginalized groups.

How are you measuring the impacts from your DEI-focused grants? What particular results are you measuring?

We will continue to incorporate DEI into our grantmaking investments, evaluation, and storytelling for each of the three focus areas. This first year, we are looking to establish a baseline understanding of how our grantees are already advancing DEI within their organization and community. We ask questions about executive leadership and client demographics on the grant application and annual impact reports.

Additionally, we ask if an organization’s mission is explicitly dedicated to advancing equity, if diversity training is provided to staff and board, if the organization has an anti-discrimination policy, if the organization leadership and board reflect the diversity of the target population served, and more. Ultimately, we’re trying to measure the overall effectiveness of the programs, the diversity of demographics being served, and the long- and short-term sustainability of the organization’s efforts to ensure ongoing success and impact through our partnership.

What lessons have you learned as you work to incorporate DEI into your corporate giving? Any best practices to share with companies looking to do the same?

We understand Xcel Energy is only as strong as the communities it serves. We know that our implementation of a new grant program would only be successful in achieving long-term community results if we were aligned with what our grantees were capable of, asked them what they were striving to accomplish, and understood their limitations.

We currently have about 400 grant partners, and over half participated in this grant strategy process either through an online survey, focus group, or 1:1 interview. Three specific things stood out for us— that we’re now implementing—and I hope other companies will consider them too.

  1. Put DEI front and center –Ask quantitative questions on application and impact reports about demographics and how grantees advance DEI. Also, ask for qualitative information and stories to help grantees best tell their overall impact.
  2. Simplify the application process -If you want to collect new and different data, reduce the number of non-essential questions. Only ask questions if you are using the information. We eliminated and simplified questions this year.
  3. Understand it takes time & resources – Just like corporations, it takes time and resources for nonprofits to integrate DEI authentically. For grant awards, allow capacity building and DEI funding opportunities. For overall partnership support, share DEI trainings and resources.

At Xcel Energy, we pride ourselves on creating not just transactional exchanges but relationships and partnerships with our grantees, and I can say engaging them in this process was a testament to how meaningful those relationships can be. We know our grantees’ time is valuable, so I’m grateful they chose to participate and offer strategic advice on how our Foundation can continue to help grantees serve their communities more effectively. 

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