Guides & Resources

Kishshana Palmer, CFRE, Discusses Finding and Keeping Great Fundraising Talent

Kishshana Palmer, CFRE

From the AFP Expert Speaker Series, Amy Eisenstein, ACFRE talks with Kishshana Palmer, CFRE, about the steps charities need to take to connect the dots and find great fundraising staff.


Video Transcript


Amy Eisenstein: Hi I'm Amy Eisenstein. I'm here with Kishshana Palmer CEO of Kishshana and Co. and she is a recovering fundraiser, trainer, speaker, and consultant, extraordinaire and I'm so happy to have her. Hi, Kishshana.

Kishshana Palmer: Hey, Amy.

Amy Eisenstein: How are you?

Kishshana Palmer: I am so glad to be here with you.

Amy Eisenstein: Good. Well we are going to talk about some important topics today. We're going to talk about recruitment and race. So, talk about what's on your mind lately?

Kishshana Palmer: Yeah, you know for me I think I spend most of my time working with some really great organizations, and one of the things that I see folks really struggling with is finding and keeping great talent.

Amy Eisenstein: Yeah.

Kishshana Palmer: I know it's sort of like a duh. That's like the test of the ages, right?

Amy Eisenstein: Yeah, yeah.

Kishshana Palmer: But like, what are we really going to do about the challenge—that there are really amazing people out there who want to come into our sector who are ready to do some really fantastic work and help us create some amazing runway for our organizations to activate mission.

Amy Eisenstein:  Yeah.

Kishshana Palmer: But we just can't seem to connect the dots.

Amy Eisenstein: So true, right?

Kishshana Palmer: You know?

Amy Eisenstein: It's such a timely and important topic, because it's such an issue in our sector. So, what do we need to do about it?

Kishshana Palmer: You know, one of the things that I am constantly thinking about and wanting to wring folks neck sometimes is we've got to start with why. Why are we actually looking for new talent? It's not just because Bob left the organization and finally retired and now we're like, "Oh my gosh, we've got to replace him. What are we gonna do?"

Amy Eisenstein:  Right.

Kishshana Palmer: No, you have to really take a step back and think about what do we need to do next to be able to advance our goals and to really be able to move the needle and then think about the types of individuals you want to bring into our organizations that will help us do that. And so I think that, that's one of the things that we don't do enough of. We just go into “go” mode, but we've got to stop for a second and go, "Wait a minute. Why are we doing any of this stuff anyway?"

Amy Eisenstein: It's such an important point. I mean we just automatically assume that when somebody leaves, we need to replace them, but that's maybe not the go-to place we should start at and think about this in terms of succession planning and thoughtful process of why we have the staff we have. Great, what else?

Kishshana Palmer: Absolutely. And really getting down to the brass tacks of what is the type of talent that we're really looking for. I think that we pay a lot of lip service to wanting to have a diverse pool and diverse teams and diversity period—almost to the point where when you hear folks talking about diversity, or equity, or inclusion, we almost kind of like roll our eyes a little bit. Like, "We know we need to talk about it. Okay, Kishshana." And then we move on and I'm here to say like, "Okay, great I get it that we've talked about it enough, and am kind of exhausted too, but let's get ready to act."

Amy Eisenstein: I don't think we've talked about it enough. Maybe it's because we don't know how to talk about it. Let's talk about how to talk about it.

Kishshana Palmer: Yeah, I think for me, it's funny you say that. I agree with that. Maybe I feel like we haven't talked about it, but I think that what I find is that how to talk about it starts with: what are we really trying to achieve in our organization? Why is it actually really important for us to truly have a representative team? It's a fact that philanthropy's changing and all the types of donors that are looking to really connect with organizations and be co-creators and co-authors with organizations to do some transformative work—they're looking to also see folks that look like them and that they can identify with and are representative from the communities they come from. And if our teams don't reflect that, then we're behind the times, and I'm sort of exhausted about being behind the times. You know I want to catch up with social media and catch up with this technology. We're constantly playing catch up, and so instead of playing catch up, let's get proactive. Let's think about what does our organization really look like? Why are we that way? And are we actually ready to do something about it?

Kishshana Palmer: And if the answer is, "You know what, yes let's do something about it," then let's just make a decision that we're gonna roll up our sleeves, we're gonna get some help, and we're gonna really think about how to create practices and processes and all of the things and policies that are important to helps folks who have typically been marginalized in the work force to find their place at the table and to be able to have a say in what happens when they get there.

Amy Eisenstein:  Yeah, and I didn't mean to be dismissive before about that we maybe haven't talked about it enough. We've talked. I was having a conversation earlier with someone about why are we in this state, where in this day and age women still aren't in leadership roles-

Kishshana Palmer: Hello.

Amy Eisenstein: -and positions, and I think it's the same thing for people of color and all sorts of other minorities that we just aren't where we need to be and so whether we've been talking about it forever or not, we still need to keep talking about.

Kishshana Palmer: Yeah, and I agree with you, and I don't think you were being dismissive at all. I just feel like, I get it. Since it's the thing that I don't even—this is like a charge that I didn't even want to take up initially.

Amy Eisenstein: Yeah.

Kishshana Palmer: I have been living in this skin a long time.

Amy Eisenstein: Yeah.

Kishshana Palmer: I'm a little seasoned you see, by-

Amy Eisenstein: You're not that seasoned! *laughs*

Kishshana Palmer: Listen you just give me seasoned, okay? *laughs* But for me it was like okay, as we're starting to see some generational shifts at work, and as we're starting to see some generational shifts in folks who are looking to seek leadership and particularly now that, thank goodness, we're starting to elevate the conversation about why it's so critical to have more of our voice as women in philanthropy, and in positions of leadership, and in positions of influence who are truly ready to make the kind of change we need to see. I want to make sure that the voice of women of color, professionals of color do not get lost in that great work.

Amy Eisenstein: Yeah.

Kishshana Palmer: So, it's an important conversation to have, and also an action step to take around making sure that when you're recruiting new talent, are you making sure that at every level of your interview process, are you making sure that folks are represented at every level?

Amy Eisenstein: Yeah, yeah.

Kishshana Palmer: Or just in the regular pool. "You know we got a hundred resumes and 10% of them were these different types of boxes we can check. Now that we've moved them into the finals, we tried." That's not good enough anymore.

Amy Eisenstein: Yeah.

Kishshana Palmer:  We really have to go back to the basics and say, "Okay, we've established why it's important for our leadership to look this way, and we are not satisfied with having a diverse set of candidates and diverse set of employees at the associate level, at the assistant level, at the program manager level, at the manager level. We want to make sure that we create pathways for folks to be able to step into leadership positions and make sure they get the ability to build social capital, they get the mentorship and the sponsorship, that we have practices and policies that support the kinds of lives that folks are having when they come into work, that are not biased for the majority culture that already exists. Are we ready to start doing that work?"

Amy Eisenstein: Yeah, give me some examples of some policies that might be biased, that people aren't even aware of.

Kishshana Palmer: Yeah, so a really good one that actually happened to me earlier on in my career is that I joined an organization that had a hiring policy that when you started, you didn't get your first paycheck until a month after you started.

Amy Eisenstein: What?

Kishshana Palmer: I mean, hello?

Amy Eisenstein: What, how can anybody work under those conditions?

Kishshana Palmer: What the HR director told me at that time was just put it on your credit card.

Amy Eisenstein: Oh, no.

Kishshana Palmer: Everybody, I just want to say this for the record, does not have a credit card with thousands and thousands of dollars on it, and there are a lot of folks who do not live in the credit economy and don't use credit cards, period.

Amy Eisenstein: Was this a nonprofit organization?

Kishshana Palmer: Yes. Absolutely.

Amy Eisenstein: That breaks my heart.

Kishshana Palmer: It breaks my heart and so it'd be things like, "Oh, just put that on your credit card, and we'll reimburse you.

Amy Eisenstein:  Right.

Kishshana Palmer: So, you want me to make a charge for a travel trip for a donor right now that I have to wait until I get the statement, and then I wait three more weeks after that for you to then reimburse me?

Amy Eisenstein: That's a great point and I think it's not just at the beginning of a job, it's any of the jobs right?

Kishshana Palmer: And throughout the job, right?

Amy Eisenstein: Yeah.

Kishshana Palmer: And so, then it ends up biasing, leaning bias towards folks who can "afford" or have the type of credit or disposable income whatever to be able to make those types of decisions. If you're not able to do that ...

Amy Eisenstein: Which is not a lot of people in the nonprofit sector.

Kishshana Palmer: Not a lot of people ... Exactly. In general, but if you're in a position to do that ...

Amy Eisenstein:  Yeah.

Kishshana Palmer: And then there are folks who can't, so then all of a sudden we start to give the eyes. "Oh, well you're not able to put your flight on? Oh, you can't book the whole conference and be reimbursed eight weeks from now?" You know, like so those kind of policies.

Amy Eisenstein: Yeah.

Kishshana Palmer: Typically, so financial policies are one, pay cycles are another.

Amy Eisenstein: Okay.

Kishshana Palmer: How people are able to take their personal time off is another.

Amy Eisenstein: Yeah.

Kishshana Palmer: So lots of our-

Amy Eisenstein: Go into detail on that one. Like what?

Kishshana Palmer: Yeah, so for example, like when people are allowed to be able to go take the time off with their families, how they are able to access the time. There's some organizations that have started to become very great about having open-ended policies about family leave and not just the legal stuff, okay? Not the unpaid time, but actually like, you can go ahead and leave work at 4:00 if you need to pick someone up and nobody's going to be looking at you out the side of their eye.

Amy Eisenstein:  Right.

Kishshana Palmer:  Versus somebody else who can stay until 6:00, so flexibility around how you use your time is another one that favors folks, for example, who don't have children.

Amy Eisenstein: Clearly.

Kishshana Palmer: And it does not favor folks for example who are caregivers, have to take care of parents, or etc.

Amy Eisenstein: Right.

Kishshana Palmer: And so just even thinking about, just like the way that we live and work and how policies like that, for example, will show up that will bias folks who have the ability to do more.

Amy Eisenstein: Right.

Kishshana Palmer: And it sits against folks who can't do those similar things.

Amy Eisenstein: Yeah.

Kishshana Palmer: So those are some of the things that I have seen.

Amy Eisenstein: Those are great examples. So, what steps can organizations take who are now aware of the issue but don't really know how to proceed? What are some next steps that they can take in additoin to looking at some of these policies?

Kishshana Palmer: Yeah, I think like, really bringing people to the table to have conversations about what's working. So, one of the things that I love is not just doing anonymous survey internally, because sometimes the surveys really don't bubble up to the surface—what's really happening in the subcultures of your organization particularly for potentially marginalized or actually marginalized groups.

Amy Eisenstein: Okay.

Kishshana Palmer: So, bringing in some external folks to be able to help with that. Looking at external data about what actually happens in organizations when you have policies or practices that favor dominate culture in your organization over others. That's the first step I think, or one of the first steps you could take.

Amy Eisenstein: Okay.

Kishshana Palmer: Not just doing a diversity tree and bringing in some trainer to talk to you guys for eight hours, and you feel good and your heart is warm and then you can just go on with life. No, but being able to start to look at actionable steps. I pick policies for example because those are the things that sort of live on in perpetuity.

Amy Eisenstein: Yeah.

Kishshana Palmer: They’re just like dress codes. Things that live on forever. So, starting with the places that are going to have impact, on the way people get paid, on the way people live, on the way people are hired, in the hiring practice, for example.

Amy Eisenstein: Recruited too.

Kishshana Palmer: Recruited.

Amy Eisenstein: Right

Kishshana Palmer: "Oh I don't know if their gonna fit." And I always say, "The minute you say, 'Oh, I don't know if they're gonna be fit,' most people lean back when they do it’.” That's your implicit unconscious bias coming in. Right there.

Amy Eisenstein: Right, yeah so how do we get out of that "fit?" Because we want people who are gonna be a fit, but that tends to recruit people that look and sound just like us.

Kishshana Palmer: Absolutely.

Amy Eisenstein: So, how do we break that?

Kishshana Palmer: I think for me the way I've been in ... Granted, believe it or not, I've struggled with this myself as a hiring manager.

Amy Eisenstein: Yeah.

Kishshana Palmer: So, I am not immune to any of this stuff. Really being able to focus on core competencies. What does the job require? Amy, you know, how many job descriptions have we looked at over the years that are just like a running ticker tape of tasks.

Amy Eisenstein: Yes.

Kishshana Palmer: Not a responsibility to be seen. So, are we looking at core competencies and saying, "What is actually necessary for the world?" Going back to that why, all right. Then what are the types of individuals that would have those types of core competencies?

Amy Eisenstein: Right.

Kishshana Palmer: They may not look like fundraisers from this particular type of fundraising shop or that particular fundraising shop.

Amy Eisenstein: Yeah.

Kishshana Palmer: They may not necessarily even be "traditional" fundraisers, but if you focus on the competencies necessary to be successful in the role, then you start to be a little bit more flexible on the types of individuals that get to come party with you and get to come to the table.

Amy Eisenstein:  Yeah.

Kishshana Palmer: Then you test for the work. So instead of asking about, "You've got to be able to close seven figured gifts in order to be able to do this, or do that," and getting hung up on ... Certain hard skills you need to have. Let's be honest okay.

Amy Eisenstein: Yeah, yeah.

Kishshana Palmer: You're not just gonna be writing grants your whole life, and then magically you're gonna step into doing major gifts. No, you need to have some transition.

Amy Eisenstein: Right.

Kishshana Palmer: And some training, hello.

Amy Eisenstein:  Yeah, yeah.

Kishshana Palmer: But are you able to test for that work, and so if you're hiring for a position that requires you to be very detail-oriented, to be able to build relationships, to be able to be very persuasive in your organization. Can you build some scenarios? So, when an individual comes in, that you can actually have conversations or have them walk you through how they would handle something that actually happens in your organization that addresses those actual competencies.

Amy Eisenstein: Right. Great.

Kishshana Palmer: I want to say simple and easy, but that's a way to start.

Amy Eisenstein: Yeah. No, that's what we all need to do. We need to start. We need to be aware of it. We need to be thinking about it and taking action.

Kishshana Palmer: Absolutely, absolutely.

Amy Eisenstein: Yeah, good. Do you have any final thoughts or parting tips you want to leave with the viewers?

Kishshana Palmer: Yeah, totally. This is hard work. Let us not even pretend that this is ... I call it, "This is not crockpot love." You can't set it and forget it. Put all the ingredients in, close up the crockpot. You can't do that. This is hard work. You got to stir it and you got to simmer it. That's what you just got to do. You got to really be able to focus on that so, understand that it's a process that takes time, but it's one that you have to come back to time and time again. It has to be a part of what makes sense for your organization strategically and should be directly tied to outcomes for your organization that are tied to success. Not some committee off on the side that's doing this work, and they report back, but a part of the fabric of the way your organization works, and a part of the culture of your organization for make sure that people are engaged and happy. So, do the work.

Amy Eisenstein: Beautiful. And it starts from the board on down.

Kishshana Palmer: Exactly, exactly. It's top down. It's side-to-side. It can't just be the folks in the mix who are doing that frontline work saying it. It has to be something that comes from the board to that Executive Director, through your advancement leadership and straight on down. Otherwise, it's just not going to work.

Amy Eisenstein: Yeah, great. Well thank you so much for being here.

Kishshana Palmer: Thank you so much for having me. It was awesome. I always love talking with you.

Amy Eisenstein:  Me too. Thanks so much for joining me. For even more videos, interviews, tools, and resources, I hope you'll visit my website AmyEisentstein.com and subscribe to my weekly newsletter.

For even more interviews, tools, and resources, I hope you’ll visit my website www.amyeisenstein.com 

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