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Inclusive community investment applications

Collectively, Canadian companies invest hundreds of millions of dollars in the social sector through their community investment programs. And while many companies state that they invest in diverse communities, is it possible that the design of corporate community investment applications present unintentional barriers for marginalized communities to access funding? The result of this unintentional bias or lack of accessibility means millions of dollars in lost funding opportunities. So, how can you increase the inclusivity of your community investment funding process? Here are some subtle but important tweaks to consider:

1. Make your application form accessible: Is your application form accessible to all? This doesn’t only encompass accessibility for people with disabilities like vision impairment and dyslexia, but also elements such as reading comprehension, availability in languages other than English or French, and even visibility of the form link on your website.

  • Action opportunity: Optimize your application form for accessibility, explore content translation, and above all, use plain language. You can check how complex your text is by running it through an online reading comprehension checker and ensure the information is presented in a clear, simple manner.

2. Decolonize the application process: Most community investment applications are heavily geared towards Western ways of thinking, meaning they prioritize text-heavy forms. Indigenous communities, by contrast, often have strong oral traditions that empathize storytelling to communicate knowledge and information.

  • Action opportunity: Create an option for applicants to submit oral requests for funding by enabling video applications. This can be embedded into the application form. This not only promotes inclusivity for Indigenous oral traditions, but also increases accessibility for many other communities (such as dyslexic applicants).

3. Reflect on the information you’re asking for: While having access to more information about a community partner is usually considered a good thing, be certain that the information you’re asking for in your application form is relevant and will be actively used in decision-making. Application forms that ask for overly detailed information not only present a barrier to smaller or less well-resourced organizations applying for funding, but also introduce more openings for bias. Examples of this include asking about experience (organizations addressing emerging social issues might be newer – does your application favour more established charities?) or education (some companies ask applicants to share their educational backgrounds – this introduces an obvious bias).

  • Action opportunity: Look for opportunities to condense your application form, or create a pre-screening form that will evaluate applicants for alignment with your program before asking them to invest tons of time in a longer application. Carefully consider the kinds and volume of questions in your application – ensure questions are clear, simple and directly relevant!

4. Ensure your decision-makers are diverse: If the people making decisions about community investment funding (such as the community investment team or company leadership) represent a pretty homogenous group, it is critical to add diverse perspectives to the review process.

  • Action opportunity: Create committees to review community investment requests that include participation from diverse voices (e.g. racial, gender, disability, LGTQ2S+ diversity). This could be internal participation from employees or even external participation from community members.