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Data-Driven DEI™ Case Study: Cinnaire


Cinnaire Corporation is a “people first, people focused” community development organization headquartered in Lansing, MI, delivering exponential growth over the past 30 years. Originally formed in 1993 as the Michigan Capital Fund for Housing by its current President and CEO Mark McDaniel, the organization was created to meet the dire need for affordable housing in Michigan’s most vulnerable neighborhoods. Today, Cinnaire is a leading community development financial institution (CDFI) with a workforce of 145 full-time employees, over $4.9 billion invested in revitalization programs primarily serving communities of color, and over $9.3 billion in community impact support across nine states.

Today, Cinnaire’s Diversity, Equity, Inclusion + Belonging (DEI+B) focus is embedded as part of our most critical business imperatives and is integrated in everything the organization does and considers. The work is guided by a strategic and measurable action plan which has created its compelling purpose statement of, “We have an unwavering belief that all people deserve the opportunities provided by living in healthy communities.”  There are six integrated strategies with specific measurable tactics in each area which are designed to assure measurable progress throughout the organization.  The strategic and measurable approach is formatted into the OGSM structure (Objectives, Goals, Strategies and Measures) and includes:


1. Business Strategy

2. Communications

3. Human Resources

4. Learning and Development

5. Advocacy Culture, and

6. (and most important) Community Impact.


This measurable process is led by three senior level-executives who serve as a guiding DEI+B Leadership Coalition: Deb Toby, Chief Human Resources Officer and Chief Diversity Officer; Jennifer Everhart, EVP Underwriting & Credit Risk, and Lucius Vassar, Corporate Counsel and EVP Equitable Engagement. This Coalition drives the strategy throughout the organization. Each one is a champion and role model of inclusive leadership behaviors, works directly with president Mark McDaniel, and reports progress to the Cinnaire Board of Directors, which has a separate standing committee chaired by Quinetta Roberson, Ph.D., John A. Hannah Professor of Organizational Behavior at Michigan State University. This strategy was also informed by the Global Diversity and Inclusion Benchmarks best practices.

According to Deb Toby, the organization first introduced DE&I as a business imperative in 2016. However, the commitment required to fully embrace it at that time was somewhat slow and inconsistent, as the company was growing exponentially in the affordable housing space at that time, and other business initiatives were prioritized. Moreover, the company was already dedicated to serving marginalized communities. So, to assist with progress in their DE&I efforts, a DE&I consultant was engaged to help develop a framework for their vision. Introductory training in the use of cognitive and intercultural assessment tools like the Herrmann Brain Dominance Instrument® (HBDI®) and the Intercultural Development Inventory® (IDI®) were tangible benefits from that engagement. The focus was to engage the leadership and then the organization in a tactical and measurable way, first emphasizing individual commitment and accountability. In order to focus on measurable results across the organization, Cinnaire selected a software program with multiple data analysis functions, including one for DE&I reporting. Their chosen tool, ChartHop, is currently being used.  This is one of the most important ways to measure and operationalize performance, according to Toby.

“Several companywide surveys were also conducted, in the early stage of the effort with inconclusive results. However, some of the most useful data were derived from the Intercultural Development Inventory or IDI®, a cross-cultural assessment of intercultural competence,” said Toby. The IDI® measures how a person or a group of people tends to think and feel about cultural difference stemming from any aspect of diversity, human identity, and cultural difference. It assesses the core mindset regarding diversity and cultural difference and determines one’s level of intercultural competence along the Intercultural Development Continuum (IDC™):

intercultural development continuum_cinnaire.png

The IDI® is a statistically valid and reliable psychometric instrument that measures one’s current degree of intercultural sensitivity and how intercultural competence affects or “shows up” in your interactions (e.g., cross-cultural communication) with other people.

Toby continued, “We were placed at the Minimization stage, a transitional mindset between Denial and Polarization and Acceptance and Adaptation. Minimization tells us we have work to do and lets us know that diversity in the organization often feels ‘not heard.. It’s not surprising that the leadership team was dismayed by this information, but the baseline was established, and we have a plan for reaching the next level, Acceptance.” As time progressed and the country--reeling in political turmoil, economic uncertainty, and a worldwide pandemic – came to a complete standstill for an entire year, Cinnaire’s DE&I plans saw slow, but steady gains. However, when the social injustice and racial unrest was further enflamed by the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, the organization “doubled down” and accelerated its focus on the moral and business case for integrating DE&I into their company’s mission and vision. It was at this time that, in DE&I, “Belonging” was included (DEI+B).


To drive momentum and gain widespread buy-in for their revived and expanded DEI+B commitment, Cinnaire used The Phoenix Principles – a process of promoting inclusion through a series of exercises and scenarios to create a more cohesive, team-oriented work culture that leverages the power of diversity to increase market share, productivity and profits – developed by Dr. Janet B. Reid and Vincent Randolph Brown. There is now a focus on inclusive behaviors of shared trust, respectful empathy, connected understanding, and significant emotional relationships.

The organization does not have employee resource groups (ERGs). However, what they do have are regular “common ground” sessions also known as “courageous conversations.” These scenario immersions, led by an external facilitator, engage a panel of professionals in discussions on a variety of sensitive subjects (e.g., George Floyd, police brutality, being African American, Latino/Hispanic, LGBTQ+ in this world, etc. This open dialogue encourages communication, cross-cultural engagement, and empathy among peers. The organization also deployed an innovative technology solution to reinforce the importance of DEI+B education.  This interactive RALI education experience also tracks performance and engagement. All of these factors have contributed to Cinnaire being recognized by The Nonprofit Times as one of the nation’s “Best Nonprofits to Work For” since 2014.

The DEI+B strategy and focus continues to evolve. While they have not conducted a re-assessment using IDI® yet (scheduled for 4th Quarter 2023), Cinnaire has identified and announced the six main DEI+B focus areas where improvements will yield compounded benefit:

  1. Staffing/talent

  2. Community outreach

  3. Creating new partnerships with local developers

  4. Delivering new products and services

  5. Expanding relationships with existing development partners

  6. Philanthropic engagement


As well, Cinnaire leadership made a commitment to expand career opportunities for women and people of color within the organization. There is steady progress. In 2016, African American employees comprised just 11% of the company, although the population in Lansing was 22%. By 2022, Cinnaire’s percentage increased to 19%. Cinnaire continues to expand its DEI+B efforts based on the following clear articulation of why DEI+B is front and center to the work they do and the communities they serve: “No matter who or what we are because of birth, choice or experience, no matter how we identify or what our affinities may be, we are accepted, appreciated, and validated by each other and by Cinnaire as an organization.” Everyone belongs at Cinnaire.

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