The objective of this document is to share next steps and upcoming changes within the November Project organization. As we’re implementing many of the items shared below, we will be including updates and linking to resources that provide more details on action items in question. This document will continue to grow and evolve, so if you want to share your feedback or suggestions, anonymous and otherwise, please click here.
- 2/4/21, progress update
- 2/1/21, NP Board Selection update
- 12/30/20, NP Board Selection update
- 12/4/20, progress update
- ASSESS ORGANIZATIONAL CULTURE
- The Commitment: We are committed to diving deeply to understand the ways in which NP founders and leadership may hold white supremacy culture characteristics in service of dismantling these systems of thinking/operating within NP.
- The Actions: We have shared a survey with our Co-Leaders that helped us identify domains where NPHQ may hold white supremacy culture characteristics. We have reflected and analyzed the data and identified antidotes (ways to rectify white supremacy culture characteristics). The implementation of antidotes has started and will continue. In Q1 of 2021, we will apply the same process on the local level with individual NP cities.
- DEVELOP HUMAN RESOURCES POSITION
- The Commitment: Formalize, communicate, and put into practice systems and processes that effectively support and proactively prepare Co-Leaders to lead NP in their cities with a high level of satisfaction from them and their city’s members. Our goal is to have Co-Leaders that are leading the best workouts that they can.
- The Action: By the end of November, evaluate and define the HR personnel requirement based on organizational need (part-time or full-time position, outsourced service, etc.) and hire a qualified candidate at the beginning of Q1 2021.
- APPOINT NEW BOARD OF DIRECTORS
- The Commitment: Re-create the NP Board of Directors for a term starting in 2021, with strategic and future-oriented board members to offer a high level of accountability for NP leadership.
- The Action: We have formed a Co-Leader-led Board Selection Committee that will be involved in the selection and appointment of the new Board. Our goal is for the Board to assume responsibilities starting Q1 of 2021.
GOAL #2: INCREASING SUPPORT FOR CO-LEADERS AND MEMBERS
- DEFINE ROLES AND RESPONSIBILITIES
- The Commitment: We plan to clearly define the November Project experience (for members) and the roles & responsibilities (for Co-Leaders).
- The Action: We engaged our Co-Leaders to design the NP experience and Co-Leader roles. We’ve been parsing through the notes and the feedback and are looking to share completed documents by the end of November.
- DEVELOP PROCESS FOR MEDIATION AND CONFLICT RESOLUTION THROUGH HUMAN RESOURCES
- The Commitment: Formalize, communicate, and put into practice systems and processes that effectively support and proactively prepare Co-Leaders to lead NP in their cities with a high level of satisfaction from them and their city’s members. Our goal is to have more efficient, energized Co-Leaders that are leading the best workouts that they can.
- The Action: By the end of November evaluate and define the HR personnel requirements based on organizational need (part-time or full-time position, outsourced service, etc.) and hire a qualified candidate at the beginning of Q1 2021.
- PROVIDE ONGOING LEADERSHIP TRAINING FOR CO-LEADERS
- The Commitment: We are committed to supporting Co-Leaders as they build a culture of belonging for all members. Through education, leadership development, and collaboration with individuals & organizations, we will support Co-Leaders to uphold the values of social justice and lessen barriers within their cities. By the end of November, solidify the implementation plan with a goal of December and January execution.
- The Actions:
- Facilitate discussions for Co-Leaders and members that revolve around forms of discrimination based on race, ability, age, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, or political beliefs.
- Develop a set of exercises for the cities (i.e., case studies, discussion questions, how to respond to incidents of discrimination)
- Help NP cities identify educators on the above topics within their own ranks
- Partner with social justice organizations in their communities.
The above summary of the goals, commitments, and action items creates an outline of the work we have been doing and will continue to pursue. We also wanted to provide a little bit of a background on how we got to this point and what we learned.
The original concept of November Project was all about removing the barriers that often get in the way of consistently working out. By working out 1. Together, 2. First thing in the morning, 3. Outdoors, and 4. For free, we believed that we were solving most of the common reasons (then called “excuses”) for not working out. By working out together, it created accountability to overcome low motivation or follow through to work out alone. By doing it early in the morning, it ensured the workout would get fit into the day and eliminated running out of time to work out in the day. Not to mention the all-day, residual good vibes following a morning fitness session. By holding workouts outside, it made fitness more accessible because it could be done anywhere, and it pushed back directly at the weather in New England, which often crushed motivation for wintertime fitness. And by offering workouts for free, there could never be a financial burden that kept people away, like some gym membership fees. Then, the only remaining responsibility for anyone who wanted fitness in their lives was to “just show up.” We believed that this represented our heartfelt intentions: everyone is welcome, and we truly want every one of you (maybe in the whole world!) to feel the strength, satisfaction, empowerment, and goodness of free fitness, all year round, outside in the early morning, with a great group of human beings. We believed this could be beneficial for everyone and we wanted to share it.
We thought it was simple. We started this whole thing thinking about the reasons that got in the way of consistent fitness…for us. And while we built and grew NP to be so much bigger and more, we heard similar reasons from others: “I’m not a morning person, I don’t like running, I hate the cold, etc…” Hearing this from others just reinforced for us that all you have to do is show up and the structure of how we’re doing it will take care of all the other obstacles. But we saw the world and its obstacles through the lens of our own identities. And, we now understand much more about the social science of how groups and communities are built, which is with similarity/replication of the original group, rather than with variety. Because we were young, white, and athletic, the group expanded most easily by drawing more people who were young, white, and athletic. Of course, because we intended to welcome everyone—people of varying ages and fitness levels also showed up, but in smaller numbers. It would have been easy for them to feel less like “this group is for me” than those who saw themselves as more similar to the existing “norm” of the group.
As leaders of the organization who were trying to help this “fitness for everyone” movement grow, we quickly realized the need to create a stronger culture of fitness inclusivity than we initially had. It wasn’t “for everyone” if we only valued racing and winning over showing up and getting better. It wasn’t welcoming if we didn’t offer space for people to actually show up just as they are and have an opportunity to start/continue their fitness journey from where they are, rather than from where others are or from where they’re “supposed to be.” And as a result, we have worked, mostly intentionally, on creating a more inclusive fitness culture, both by expecting Co-Leaders to design and lead workouts that are equally engaging and accessible for everyone involved and by holding Co-Leaders and members accountable to keep workouts safe and free from non-consensual physical contact as well as from harassment of any kind. It was a culture shift to no longer expect hugs—but to normalize and welcome other forms of social connection/interaction, including no physical contact. But we learned quickly that helping to make it safer for those who had felt unsafe or uncomfortable with that aspect of the NP culture, actually makes it safer, more inclusive, and better for everyone. The strength of the social community was not sacrificed, it has actually enhanced NP’s ability to offer a free fitness experience to more people because we’ve reduced a barrier to it that we created.
The problem was that young and athletic were seemingly the only identifiers that existed in the initial and earliest days of November Project, which set a trajectory of similarity and a lack of diversity that we continue to see to this day. As founders of NP, we are two white, cis-gender, heterosexual males, with long personal histories as athletes, are housed, employed, and able-bodied. It becomes quite easy to see how the development of November Project resulted in a general demographic that is predominantly similar to us. This happened initially because we were unaware of this social process. It continued because, even when we saw a lack of diversity, we did not question if that lack of diversity was the gradual result of people feeling unwelcome and/or like “this group is not for me…because there is no one like me here.” And we did not proactively ask questions to learn when this was happening, nor did we purposefully take action to change this experience for people. We had the luxury of focusing on changes to NP like being more inclusive to a wider range of fitness levels, which is valuable and important—but were absolutely not the only ways that NP lacked inclusivity. And we cannot any longer neglect to make NP more inclusive to members of various identities.
As we described in the above section, we’ve developed a growing awareness of the ways November Project is more homogenous than diverse and the impact that has on both members within and observers of it. Following our choice to take action to honor Ahmaud Arbery (through a run and social media posts) and to help raise awareness of the lack of safety for Black runners, the response from former and current members of NP, as well as from non-members, was one of frustration, disappointment, and a strong desire for NP to look, and finally see, the predominant whiteness of the organization. It opened a conversation, which has led to more conversations, about the culture of November Project, and the ways in which it does not serve, and even continues to marginalize members who are already experiencing marginalization in the world. The call was loud and clear.
It is clear to us, that some of the culture of November Project was born out of the privilege that we hold as white men, as well as from other aspects of our experience and personalities that form our own social identities. We started it, and we’ve influenced it. And the work we have been doing to understand the unintentional consequences of our decisions about November Project led us to the Organizational Checklist for white supremacy. We have been looking, reflecting, dissecting the culture of NP, and now see that our previous decisions and actions during forming and growing NP, we have held some of the characteristics of white supremacy and they have influenced the experience of NP for everyone.
NP has always been a “grassroots” organization. Our initial growth was dependent on “underground” methods of communication, word-of-mouth marketing, and hive-minded social media. From this, informality has become the norm for much of the experience people have. For example, the only way you might know what to expect at a workout is if your friend brings you and tells you what’s going to happen. Our Co-Leaders would rely on their fellow or former Co-Leaders to bring them up to speed on what to expect. Much of the information could be found if you look for it, ask for it, or seek it out, but if you don’t know what you ask, or who to talk to, or already know the places to get that information, you are likely to find yourself feeling uninformed, out of the loop, even left out—or uninterested in joining/returning because expectations just weren’t clear.
While it’s fun sometimes to go on an unexpected adventure, most of us like to know what to expect, or at least what will be expected of us, before we dive into something new, or invest ourselves deeply in it. We realize that we can do better as an organization to provide the valuable, desired, or necessary information for members to understand their NP experience, and for Co-Leaders to have the information to be the most effective, engaged, and energized selves for their communities.
The original Board of Directors was selected first and foremost to fulfill the requirement to have a board as a newly-named non-profit organization. Members of this board were selected by us, Brogan and Bojan, from within our network of fitness, non-profit, run, and brand professionals. The primary expectations at the time were to serve as advisors while NP maintained standard operations as a fitness organization, expanding to include non-profit programming as well.
However, the Board of Directors has been underutilized as advisors and in holding accountability for leadership of NP, and leadership has neglected to communicate sufficiently with the larger NP community about the strategy and processes of the organization, including the involvement of the Board of Directors.
The start of NP was just two people. Two people who were both leaders, members, and everything in between. The only “human resources” were the two founders, and even as the cities of NP expanded, the group of Co-Leaders remained relatively small and manageable to support and to communicate effectively with, as most were close friends, family, or had been members of NP in the original Boston group. The first and ongoing strategy for expanding the level of support, guidance, and leadership development for Co-leaders since 2013 has been to bring all Co-Leaders together for an annual meeting (initially at NP Summit, later at the Meeting Of the Minds). This funding for this first came from our personal funds, and later from the formal sponsorships. As leaders, BG and Bojan, with part-time help from Laura Green (2016-2020) provided individualized support and guidance for Co-Leaders, by initiating check-ins with each city’s Co-Leaders and by responding to their requests for support.
As the number of NP cities and Co-Leaders grew larger and reached the current state (52 cities and ~120 Co-Leaders), the demand for human resources (such as: clear processes & procedures for pledging, Co-Leader onboarding & performance standards, leadership development, diversity, equity, accessibility & inclusion, resources for navigating Co-Leader transitions, conflict management, and city management, etc.) has exceeded the resources and capacity of NP leadership to sufficiently support the entire group of Co-Leaders. The majority of NP leadership’s time and organizational energy has been spent reacting to the immediate needs of cities/Co-Leaders–the needs that exist most often because the above-named resources do not yet exist/are not in place–and there is not enough time or capacity to create them while functioning in a reactive manner. This severely limits the growth of the organization, in size of the community, in the health of the organization, and in potential positive social impact.