Forward Focus: Tiffany Tavarez discusses navigating the world of philanthropy as a woman of color - Generocity Philly

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Nov. 6, 2020 8:40 am

Forward Focus: Tiffany Tavarez discusses navigating the world of philanthropy as a woman of color

In this interview as part of the Nov. 12 ADVANCE conference, the Vice President of Community Relations at Wells Fargo shares how her personal values and dedication to DEI guide her philanthropic work.
“Throughout my career, I have challenged those who use diversity, equity and inclusion as an opportunity for emotional charity.”

Tiffany Tavarez serves as vice president of community relations at Wells Fargo where she implements the company’s corporate responsibility priorities through strategic philanthropy, stakeholder engagement, and team member volunteerism. Numerous organizations throughout the region have recognized her work and commitment to civic engagement and impact including Forum of Executive Women, Philadelphia City Council, LEADERSHIP Philadelphia, IMPACTO, Friends of the Urban Affairs Coalition, Philadelphia Business Journal and the United Way of Greater Philadelphia & Southern New Jersey. She currently serves as a member of Governor Tom Wolf’s Pennsylvania Commission for Women; member of the board of directors for Esperanza and Temple Contemporary as well as board chair of Monument Lab.


Generocity: Generocity’s ADVANCE focuses on “advancing” both your mission and your career. What are the benefits of hearing from other organizations in the Philadelphia social impact sector? How have professional development experiences helped you deliver on funding goals for your organization?

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Tavarez: The opportunity to hear and learn from individuals, and their respective organizations, on how they are addressing social issues is very important to me. Our solutions need to evolve just as rapidly as our challenges do. This requires consistent awareness of best practices as well as being transparent about what hasn’t worked for organizations as much as what has. Generocity has always provided a platform to hear from voices often unnoticed or overlooked; ADVANCE is the way in which those same voices get elevated, empowering us to listen deeply, with intentionality and grace.

Generocity: 2020’s economic turmoil has significantly impacted, largely in a negative way, the livelihood of our socially-driven organizations. Has your organization found any creative ways to preserve budget, raise donations, or acquire new funding? We understand this is a sensitive topic; please do not feel obligated to answer.

Tavarez: Earlier this year, the company dedicated $175 million from the Wells Fargo Foundation to help address food shortages, public health needs, small business stability, and housing security for the most vulnerable populations. Through our expedited grant-making at the local level, we were able to allocate COVID-19 relief through general operating grants to our nonprofit partners, allowing for maximum flexibility to support the overall health of local organizations. We are doing our best to respond to a dynamic and fluid situation that requires flexibility, focus and compassion.

Generocity: Did you attend ADVANCE 2019? If so, what was your biggest takeaway? What did you learn that you have since implemented in your own organization, and what were the results? If not, how can ADVANCE 2020 help your organization solve one of its current dilemmas?

Tavarez: Vanessa Briggs, president and CEO of the Brandywine Health Foundation, presented during ADVANCE 2019. Her passion, expertise and focus was inspiring and something I wanted to connect to. As a woman of color and practitioner of philanthropy, it can be challenging to sustain a network of leaders who have similar values and missions as you do and be willing to leverage their power and influence to create systemic change. We continue to build a relationship that makes me a better leader for my community.

Shortly after her Foundation established the Healthcare and Economic Relief Fund to address immediate impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic on the Greater Coatesville community, the Wells Fargo Foundation made a $25K investment in that fund to support her efforts to advance health equity by dismantling racial and economic barriers. Additionally, she has led a (virtual) Black Philanthropy Panel Series that I look forward to being a part of later this December. I am grateful to ADVANCE for cultivating spaces where people can learn about organizational work just as much as they can be inspired by individual narratives by people who look like the community I come from and serve.

Generocity: In July, Generocity launched TRACE (Toward Response and Community Equity), a year-long initiative tracking Philadelphia’s response to a pandemic, an economic crisis, and systemic racism. In the midst of COVID-19, how has your organization adapted to meet the changing needs of your stakeholders? What do you hope to learn at ADVANCE that will help you better serve our community?

Tavarez: COVID-19 has served as the great amplifier of challenges that have existed in our communities long before the virus hit. Though much of our work had addressed some of those challenges, like many others, we had to reimagine what support could like. This includes helping over 100,000 renters and homeowners stay in their homes through grants to nonprofits that offer eviction and foreclosure prevention assistance, rental assistance, and financial counseling and partnering with Feeding America to provide 50 million meals through our Food Bank Drive-Up Program to help alleviate financial hardship and food insecurity.

More recently, Wells Fargo launched the Wells Fargo Student Impact Scholarship, which will provide $1 million in grants to students making an impact in their communities who have unexpectedly found themselves in need of financial assistance for their education due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Additionally, we introduced a $400 million small business recovery effort called the Open for Business Fund, created by the donation of PPP processing fees received by the bank as a result of its participation in the program. This fund will help small businesses open, recover and rebuild, particularly racially and ethnically diverse-owned businesses. This major initiative will open a new avenue for nonprofits to deliver capital, training and long-term recovery efforts to diverse entrepreneurs who see a long road ahead.

I hope ADVANCE can highlight what other organizations have embraced this unprecedented territory as a means to develop new programs and initiatives that serve our most vulnerable populations in the region.

Generocity: Our nation is currently grappling with the many ways systemic racism infiltrates our society: it affects our policing system, our education system, housing, health care, and more. Through your work, how do you advocate for racial equity? How can ADVANCE help you create a more diverse, inclusive, equitable organization?

Tavarez: There is no shortage of organizational commitments to diversity, equity and inclusion. Organizations will reiterate it in open forums, social media, websites and email signatures all-day, everyday; showcasing links to videos and well-curated photos. However, organizations are made of people, just like you and me. If the individuals — those who are leaders and perceived leaders — of those organizations do not personally adopt those same DEI values and missions, then all of that messaging falls flat.

Throughout my career, I have challenged those who use diversity, equity and inclusion as an opportunity for emotional charity. I use my voice and power to call out those who take pride in being oppressive and choose to be ignorant for their own security. ADVANCE can help organizations by highlighting leaders — of all backgrounds and levels — who’ve made difficult short-term decisions for the sake of long-term gains that result in true diversity, equity and inclusion.

Generocity: During these physically isolating times, innovative technology has become increasingly important. How has your organization used technology to solve the unique challenges posed by COVID-19? What has helped you, your team members, and your stakeholders stay connected?

Tavarez: First and foremost, we started with the safety of our employees. We’ve significantly expanded work-from-home capabilities with over 175K employees enabled to do so. For jobs that cannot be done from home, we have taken significant actions to ensure safety, including mandating social distancing, requiring all employees to wear facial coverings, enhancing cleaning protocols, increasing sanitation supplies, and requiring employee self-screening. Additionally, there have been support enhancements, to employees who are parents and caregivers, such as virtual tutoring, subsidized child-care and caregiving services.

We made a $23 million grant to the WE Care employee relief fund, which provides resources to employees, within the U.S. and internationally, who face a catastrophic disaster or financial hardship resulting from an event beyond their control. The fund helped more than 19,000 employees between March and May alone. Additionally, we created a virtual, five-week experience for the company’s 662 summer interns which included interfacing with some of the organization’s top leaders.

We also expanded virtual volunteering offerings for our employees who wanted to stay civically engaged from the safety of their home. It was important for us to ensure we facilitated resources to not just help employees stay connected to Wells Fargo, we wanted to ensure employees felt connected to their own communities and loved ones.

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Tavarez is the fourth profile in our Forward Focus series, a series of stories highlighting the experiences and work of nonprofit leaders in Philadelphia. The goal of the series is two-fold: 1) to provide insight on shared challenges in the social impact sector and 2) to help nonprofit professionals get the most of Generocity’s virtual ADVANCE conference on Nov. 12.

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