Research & Reports

Money, Power and Race: The Lived Experiences of People of Color

Leadership and Teams: Boards and Volunteers
Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, & Access (IDEA): Diversity and Inclusion (IDEA)
Career Development: Your Fundraising Career
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A new report finds that while 88 percent of survey respondents said they would recommend fundraising as a career for a person of color, almost 60 percent acknowledged they might be reluctant to suggest that people of color they know move into the fundraising profession “because fundraising involves external relationships where bias might be present.”

The report, Money, Power and Race: The Lived Experience of Fundraisers of Color, from Cause Effective, a New York nonprofit consulting firm, brings systemic issues to light through narratives and provides recommendations to improve equity at nonprofits.

Testimony was gathered from 52 interviews and 110 survey responses from development professionals across the country and revealed the following:

  • Respondents emphasized several reasons why diversity in fundraising matters. They include:

    > Fundraising is where the narrative of organizations is shaped – development professionals create the language that describes the problems, solutions and visions for change.

    > Fundraising manages the external relationships of nonprofits – development professionals are entrusted with representing their institutions to individuals with the ability to make a game-changing difference in their constituents’ future.

    > Fundraising is the nexus where money comes into the organization – carrying with it the power to bestow resources and enable programming.

    > Donors of color are a rising philanthropic asset for the nonprofit sector – and seem especially responsive to being approached by fundraisers of color.

  • While 77 percent of survey respondents acknowledge facing obstacles in their development careers due to their race/ethnicity, only 22 percent consider these impediments to be one of the top three challenges of their jobs. The three top challenges cited were expectations of role exceed time/ability; lack of pre-existing fundraising structure; and lack of donor pool.
  • One-third of survey respondents reported that they experienced diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) issues on the job. Of those, two-thirds did not feel supported by their supervisors.

Interestingly, there was no correlation between those who stated they had faced DEI challenges in their workplace and any of the following factors: their organization’s size or mission area; whether the organization was led by executives of color; what percentage of the development department − or the board of directors − was comprised of people of color; or what race or ethnicity they identified as. The DEI challenges of the fundraising profession, according to respondents, seem simply ever-present.

Some of the most powerful insights are revealed through the report’s compilation of personal narratives that identify system wide deficiencies that hamper the retention, promotion, advancement, satisfaction, and success of fundraisers of color.

  • “The development field is a really emotionally draining environment to be in. There aren’t enough programs aimed at helping underrepresented individuals in these roles so it ends up being a burden that you have to bear it on your own.”
  • “It has always been difficult to work in white work environments because the common perspective is that it is not a ‘white environment.’”
  • “I’m often the only person of color at a donor experience. There’s something shameful about that, but I’m used to it.”
  • “There is an institutional bias against people of color in development, women, and frankly against those who come from a certain socio-economic background. The incidents range from shaming and dismissive narratives to tropes about ‘aggressive’ behaviors, unrealistic time expectations, and the spiral of perfection needed to compete.”
  • “Philanthropy does not belong to the wealthy, to the white, to the privileged. If people of color leaned into our power as philanthropic agents, we could commit genuine culture shift.”

The report also identifies and provides strategies for eight different groups of people across the nonprofit sector, such as executive directors and nonprofit board members, who can help to create a more equitable nonprofit workplace.  Some of the recommendations include:

  • One-third of respondents identified the executive director as a key determinant in creating a welcoming and supportive climate in which development professionals of color can fulfill their job expectations with dignity and authority.

    Executive directors should be aware that their actions set the tone. A commitment to DEI cannot be relegated to the HR staff − they can be responsible for implementation, but they cannot create the organization’s values nor show its commitment to walking-the-walk.
  • The HR department should forcefully advocate for inclusionary policies and practices that lead to more diverse and equitable nonprofit workplaces for nonprofit professionals of all backgrounds, social classes and intersectional identities.

    Before a recruitment process begins, HR staff should review the nonprofit’s DEI policies and its strategic plan using a DEI lens, meet with the development department head, and consult nonprofit HR talent management best practices. Staff should inquire about existing search and posting strategies and expand them to include online portals for affinity-based professional associations. A commitment should be made to actively recruit from underrepresented groups across all identities.
  • Board members are a bridge between the organization and donors and, as such, have an exceptional opportunity to be change agents.

    Board members should invest and participate in organization-wide DEI training and mandate the creation of board-specific DEI policies that provide oversight to ensure that policies are being implemented and embedded into the organizational culture.

To read the executive summary and/or the entire report, and to learn more about Cause Effective’s initiative to bring more people of color into leadership positions within the nonprofit development profession, visit Cause Effective.

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