Rachel Dougherty on Launching Their Community Engagement Consultancy Business

Rachel Dougherty’s community work started at a young age. While growing up in Pittsburgh, PA, they got involved in social justice work through their synagogue that set the tone for the rest of their career. After hustling in multiple non-profit jobs, Rachel is working to strike out on their own. They launched a community engagement consultancy business this spring, with the hopes of helping both nonprofits and companies like She Spends build communities in intelligent ways.

Rachel talked with She Spends about launching their new business, staying organized and being a non-binary person in the workplace. Stay tuned to the end of the interview, where Rachel shares their favorite resources for community building.

(Editor’s note: the following interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. She Spends previously worked with Rachel as a community building consultant on a pro bono basis).

What got you interested in community organizing? Why is there a need for this at companies and nonprofits?
I believe really deeply in the power of communities. I’ve worked with a lot of organizations where I see that they have kickass missions but are struggling with how to scale and offer sustainable work long term. There’s a lot of burnout. There’s high turnover. There’s also a general lack of trust. I’m focused on seeing what skills I can bring to organizations to make longer term, more sustainable impact. Some of the services I’m offering are facilitation of one-off meetings, helping people develop a facilitation model to help folks design workshops and designing curriculum to help share and spread ideas. Every organization needs this in some capacity.

What excites you about stepping out on your own?
I’m really excited to take this opportunity to step into my own expertise in a real way. I’ve done a lot of learning, especially at my current job. I was recently at a conference about global movement building and as I was talking to people I felt like I had so much to offer. I’m excited to bring some of that knowledge to my own company.

What do you expect your challenges will be?
The biggest challenge for me is figuring out the balance of how to hold everything. Right now, I’m in a phase of transition. I am figuring out how much I can handle and how much I can hustle.

How can someone facilitate community at their company or organization?
The biggest thing to remember is that we as humans are social creatures. All of us can identify a time when we felt like we were in a good community. We could bring whatever we were dealing with to a space. There’s opportunity to reflect on what made that possible. How we can be that emissary for other people and create that space for other people? Starting from a space of self reflection is helpful.

One of your best skills, which I noticed when working with you, is that you’re incredibly organized. Tell me about how you keep your shit together.
Number one, to-do lists are your friends. I constantly take notes. When there is a task I need to add to my to-do list, I make a visual checkbox in my notes. When it’s done I check it off. Then for me, I’m the type of person who will use a master to-do list or a task management system like Trello or Asana to get my tasks out there. I find for me, when I’m in a flow of being productive, it’s not helpful to go back to the to-do list and check off every little thing. It’s better to do it in a break.

The final thing is developing your own system to triage your inbox. I’m a master of Gmail folders. All of my unread emails are visible. If I read it, it goes into a folder. I have folders for general admin things, receipts, promo codes, project specific folders, etc. I feel like it makes it much easier to go back and respond. I think giving yourself the space to test things and think about what works is important. Give yourself a week of trying something. Also, give yourself the permission to say fuck this.

As a non-binary person in the workplace, do you have specific challenges? How did you tackle them, and what advice do you have for other non-binary folks in the workplace?
I think my biggest challenge is picking organizations that I think it’s even safe to work for. I think there are varying degrees of safety. There’s being harassed or not being able to work. There’s also how much emotional labor will I have to do. Will I get misgendered every day? Being really diligent about my work search has been helpful. If an organization posts a job that says “she or he,” the likelihood of me applying drops drastically. For other folks, figuring out the signs of what is or isn’t going to be a good workspace is important. Some questions to ask in an interview include: Do you have diversity or inclusion training? What’s the breakdown of your staff? Gender neutral restrooms?

I have a lot of privilege as a non-binary person. I’m able bodied, white and I live in New York. For folks in other situations, there are different levels of what you can advocate for. I want to affirm any non-binary folks that the decisions you’re making are okay.

How can someone who wants to be an ally to non-binary folks help in work situations?
First I would say Google. Google is your friend. Don’t make non-binary people do unnecessary work that Google could do. Pronouns are real. Setting a culture of asking for pronouns no matter what is important. There may be stealth trans people at your office. The assumption at your office should be that you ask for pronouns. Avoiding gendered language and pronouns is so important. Then I think the other thing is remembering that trans people are just people. Some of us will be vocal. Some of us just want to come to their 9-5 job without being bothered. Do not force people into roles of advocacy.

What are some of your favorite resources on community building?
Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire: This book helps us think through the knowledge we hold and how to build power with those who have been historically marginalized.

Emergent Strategy by Adrienne Maree Brown: Everything Adrienne does is brilliant. Emergent Strategy really beautifully ties together theory and vision for what our world could be and practical worksheets for bringing practices of emergent strategy to your community.

Afro-futurist everything! The afro-futurist movement has been doing incredible work and leading with radical imagination in ways that pushes me to think creatively about the futures we can build towards. The collection Octavia's Brood is a really good place to start. It's all fiction, and it's so powerful. Be sure to read the introduction. Alexis Pauline Gumbs' short story Evidence is my favorite piece in the collection.

Healing Justice Podcast: The team pulling together this podcast is doing amazing work amplifying the stories of incredible organizers across the country and inviting listeners into deep reflection about what it means to work for social change in ways that simultaneously center community care and healing.

PowerLabs: This is a newsletter that shares best practices and opportunities for community organizing at scale.

Trainings: This is where people who are ready to buff up traditional community organizing skills come together. These include the People's Institute for Survival and Beyond, Momentum and Movement Net Lab.