To be honest, I’ve really struggled with what to write in this blog over the last few weeks. I want to show support for the black leaders, protesters, and people of color everywhere who have suffered in this country for far too long. I want to say that I support the long journey towards equity and racial justice because I steadfastly believe that the path will make our country a better place for all of us.
But I also know that this should be more of a time for listening and learning by white people like me. It’s time to support organizations of people of color. To lift their voices and follow their lead.
It’s also time for each of us to reflect on what role we can play in our lives to push the momentum of justice forward.
If you’re a white nonprofit professional like me, who has been in philanthropy a long time, it’s hard to take a look at what you’re doing and think about huge, sector change. As fundraisers and donors we are working really hard and making good things happen.
But as Vu Le points out in his recent post, we are incredibly privileged to have these positions. And if we really want to work for change, we are going to have to lead the way down a road that is unknown and possibly laden with sacrifice for us as individuals and our institutions.
And why is this? Because right now, philanthropy is built around white-led institutions and white donors of privilege. Despite our best intentions, philanthropy is part of structural racism, too.
It’s not that there aren’t any donors of color. It’s just that so far, Philanthropy (the industry with a capital P) has been the supreme echo chamber; white fundraisers with access speaking mostly to white donors who then have connections to other white donors, leaving people of color and organizations led by people of color on the sidelines.
And as we professionalized as a sector, it became critical that our goal was to raise as much money as possible with as little cost as possible. That made the echo chamber even more crucial to success. Foundation grants became bigger and more restricted, and major gifts become the center of fundraising strategy.
This has made philanthropy incredible homogeneous, hierarchical, and exclusive.
As a major gifts officer and development director, I have benefited from that as I have learned my way in that world.
But if we want to change things – if I want to change things – I am going to have to step back from the demanding, unending treadmill of raising as much money as possible from major donors and funders (who, in most organizations, are predominantly white) and work to build a fundraising infrastructure that is inclusive and proactively replacing the white, high-net-worth donor echo chamber that philanthropy has become.
As a fundraiser, there are things we can do. But let’s be honest, change like this has to come from the top.
Nonprofit leadership has to be ok with the change, which might initially mean less income and more investment to dismantle the echo chamber. The treadmill of major donors and funders has become so very efficient that it will take incredible will power to step off, take stock, and make the changes around donor acquisition, communication practices, hiring policies, etc. that will be absolutely necessary for Philanthropy to be a meaningful part of the conversation we are having now on the streets across America.
I’m hopeful it can be done. Some organizations are starting to put the pieces in place. At my organization, we have been changing our hiring practices, educating our staff on racial justice and equity, and re-thinking the ways we communicate. But more importantly, we have a strategic plan – created and approved by the board and executive leadership – that has specific goals and monetary resources identified to build a more inclusive organization.
In fundraising, we have some work to do. Building a more inclusive base of support is work that we’ve started and that the organization has committed to. But I feel myself, from time to time, drifting into the lanes of “efficiency fundraising”, to just go with what has worked before because that’s the way I can meet budget most easily. Like a driver asleep at the wheel, I’ve had to jolt myself awake and steer back to the side of the road to re-group.
Here at Front Range Source, we want to be a place for you to reflect and re-group. We believe in you, we believe in our donors, and we believe in philanthropy. We believe in the capacity of this sector to change like no other. Let’s get going together.