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Diversity Makes For A Rich Tapestry. It's Time To Weave Some Change.

We all should know that diversity makes for a rich tapestry, and we must understand that all the threads of the tapestry are equal in value no matter what their color. Maya Angelou

Fundraising is an amazingly influential and political profession. The epicenter of money and power.

And it takes a great deal of grit to run a development program.

Anytime additional resources will be invested towards growth and sustainability for the mission of a nonprofit, voices of development professionals must be central to the discussions. They must be present in conversations with leadership and organizational membership. These voices are key to relationship building with people of wealth, with foundations and corporations. They must reverberate at board meetings and in management arenas. They must be compelling wherever and whenever strategic decisions are being made. All types of voices must be involved and opinions must be balanced and well represented.

Fundraising itself is a field brimming with women. According to Data USA, in 2018 70% of fundraisers were women, while 30% were men.

I warn you, looking further into the data is saddening. Throughout the profession, 87.2% of fundraisers are white while only 6.09% are black, 3.27% are Asian with the remaining percentage being Hispanic, American Indian, Native Hawaiian, Alaskan native, and individuals who identified with two or more cultures.

For a long time American has been in the midst of a dramatic cultural shift, one that has rightly intensified as of late. Philanthropy is calling for a major change--taking it apart and putting it back together in an improved way. And as a pivotal part of the nonprofit world, the development field can help lead the charge on diversification for many organizations.

Birgit Smith Burton founded the African American Development Officers Network (AADO) in 1999 and has collected hundreds of stories of fundraisers of color who have experienced what they have identified as racism in their professional fundraising career--sometimes subtly through comments such as, "You're so articulate," or "I didn't realize you were black when I read your name," or "Where are you really from?" One such story involved a fundraiser who was continually passed over for a promotion to a frontline development officer. When she inquired why, she was told that the major donors would not want to engage with a black person so there would be no reason to promote her if she couldn't be successful on her job. Ms. Burton wrote about this in her article, The Issue of Racism in the Fundraising Profession for the Association of Fundraising Professionals in February 2020.

I saw discrimination on a first hand basis not so long ago. I worked with a charismatic, handsome, talented gentleman, a senior development professional, who generally was very in control of his environment. He had joined a local private club and took a donor to lunch there one day. The club was always very low key about financial transactions and very deferential to its membership. On this particular day he did what he was shown to do--he verbally supplied his membership number to the woman at the desk. But that wasn't enough. She asked him then whose number that was and he said it was his. She demonstrated a very huffy attitude and asked to see his membership card before she would seat him. All in front of an important donor. He came to see me upon return to the office and, very distraught, told me the story. I will never forget how this thoughtless woman broke his heart. He had become very senior in the development field, but in one moment she made him feel less than. Simply unforgivable.

Unfortunately disparities are not just prevalent in fundraising but throughout the nonprofit world. Ms. Burton notes that leadership of nonprofit organizations is also not representative of the racial/ethnic diversity of the country.

She goes on to tell the story of Dr. Juan McGruder, a well respected African American fundraiser who said: "For an organization to hire a person of color as its CDO, it has to see them as the face of fundraising for their organization. He went on to note that a hiring manager at a major US university shared in confidence that he was concerned about hiring a young, well-qualified woman of color simply because he feared that if she wasn't successful it would make it difficult for him to hire another person of color for the future." However shocking this may be, it is not uncommon, I have heard it in my own career...can you imagine how such obstacles stand in the way of success for so many people?

Large nonprofits need more than just one or two members of underrepresented populations on the board or staff to express the values that these groups hold. I watched how this works in some key organizations. Many times these individuals are part of the board or advisory council or a department, but not in leadership positions so they aren't interacting at levels where they could make a change. Underrepresented populations need to have seats at the table where important decisions are being made. Only then can there be a balance to our approaches and perspectives on many issues.

Asian Americans can share stories of racism as well. Time reports in the July 6, 2020 magazine that since mid-March, STOP AAPI HATE, an incident-reporting center founded by the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council, has received more than 1,800 reports of pandemic-fueled harassment or violence in 45 states and DC. And those are just the ones reported. "It's not just the incidents themselves, but the inner turmoil they cause," says Haruka Sakaguchi, a Brooklyn based photographer. I included this because she expresses so well what we should hope for the future: "The current protests have further confirmed my role and responsibility here in the US: not to be a "model minority" aspiring to be white-adjacent on a social spectrum carefully engineered to serve the white and privileged, but to be an active member of a distinct community that emerged from the tireless resistance of people of color who came before us" (reported by Sangsuk Sylvia Kang).

Every person needs to examine their attitude towards race. We each have a responsibility to fix this--there are high stakes issues involved. We have to fix this so that we are truly prepared to fix so many more issues plaguing society.

For now, what can be done? I have given this a great deal of thought and so have many others--this is a litany of many people's ideas including my own:

  • Engage leadership as change agents, ensure they put a premium on recruiting people from underrepresented populations--and then ensure these individuals are welcomed to a supportive environment where there is true opportunity. Leaders must take the first steps, this is critical. They need to have an openness and a more nuanced understanding of what is happening in the organization. Not just saying the words, but breathing their meaning.

  • Ensure that the board is comprised of a cross section of the population and that each member has responsibilities that also offer challenge and opportunity. Enlist all board members to forcibly advocate in making change a priority responsibility. If board leaders do not see this as their responsibility, could it be time for a change at the top?

  • Press hiring managers to determinedly reach out and support the applications of underrepresented groups--and take this type of championship back to the organization as well through discussions with other hiring managers and other leaders.

  • Donors can also be exceptional allies in moving the needle forward--not only can they be effective but very influential in bringing other donors with the same attitudes to the table. We can ask them to help with this--we ask for their money, their time and for their support on many levels. Used judiciously, this is a new and very important approach that can only draw people closer to the organization.

  • Rather than letting a new development professional fend for themselves, offer a formal fundraising educational program. Give everyone the educational platform and the tools to create a shared understanding and the opportunity for success.

  • Before the individual is even hired, enlist the existing development officers to support the new hires. Assign a mentor for each through the first 12 months of their new position--and beyond. Mentorship is important for success no matter who you are.

  • All newcomers need to be helped and supported by people at all levels in the organization--with this type of plan, they can grow to become successful development officers. The organization must listen closely to ensure that progress is being made. Real live progress.

These actions are important to recruit and support new voices and fresh ideas in the field, integrating abundant benefit for the organization. Again, fundraising is powerful. The future will be imperfect, but our road there can be filled with productive efforts and positive attitudes to make everyone's life a little easier. Every day in every way, weaving a rich, layered tapestry of refreshing change.


Cause Effective is an organization founded in 1981 that strengthens the nonprofit sector by helping organizations build engaged communities of supporters. It helps nonprofits to diversify funding, build capacity for fundraising from individuals, activate boards for fundraising and effective governance, and leverage events so they can achieve long-term community driven change.


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