Ep 35: Stephen Robinson on Code-Switching

On this episode of Marketing for Good, Erica is joined by Stephen Robinson to discuss code-switching, the power language holds, and the mixed implications of using jargon. They talk about how personal liberation and other more tangible work can create equitable outcomes, and how the world is calling for leaders to listen.


This is a transcript of Erica Mills Barnhart’s interview with Stephen Robinson on the Marketing for Good podcast. You can listen to the episode here and listen to more episodes on Apple Podcasts, or wherever you enjoy listening to podcasts. Enjoy!


philanthropy, people, power, contemplative practices, nonprofits, listeners, impact, switching, work, created, jargon, language, important, marketing, world, philanthropists, donor, white, foundation, called

Erica Mills Barnhart  00:32

Alright, welcome everybody to the Marketing for Good Podcast. I am very excited to have with me here today, Stephen Robinson. So Stephen is a philanthropic advisor at the Seattle foundation. And his little bio says, “as a philanthropic advisor, Steven brings contemplative practices and rigorous qualitative methods”, not two things that you often see coming together. So out of the gate, I love it. It’s very you, Steven. “And he uses these two things to shape conversations and decisions. He draws on these tools as he advises families and individuals on effective philanthropic strategies to support community interests, realize philanthropic impact and unlock their full generosity potential”. Now, you know, we were chatting a little bit about this, people who work in the foundations, there’s like this mystique. You know, it’s like you work for foundation. So will you share with us a little bit like how, how you got into the mystical, magical world of working for a foundation?


Stephen Robinson  01:36

Yeah, you know, it’s a question I get often. And I think my top level sort of headline around it is, I’m bad at math and that’s why I’m in philanthropy. I did the Peace Corps masters international program at the Evans School. And when I got back from that, I added up all the credits that I needed, and, you know, took the corresponding amount, of course, loads. And a week later, I went back and looked, and I had actually added wrong, I needed four more credits. And so at that time, there was only one course, that had only met once, and that was Philanthropy 101. And so I, you know, emailed the teacher, and she was kind enough to put me in her class. So I showed up the next morning and, I mean, really, I never thought that I would be in philanthropy, I never thought that a person with my background would be valued in this space and that’s proven to be somewhat true. But also, I think that the core of philanthropy is something that is, it’s really important that people like me are present in this space. And, you know, when I was reading through some of the coursework, it became very apparent to me that, you know, one of the things that’s really important in a program officer is that they’re able to do their own internal work, right? Like, you never want to be standing in between an organization or whatever it is that you’re sort of fighting for, and their impact. And program officers can oftentimes play that role and end up actually doing a lot of harm. And so it requires a person who is able to notice sort of in real time, oh, I’m actually doing harm here. Or, actually, you know, like, this is how I stepped out of the way. And a lot of the readings that I was doing were focusing on that I realized, at a certain point, I realized, this is perfect for me, you know, I have this history of contemplative practices, I love and thrive in community, and all I want is for our world to be better than it currently is because there’s a lot of harm being done for no reason. So why wouldn’t I do this as a career? And, you know, I think a lot of people have that sort of revelation, the leg up that I had was that I actually did practical work with the director of family philanthropy through the Evans School. And so over the course of six months of working together, we had become really close, you know, mentor mentee, almost. And she sort of shepherded me into a spot at the Seattle Foundation, which was incredibly generous of her and you know, some of the things that she taught me, I now find myself really, you know, going to bat for others and teaching them and a lot of it has to do with language. A lot of it has to do with matching the language kind of of the oppressor a little bit and speaking to power using powers words.


Erica Mills Barnhart  04:47

Two things I want to follow up on, will you say a bit more when you said, “we don’t see people like me” quoting you, “in in philanthropy very often”. What do you mean by that?


Stephen Robinson  04:59

Sure. Yeah. So I have a variety of overlapping identities, so I’m half black, even though I have a white presentation. For those of you who are visually impaired, I’m sitting in sort of a white room with a wine colored sweater, I have a white appearance, I’m wearing glasses, but I am half black. I’m also gay. And I was raised in a, you know, single mother household. All of these things sort of stack up to a background that is not really conventionally seen in our time.


Erica Mills Barnhart  05:37

Mm hmm. That’s a lot of intersectionality right there.


Stephen Robinson  05:41

A lot of things overlapping.


Erica Mills Barnhart  05:45

Overlappy, very overlappy, right? But is it fair to say, because I think that this will become important as we continue the conversation, that although you are white passing, for the most part, you identify as a black man.


Stephen Robinson  05:58

Well, I identify as biracial because there’s many ways where my blackness is very present. And there’s many ways where my whiteness, the privilege that comes with walking around with white skin is also very present. So, you know, we don’t deal very well in our binary culture. Things that are just clearly non binary, and I feel like my race is, or my my impression of my own self, as it regards to race is very non binary.


Erica Mills Barnhart  06:30

Thank you. That’s really helpful. Okay, I want to go to code switching quickly. However, not all listeners will necessarily know what you mean by contemplative practices.


Stephen Robinson  06:39

Yeah, of course. So another overlapping identity of mine is that I was raised Buddhist. And so contemplative practices, or contemplative practices are practices that essentially they’re all based in mindfulness or meditation. It’s ways of stopping in your, you know, cycle of thought, creating an intentional gap so that whatever your reaction is, can be held. And you can also give a corresponding response that’s not just reactionary, right. So a lot of times, our personalities are actually just a build up of all of our experiences from life. And not all of that experience is helpful in every context. And so cultivating a practice of being able to stop, take a breath, and recenter on who you truly are, not just the experiences that you’ve had, a lot of times, you know, we confuse our defense mechanisms with a personality. And those aren’t the same thing, you know. And the way you disentangle that, from my point of view, is through practice, just straight up practicing.


Erica Mills Barnhart  08:01

Yeah, I mean, it doesn’t come easily to most people to be able to create that space. What we are naturally inclined to do is to project like, well, I like being on whatever it’s going to be Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, so other people must also feel the same way. And I think just just make a tie, since this podcast is mainly about marketing, that ability is gold, when it comes to building personas, and really getting into the hearts and minds of your target audience. You know, I did an interview with Maria Ross, on this podcast about empathy, and the role of empathy, which I know is not the whole thing. But just for listeners who are like intrigued by that, because we could have a whole conversation on that. You and I, Steven, today could just talk about that and its role, but that’s not what we are going to talk about today, we’re going to talk about different stuff. But so for listeners who are intrigued by this, go listen, once you’re done with this one of course, to the podcast episode with Maria Ross. Why I wanted to call that out is because you were speaking, Stephen, to like one of the things that is important for you in your role is to be able to sort of translate and calibrate to the donors that you’re serving. So I think it makes sense, like how much better you would be at that if you have this contemplative practice and this ability to create that gap. Okay. Can we talk about code switching and your ninja level skills in this department? So you joined, you’re always so gracious when I say hey, come like talk to one of my classes. And you’ve said yes, every time I think so thank you for that. Most recently you, along with me back in K came and spent some time with my undergraduate students. And you said something and just in the course that conversation which went many many different directions about, and I think like what you the context in which you mentioned, it was sort of early on in your days in philanthropy, in particular, how you realized that you could use the language of philanthropy to your personal advantage. And in doing that you were mindful of the trade offs inherent in that. Will say more about that. That was just such an interesting, intriguing observation.


Stephen Robinson  10:26

Yeah, yeah, I guess first, just to sort of give a little bit more context. You know, I work with a lot of donors. I work in a lot of spaces that are inherently white and kind of institutional. But in no way can I speak sort of for the broad, like, all caps, philanthropy-


Erica Mills Barnhart  10:50

Yeah, sure. And, you know, we should probably start right by explaining what code switching is.


Stephen Robinson  10:54

Oh, sure. Yeah. Um, do you? Do you want to take a stab at it or?


Erica Mills Barnhart  10:58

No, you go.


Stephen Robinson  10:59

Okay, great. So code switching is anytime you use language that’s appropriate to the person who’s listening, even though it may not be appropriate, the most appropriate way for you to communicate. So it’s, it’s like this fun way that we put an extra burden on people who have identities that are not conventional to the place that they’re in. It’s like extra work. It’s like fun extra work to be understood. It’s important extra work though. Sometimes I look back at like, let’s see, see in the Atos work on of her work. She’s a powerful work just ample where we will put links to like to see as Yeah, in the Great. Um, yeah, she has those three articles, if you could put links to those. I mean, that like a good idea, Stephen. Yeah. of her work. But I look at the way that she’s sort of blocked out in her like addressing model, how she’s blocked out in any, any way that you, you know, whether it’s age, whether it’s race, whether it’s there’s all these ways that we’re either marginalized, or we’re overvalued by the society that we live in. And anytime that like you, you step outside of the overvalued column, you have to code switch into the overvalued column. I don’t know if I said that. Right. But basically, when you’re at the margins, you have to speak in the language of the people who have the power. And that’s code switching


Erica Mills Barnhart  12:33

of the majority. So I mean, maybe one way to think about it simplistically is if you’re in the minority, you find yourself having to speak to in the way that the majority of folks or and or because it’s not actually obvious majority, but the folks who hold power,


Stephen Robinson  12:49

right? We’d have Yeah, I was gonna say. Yes. Already minority thing.


Erica Mills Barnhart  12:54

Yeah. Fair enough. Fair enough. It came out of my mouth. And I was like, that actually doesn’t hold.


Stephen Robinson  13:02

It’s more about power


Erica Mills Barnhart  13:03

power. It’s about who holds power. Yeah. And actually I am, I’ll just share. I mean, I didn’t want to, to explain code switching, because the honest truth is as a very privileged white woman, I have not had to find myself code switching very often in my life. And it was in reading some of the CCNA Atos work. And she has these I think it’s seven categories. It’s seven or eight categories. Yeah. You know, so race, gender, socio economic class, religious affiliation, even if you weren’t religious growing up, but you know, so there’s a number of Yeah, nationality. And actually, because so the only two, where I wasn’t, you know, in the power position where I’m a woman, and also was born in Canada, which, you know, sounds a little, like, odd. But there was a pretty good phase of my life where that really, that that that, for me, I realized was the way in which I could access the feeling of the burden of code switching for a period of time. But also, that faded away as my Canadian accent faded, for the most part, in a way, although I still have some quirks. But you know, for a lot of especially, you know, white gender domain, folks, cisgender. Folks, we just don’t, this isn’t a part of our lives, we don’t carry this burden. So that’s why I didn’t want to be the one to explain.


Stephen Robinson  14:30

Yeah, I appreciate that. Yeah. Yeah. I appreciate a lot of the I appreciate a lot about you, and that’s why I keep showing. Thank you.


Erica Mills Barnhart  14:40

Okay, so now we’ve explained what it is. And I’m hope I’m hoping that people get it. Do you have some concrete examples that you can offer?


Stephen Robinson  14:47

Oh, yeah,


Erica Mills Barnhart  14:48

just to really put you on the spot. But I know you’re totally


Stephen Robinson  14:50

you know, the way that I would talk to, I mean, even just the way that I’m speaking to you holding myself because This is a more professional space, if you were like a gay friend, and we were just kicking over a cup of coffee, you know, there would i would be just accumulating more I would be, there would be elements of my personality that are not currently present. And it’s not that they’re not invited to this space, like, there’s no, they’re just not necessarily appropriate. And the things that I’m trying to communicate wouldn’t necessarily come through in the cleanest way. And I think a lot of code switching actually is pretty subconscious. You know, some people are really good and able to consciously, you know, and being a biracial person, I might consciously switch into using different language or sort of holding myself and holding my values and a different through a different prism, you know, as if I was in in black company versus white company. And some people are really good at doing that consciously. But I think mostly, it’s actually a subconscious, extra bit of work that people do. And it’s part of why I like being a person of color is exhausting in this culture, you know, or you just think about, like this extra bag of work that you have to carry around with, you have like, Okay, well, I can’t use my language, or people who don’t speak English as their first language. Like, it’s very similar to that.


Erica Mills Barnhart  16:28

Yeah. And I appreciate you pointing out sort of the somewhat professional setting that we find ourselves in. And I knew that might be another way for white listeners to be like, Oh, that’s right. I, when I’m chit chatting with my friends, that’s different than women, when I’m showing up. And just to be aware that sometimes that’s tougher, and that there’s this extra level, because if you’re white, you know, when you’re switching to your professional, you’re still white, you know, and so you’re still for the most part, you know, the the dominant vernacular. So, let’s talk about jargon, showing move to jargon. And, you know, eventually, so, so part of that conversation that, you know, got us here today was talking about how you became aware, relatively early on of code switching, and then taking your talks about Chiron in particular, and that you were mindful of the fact that in doing that, in some ways you were perpetuating, you know, oppression, and patterns of oppression. So I think for especially if this stuff is new, I can mention this point, some listeners are like, Whoa, I mean, I remember when I first heard about code switching, I was like, briefly, yeah, oh, oh, my gosh, wow. Maybe some folks are having that moment. And I want to say to everyone, all of this is a journey. Yeah. If this code switching stuff, or whatever is new to you, great. Like, don’t feel badly about it. I learned stuff. I mean, I get it wrong a lot. Still, but that’s okay. Like, at least we’re you’re on the journey. And that’s as well. I’d like to make things you know, examples are helpful. As an academic, I tend to really live in a theory land a lot. Because I can just fill in the blanks with my examples from doing this a long time. But jargon so so jargon is so important, and we talk about it a lot. And when it comes to marketing, and fundraising, and all these things. And the reason I really want to shine a light on it, this is my international hand sign for those of you can’t see it’s a really high tech fan sign on jargon. So especially when you’re talking to external audiences, unless you know, for darn sure that they know the jargon that you’re using my counsel every time it’s gonna be just don’t use it. Because it can be it’s making people feel excluded. Uh huh. Now, conversely, jargon can, you know can be handy in two ways, one internally to you know, in a in a culture, community or organization. You know, if you know the jargon, acronyms, by the way, are a subset of jargon, then it can actually be efficient. It’s like shorthand. But it can also be used in its most nefarious usage, I would say, it is used to purposely exclude people in like, better light version of that it is used to make people feel included. Right, like a part of something. So I just wanted to say all of that, because jargon is really tricky. Straight up horrible. Like some stuff is his but it’s very nuanced. I think it’s one of the ways in which you have to be so strategic and intentional, as a, you know, within organizations. So let’s, let’s talk about some of the most use jargon in philanthropy. And that because that way we can talk about Okay, in what ways does this perpetuate some of the very things that We’re trying to dismantle. Let’s start. So I’m gonna say word, Steven. And then we please, for listeners, like, explain what it means. And I actually want to start with word philanthropy.





Stephen Robinson  20:12

So a lot of the work that I do is with families. And the very first thing, especially if it’s a multi generational family wealth, the very first thing that I do is put up a slide that simply says philanthropy. And then we go from the youngest person up, and we define it. And you know, the Seattle foundation we have, we have our, also, I’m not speaking on behalf of Seattle Foundation, at any point in this podcast, just made that clear. But Seattle Foundation has a really great definition of philanthropy, I tend to break it up into two words, Phil, and anthropy, meaning the love of humanity, because I feel like that’s a little bit more expansive, and it gives more room to play. You know, I think a lot of what people on on that side of the table are trying to solve for is, you know, how can I live into my mission. And that looks a lot of different ways. It looks like volunteering, it looks like money, it looks like time on boards, it looks like, you know, hopefully, more and more, it looks like reconstructing the way that they’re making wealth. Because I think that that’s really the key to unlocking philanthropy is actually doing less harm on the front end. But a way to bridge into that conversation is by talking about the resources that they’re giving out, which is really a lot of the work that we do. So and you know, more broadly, I think people don’t really have that sense of what philanthropy is like, in the nonprofit space. I hear philanthropy just used. You know, like, if you’re a director of philanthropy for a nonprofit, that means a major gifts donor, you’re, you’re supposed to be sort of kicking it with the big wigs. Yeah, that’s, that’s your job, versus a fundraiser. And so it’s, it’s sort of synonymous with power. And then more broadly, I think, people think about philanthropy either as just being, you know, just charity, or they think of both top hats walking around and shiny gowns.


Erica Mills Barnhart  22:21

Yeah, I love that you pointed out that philanthropy is about the love of humanity. And it’s not just about writing a check, or, you know, it’s not it’s not, it’s not transactional. It doesn’t need to be limited just to money, but it really, because I think a lot of people are like, Oh, I, you know, I’m, you know, I don’t have money to, I don’t have a top hat, and things. We want to go on record as saying you don’t need to talk how to be a philanthropist. Bottom line. If you love humanity, whoever you’re showing up to do that. You’re anthropos. And I think that’s really beautiful. So Okay, next word, when people say strategic giving, what does that mean? Because I’m finding that like, you hear it a lot. And implied in that is that there’s and strategic giving?


Stephen Robinson  23:05

Yeah, yeah. So that’s actually a large part of what I do is helping people to create strategic plans for themselves. So oftentimes, LCL Foundation, again, we have like a, we have a tried and true philosophy and curriculum that we take a lot of our philanthropists through called giving with impact. And it’s the you know, sort of a modulated learning cycle that that people can go through first identifying your values and interests, moving on to trying to understand the sort of levels of impact that occur. So a lot of philanthropists don’t really have a direct relationship or understanding of how nonprofits work. So just understanding that there are different ways that organizations work, some are direct, some are preventative, some are systems changing, or reinventing. And it’s all sort of impactful, but the emotional output is different and, and whatnot. And the tangibility is really different to so I, you know, strategic giving, means that a person has actually thought about right, but they’re doing, it’s intentional. It’s intentional. And, you know, I think, you know, philanthropists are human so that in humans, I know, I don’t wake up in the morning thinking about, you know, all of the various things I could be thinking about in terms of our society. philanthropists are the same way. And so they’ll just do what is in front of them, or where their relationships are. So, you know, strategic philanthropy. And I also I always encourage, you know, there’s multiple different ways that philanthropists can operate and they should budget accordingly. So your whatever is your strategy. So, you know, my strategy is climate impact, or climate justice and impact associated with that. And so that’s that’s really where my story Teacher giving is, you know, that amounts to $100. Versus like my, my personal relationship giving, which is in smaller amounts, it’s $50 here, $50 there. So ultimately, it’s about building a budget where your relationships are honored, because those are important. And also impact is honored. Cuz that’s,


Erica Mills Barnhart  25:26

that’s a nice way of thinking about it. Yeah, I think you surface something that was important, though. And I’m hoping that people kind of got it, which is, all of us have multiple identities, and we shift in and out of them throughout the day, right. So when you wake up, you don’t, you’re not like necessarily waking up with your donor identity, front and center. Maybe if we all slept with top hats next door, then we can roll out of bed stick on the top hat, that seems really highly unlikely. But you know, this concept, I think, is really is very important again, and there’s this term called mutable identities. But it basically means we shift throughout the day. So you may wake up, and if you’re a parent, and you’re like, you’re primarily a parent, and then you go to work, and then you know, your professional identity is forward. And then we we all go through all of this. And I would say one of the biggest marketing errors I see nonprofits make is that they have this working hypothesis that when somebody reads the appeal, or the newsletter, or whatever, that their primary their hat that they have on, is the donor hat. Yeah. And so I mean, your experience with donors is a bit different, because they are they’re there with you, donor hat on. Like, that’s forward. But that’s really not often the case. So when we look at the I mean, when we look at the the evidence about how often people actually do any research around there giving, it’s not a lot, right, it’s not and by the way, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. But I think it is, it is something to surface,


Stephen Robinson  26:58

for sure. I mean, we we exist in an attention economy right now. And unfortunately, you know, the, the things that are pulling attention towards giving and towards their love of humanity, are dwindling. And they’re not front and center, and they’re fighting with other things that are that are laden with dopamine, you know. And they have to figure out how to create a tool that gives the reader a dopamine hit, or you have to go through a broker of some sort. And so


Erica Mills Barnhart  27:31

dopamine broker,


Stephen Robinson  27:33

a dopamine broker, or person who is who exists in the world of philanthropy, this, to my role oftentimes comes in, it’s just sort of being like a sorting hat for on behalf of donor so I can uplift things to them. But CPAs and attorneys, and, you know, all every great gift planning officer that I’ve ever met, you know, operates in the nonprofit space simultaneously to the wealth advising space.


Erica Mills Barnhart  28:01

Yeah, yeah. Yeah. For listeners who were like, Ah, that’s all that sounds overwhelming. But I still want to kind of sort of make maybe smarter decisions. I mean, there’s give Well, there’s candid there. I mean, there’s lots of places to go. Right? I have to say, when I was preparing for this, so I have one more jargon word that I that I want to talk about. And then I want to go to some of the specific ones that you were talking about when you joined in class. So catalyst for a long time has had a very bad rap. However, I came across this definition, or actually, that what it really means and it made me feel a lot better about the word catalyst said when it comes to science, a catalyst speeds up a chemical reaction, and allows for less energy to be used during a reaction. These substances exist even after the reaction occurs and go on to speed up other reactions. I’m just saying, I mean, I feel bad net that made me feel a little badly for the word catalyst, which tends to hold sort of a self congratulatory space, I would say, you know, organizations are using it, they’re like, well be a catalyst. But this gives you sort of, like a, like, I don’t know, isn’t going to speed up a reaction.


Stephen Robinson  29:13



Erica Mills Barnhart  29:15

You know, like, you can, like, that’s so much more concrete.


Stephen Robinson  29:19

A lot of these words actually have, you know, some really good heart and meaning behind them. Do they get overused. Think about synergy. You know, the the idea that two things can come together and create a reaction that’s larger than those two things could on their own. That’s a great concept. Who doesn’t energize?


Erica Mills Barnhart  29:44

You can synergistically catalyze something.



Yeah, I


Erica Mills Barnhart  29:49

don’t know. Can’t can’t Can Can somebody synergistically? I think so.


Stephen Robinson  29:53

I think so.


Erica Mills Barnhart  29:54

And I think we should all try to work that into our day to day conversations. I don’t know Are we synergy Stickley catalyzing in this meeting with me just be so goofy that it would lighten things up. Okay, now lay on us because I don’t work in philanthropy. I direct the center about nonprofits of philanthropy and many other things I don’t like I’m not on the inside. And so you shared a few terms. And I was like, Oh, my gosh, what? What are you talking about? Do you remember what they were? Yep.


Stephen Robinson  30:24

I remember one of them was the multiplier effect.


Erica Mills Barnhart  30:27

Yes, yes. So talk to us about the multiplier effect.


Stephen Robinson  30:30

Well, it’s also, you know, I think people talk about it also as knock on impact.


Erica Mills Barnhart  30:35

Oh, that was that was the thing. I was like, knock on impact. Yeah.


Stephen Robinson  30:43

Yeah, I don’t know where that language comes from. It seems sportsy. But basically, it means it’s like a domino domino effect. And the multiplier is looking at your you’re looking to do activity a, and it’s going to have impact B. But then what happens as that impact sort of ripples throughout? its intended sort of lane of of impact? So that’s a lot of the word impact.


Erica Mills Barnhart  31:12

But lane of impact.


Stephen Robinson  31:14

Yeah, well, and I just made that up. So don’t go ahead and use that. That’s


Erica Mills Barnhart  31:18

all they’ll be will, Steven, we will now be. Are you staying in your impact plane synergistically?


Stephen Robinson  31:30

Yeah. And so that’s, that’s the one that I remember. But what other terms to you out?


Erica Mills Barnhart  31:36

There were something well, the knock on effect was definitely one of them. Because something about that just seems so? Yeah, inside ball, right. Like, who didn’t? I was like, do people like you’re in a meeting and people are talking about the knock on effect? And, and also, you know, back to kind of this idea of different language being used very intentionally in different contexts. So maybe knock on effect is common language for nonprofits? I have I mean, I personally haven’t heard nonprofits using it. So if you know feels a little bit and now we’re gonna step, you know, toward this conversation about how is language use to perpetuate oppression? Yeah, basically, or unintentionally, right? Because if it is true, which it may not be, I may just be the last to understand this term, or to hear that term knock on effects. But because Foundation’s been foundations fundamentally are in the business of giving away money to support communities and causes, if they’re using that language, you know, so they hold the power, nonprofits are the ones who are asking. So you know, there’s a power dynamic that is uneven In this scenario, for the most part. Well, so if there’s language being used within foundations and nonprofits who are trying to speak the language, right, just way to say, right, we understand if they don’t know it, that seems to perpetuate the paradigm anemic?


Stephen Robinson  32:57

Yeah, well, exactly. And, you know, if you take a look back at how philanthropy got its start, it’s not hard to and so how philanthropy got its start was essentially people who were amassing larger and larger amounts of wealth and had ever historically been known, decided to give back some of that wealth. And so that means that incredibly powerful people created, you know, essentially banks of power, and then allow the those power banks to then distribute, you know, according to whatever strategy or whatever they wanted. But that creates a power differential, just from the start from the very getgo. We’re talking about very powerful people who create very powerful entities. And the whole structure is, I mean, I reflect on like Audrey lords. The, you know, the tools of the oppressor will never be used under the Masters tools will never be used to undo the Masters houses, how she terms it, I think about that, from the perspective of philanthropy, like the thing that we’re trying to do, oftentimes is undue harm that’s been created in our society, the thing that’s created that harm, oftentimes is the very thing that’s created the largest that’s that necessitates philanthropy, or that creates the opportunity for philanthropy. And so that’s just I mean, that’s, that’s one way. One way that philanthropy just sort of perpetuates harm.


Erica Mills Barnhart  34:38

So, what do we do about that?


Stephen Robinson  34:43

Yeah, well, you know, again, I reflect on Letizia, Nancy’s work, because she talks a lot about I mean, essentially, what are the tool that she gives us is a power tool. So it’s understanding power, where it’s where it overly accumulates and where it doesn’t exist. where it has to be, you know, sort of grabbed. And so when she, when she looks at people who are further away from, from power, her whole thing is about re centering and empowering oneself. And so I look at like who leis work with, you know, nonprofit, with balls, and down nonprofit AF. Oh, that’s right. Yes. And other organizations like there’s a CEOs of color organization for Washington State, there’s lots of different organizations that are working to rebalance power and understand their voice. And, and I think all of that is is like the systems change work again, like looking back at that, that sort of gradient of work that can be done, right, there’s like very direct work that is tangible. And then there’s a sort of more upstream systems change work and reinvention, I think a lot of the systems change work is going to come from entities that are fully empowered, and leaders that are fully empowered.


Erica Mills Barnhart  36:14

What does it look like to be fully empowered? concretely,


Stephen Robinson  36:19

I think, you know, again, we have I’m sort of talking in the abstract, but I think people who are fully in their bodies are fully empowered.


Erica Mills Barnhart  36:30

This is where listeners are like, Oh, he really is higher. That’s a contemplated practice, say?


Stephen Robinson  36:43

No, I, you know, I think that there’s a lot of forces in this world that are trying to push you out of your body and trying to make you feel and this is where marketing comes in. Right? Like marketing wouldn’t exist if people felt like they were good enough. because there’d be nothing to market to there. You know, you have to have that deficiency. And so our culture is, is really predicated on a lot of deficiency


Erica Mills Barnhart  37:06

is part of what this podcast is trying to disrupt.


Stephen Robinson  37:09



Erica Mills Barnhart  37:11

Right, we just put a fine point on it. I mean, that that genuinely is right. Like, it’s why it’s called marketing for good because so much of marketing has been used to perpetuate yuckiness.


Stephen Robinson  37:22

Totally, totally. And yet, there are tools inlaid in marketing that make it very useful for getting out, you know, a clear message and for, for marketing, and for communicating effectively.


Erica Mills Barnhart  37:36

Well, and for, you know, inviting people into actions. Yeah, whether on the you know, as a consumer as a donor is whatever, the truly the truly are beneficial, right. But that starts to perpetuate cycles of good, as opposed to cycles of bad, you know, beds, if it’s, you know, it’s very binary and trite. But, but that is kind of the idea. I mean, it’s what keeps me motivated to do the work is to be looking for the examples, and that also within the way that you were doing the marketing itself. Right, right, that it’s sort of like to the greatest extent possible, you are trying to get to Kant’s, moral imperative, right? That, which is this idea, I just taught with FX last week in my undergrad classes, like friend of mine, for me, and I will also say, I know, like, every time I teach ethics, which I teach it in most of my courses, it’s important that students at the beginning of the class are like, ethics, yay, you know, and like, they’re good sports about it. And it tends to be one of those things that is most pointed to in valuations, like I love that class on ethics. I think it’s really important, right? So if you think about the ethics, so cost, moral imperative is basically that the that the means have to justify the end, like the the means themselves, the way in which you were doing whatever you were doing have to also be moral, which is juxtapose that to classic utilitarianism, which, which would say the means justify the end. Right? So in the end, if we, you know, plant more trees help more kids do whatever. obon Okay, sure, maybe our, our HR is all over the map, you know, or maybe people were even harmed or or back to your sort of bigger meta picture on this. Like, do people feel seen? Do they feel heard? Do they feel like they truly belong? Right in the space, whatever the space is being used to create the products, right? And I think of I had Aaron Dell on Merlot Jackson on a show who wrote an article for that. So they do culture, they called culture audits. They get very excited about the about the audits, but they wrote a piece for Harvard Business Review that the title I think was a get this off probably was woke washing won’t cut it for your company, right? So I’m definitely you know, in that space, and so in that conversation, You know, they are so I mean, they’re wonderful on so many levels. One of them is like they are concrete. They are gonna like it is like, are you looking at the you know, if you say that you value diversity, equity inclusion, what’s your turnover rate? Uh huh. And it’s so much of it. We were talking about how a lot of this is like, not sexy. But you kind of have to operationalize like, yeah, if operationalize ethics, you have to operationalize valuing diversity, equity, inclusion, liberation, you know, recently people are going are going there. Yeah. So, let’s bring this back to language power. Oh, I was going to get a language we can go to power.


Stephen Robinson  40:41

Let’s go the language of power. Yes,


Erica Mills Barnhart  40:43

let’s go there. Let’s combo meal it.





Erica Mills Barnhart  40:46

I think that was synergistic. What we just right there? What is the language of power look like in, in philanthropy in the space of doing good? And what might it look like? Like if we are trying to go towards censoring all voices? Or, you know, I guess I go also to like, What is it? What does it look like for everyone to belong? Yeah, it should like truly feel bad.


Stephen Robinson  41:10

I mean, this is where I really, you know, I think about like Octavia Butler. And I think about Adrian Murray. I think about all these authors who are really trying to be creative. Because the essentially like, you know, we can’t we, if we work within this system, like this system was created really intentionally to produce the outcomes that are currently being produced in which we are walking through a world of you know, and that goes to how things are literally constructed in our mind, but also in our internal environment, you know, a lot of the structures that we’re currently undoing through a lot of dei initiatives, the internal structures that we’re undoing, those were intentionally created. And so we need, we need creativity, we need somebody who can think completely outside of that box, which we live in. And this again, goes back to contemplative practices, because oftentimes, what it requires is that we’re able to actually identify where, where our how our mind is working. And if we’re going to be applying values, internally, I get, I always make a point to say that there is the personal liberation work that a person needs to go through. And then there’s the work, the more tangible work that you’re talking about, which creates the equitable outcomes. And those are tangible things those are, you know, who’s working in what level of power, you know, you can record some data around it, you can show how these things have shifted over time, you can look at sale foundations, history of giving, and see how we’ve changed our trajectory of giving towards bipoc. Communities. You these are tangible things that can be adjusted,


Erica Mills Barnhart  43:04

just so that we’re walking our talk, not everyone will be familiar with bipoc blesses


Stephen Robinson  43:10

people of color. Yeah. Yeah. So bipoc was created because people of color oftentimes leaves out even within the group of people of color, black and indigenous experiences, because they are so I mean, they’re, they’re not completely different. But the experience of walking in a black body or an indigenous body, I can’t speak to the indigenous part. But the those are independent, and require their own sort of century, you know, acronym. So that’s why they’re pulled out. It’s called bipoc.


Erica Mills Barnhart  43:44

So I was for anyone who’s watching this video, I smirked a little bit, when you were talking about creating equitable outcomes, and and being able to gather data around that evidence. You know, white culture loves data, we love evidence. So I think it’s an example of an opportunity, I think, right to just wonder, like, why, why are we collecting data? And I say, this is somebody who works in academia. Like, I love me some evidence, right? We just produced this report about the impact of COVID on nonprofits. I’m not saying so I’m not saying you know, data and evidence is powerful, right? It is, like I said, an opportunity to be like, what do we really need to know? What do we really need to know? And what what are our sources of knowledge going to be? Yeah, can be like a very specific actionable thing. You know, and I know a lot of listeners to this are, you know, hold leadership positions in their organization. So that’s something that you could concretely take away from this conversation and start doing this just one, you know, starting to wonder about those things. starting to wonder about why it is or isn’t okay for certain people to interrupt other people. Right. That is one of my biggest things. I have to work on. And it was like, a huge eye opener to realize how often you know, and I like I’m fast paced sprinter. So I could like make a bunch of excuses. But fundamentally, I get to, yeah, because of the positional authority I hold. It becomes very obvious. Right, and, obviously was the right word, but but it is illuminating. And so again, just to be wondering and observing, like how these shifts might take place.


Stephen Robinson  45:32

Yeah, I think it’s also important to note around the data, you know, who is collecting the data and who’s setting the agenda for data collection? You know, because I know, from a community philanthropy point of view, as well as this played out in my international development background with Peace Corps, you know, it’s, it’s who’s at the table at all times, you know, so who’s setting the who, who’s created the value system from which you’re working, in general, you know, and oftentimes, it’s, it’s done by leaders, and leaders or people who have been acculturated in a particular way. And that’s, you know, there. That’s one type of value system. And that’s an important type of value system. But I think right now, what the world is calling for, is for leaders to listen. And, and that’s the I think that’s like a central point. So, and, again, one of the ways that you operationalize that one of the tangible things is by creating cabinets of people who are directly from community who hold the ear of the leader. And that’s like a very tangible way of actually getting that input. And then the the internal part, because, again, I always break it into what’s happening internally, and what’s happening externally, what’s the tangible and what’s the sort of internal world. And the internal part is, I mean, I think every leader needs to go to therapy. Yeah. Like you need to know where you got your storylines from, from your own history. And you need to know how you can reach your own liberation before you can actually be an honest broker in the world. Oh, and especially, it’s, it’s very difficult when it when you’re adjacent to large amounts of power. Because people relate to you in a way that benefits you. And we’re comfort beings. So we like to stay comfortable. And so if if everyone’s catering to us all the time, it’s really hard to be self critical, and say, Oh, well, maybe I didn’t say that. Right? You know, because it requires you to do the work for yourself, is nobody will call you out, if you’re on the other side of the power imbalance. People call you out left and right, and you become better for it, because you have a ton of feedback. But the further up in the Echelon and this this relates to the way that philanthropy works in general, there’s not a lot of people calling out philanthropists, you know, or philanthropy. And partially, it’s because it’s a it’s a top a golden pedestal, it’s on top of, you know, and that golden pedestal is multi dimensional, because it’s also a golden pedicel. that’s associated with resources, but it’s also associated with our own moral virtue, you know, in some regard, so I talk to people at dinner parties and whatnot, and they’re like, oh, you’re saving the world? And I’m like, No, that’s no morality. This is, you know, this is it’s the moving of resources. It’s not inherently a moral thing, you know, but it is, but at the same time, it is


Erica Mills Barnhart  48:46

you’re moving money to move powers. Edgar Villanova would say, right, I think it’s after Who said that? Right. Okay. I think so. I think it sounds like something he would say, yeah. We’ll fact check that, but I’m going to attribute it to Edgar. Yeah.



I think this, you


Erica Mills Barnhart  49:02

know, I hope that people are hearing that, you know, this sort of a riff on this idea. We talked a lot about on podcast, if you’d like you have to have internal alignment before you can have external execution, like, high high quality extra execution. For the most part, we’re talking about that in the context of, you know, internal teams. You know, there was a great podcast with Beth castleberry, who she talked very explicitly because she works for right now for Fred Hutch, but she’s her for big systems and like, how do you get people internally aligned? Because you need that so much for externally but what you’re saying is much more personal, to my ears much more personal. So I am hoping listeners will just take a minute to wonder about like, What might that look like if I if I’m not already doing that? How can I think you know, to your point, the higher you get up, the more intentional you have to be about like really having truth tellers around you. And building like structures. Yeah. You know, building structures, so that you you are getting feedback. And then you know, the higher up you go been really intentional about what feedback you know, I’m err, quoting feedback because I don’t just mean formal like, and it’s your one year review. But I’m trying to echo and underscore what you were saying about folks who hold power, I think often unintentionally, are quote, unquote, giving feedback to those to those who aren’t in power. So I think there are a lot of different ways to start this work, I hope that listeners are inspired. To do the work, I’m totally not on your level, like I, you know, I meditate, I get my journal, hit and miss on both of those these days. But like, I tried to be fairly, I would say, My most consistent contemplator practice is making my cup of tea in the morning. You know, what it’s part of, I love tea,


Stephen Robinson  50:47

that is really great. I mean, I don’t want to I also don’t want to come off as though I’m some ethereal being who’s like constantly meditating or something like this, it is also a moment to moment, reality, you know, the, it’s just different for every person that I love that you have a check in practice around making tea,


Erica Mills Barnhart  51:08

I try not to do anything else except make the tea. And that takes three to four minutes, because I like my tea very strong. And there is something very nice, you know, about the tea, and then the term and, and I used to, like, guess, you know, take every opportunity, but like, do matter. And I guess it was, you know, year or so ago that I was like, you know, I’m just gonna build this. It’s gonna be about the T and some days, that’s as good as it gets, like the rest of the day, just like a downhill moon. same person is hard. Yeah, team presents really hard, but so important. I close every interview by asking folks the same, the same question. So it’s about inspiration and motivation. So motivation is about taking action. So when we look at the root of words and inspiration, we go back in time, originally meant to take breath. So we need both inspiration, and motivation. And I’m curious what, what inspires you? And what motivates you to keep doing this work?


Stephen Robinson  52:06

Yeah. My inspiration right now, I was mentioning a little bit before, in our pre pre conversation that I’ve had a lot of babies be born into, recently jealous. Yeah, and, you know, I think it’s almost trite to say that babies are inspiring, but they are, they’re so new. And there’s something about the fact that they don’t know all the systems, they, you know, they could be born into any configuration of a society and they would thrive. So there’s something just so open and completely vulnerable about a baby that I just find incredibly inspiring, because we were those babies, you know, and we have the opportunity to shift our world by reclaiming that mindset of, you know, everything can be new. So that’s my inspiration. Motivation, I think the thing that keeps me motivated, is, every single time I walk through, I live in Rainier Beach. And every single time I walk anywhere, I just am more and more motivated. You know, there’s so much genius around me at all times. And I feel like I’m sitting on a secret, because it doesn’t seem like the genius that I’m seeing is necessarily valued all the time. Especially when I talk to people, you know, I’ll say, I’ll say a little bit about where I live or something. And people are like, Oh, you know, and there is such beauty in in so many places. And so I find that very motivating to sort of center in my community. And yeah, keep, keep moving forward. Because there are a lot of people need all of us to be moving forward, especially, you know, those of us working in the environmental space, like, you know, if we, if we don’t work hard right now, we may not see a 2030 you know, or, I mean, the earth will see the 2030 but humanity may not be present on that Earth.


Erica Mills Barnhart  54:25

So you started with babies, and now you’re ending with doom and gloom.


Stephen Robinson  54:31

Find them to be you got to hold the tension.


Erica Mills Barnhart  54:36

You got to hold them both, which is hard. Yeah. Yeah.



Thank you so much.


Erica Mills Barnhart  54:42

Oh, thank you for being here. listeners, thank you for sticking with this conversation. You know, some of these conversations are like, it’s like, you know, chirping along and flight light light and we’re talking about you know, things that are easy and I think they’re, they’re gonna be pieces of this that really give people pause and hopefully opportunity for reflection maybe you’ll be fully present when you make to your coffee next time ever. I always appreciate time with you Steven. So thanks for thanks for carving out time for this. And so listeners as always do good be well and we will see you next time. Thanks for listening to the marketing for good podcast. If you enjoyed the podcast please rate subscribe review and share on Apple, Google or wherever you get your podcasts. If you’d like more information about Clemson University, how to make more impact in and for your organization for hiring me to speak or coach. Go to Cox marketing comm or reach out at info at Clarkson marketing comm again, thanks for listening, and thanks for making our world a better place.

Do you communicate as effectively as you think?


Do you communicate as effectively as you think?