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Celebrating Diversity in Development: Q&A with Adrienne Taylor

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To celebrate Black History Month, AFP is interviewing several Black leaders of AFP.

Today we spotlight Adrienne Taylor, the senior development director for the Women's Fund of the Greater Cincinnati Foundation and a member of AFP and the Greater Cincinnati Chapter since 2013.

Adrienne TaylorAFP: You were both a stockbroker and a part-time dance teacher. And now you’re a fundraiser. How did that happen?

Adrienne Taylor: My passions growing up were finance and the arts, so I was working as a stockbroker and a dance teacher. I loved being a stockbroker, but I wasn’t happy with the sales aspect of it and started thinking about what else I could do with my life. I still liked business. I still loved the arts. I wondered if there was some sort of combined business and arts degree, and so I literally Googled the phrase. Two schools came up: The University of Cincinnati and the University of Wisconsin.

I did some research on both and decided to move from Indianapolis and apply for the University of Cincinnati’s arts administration and MBA dual degree program.

AFP: Wow! Such a program does exist! What was that experience like?

Adrienne: So, through the program, they expose you to all the different areas of being on the business side of an arts nonprofit organization. I went in thinking that I wanted to be either a chief financial officer or maybe some sort of fundraising role. Though honestly, I wasn’t sure what fundraising really meant at the time.

We took an introduction to development class, and it quickly became clear that fundraising was for me. It’s numbers, it’s people—both of my strengths. I started exploring, getting more training and more internships to strengthen my fundraising skills.

AFP: Is that when you found the AFP Cincinnati Chapter?

Adrienne: It was, and I was about to join when a professor of mine who already belonged to AFP mentioned the chapter’s new program working to attract diverse people to the profession. If I was accepted, I would get a complimentary membership to AFP, so I decided to apply and see. I was accepted as part of the inaugural class of the New Faces of Fundraising program.

AFP: What was that program like for you as an introduction to fundraising and AFP?

Adrienne: I always say that had it not been for the New Faces of Fundraising program, I don't think I would've had the same career trajectory in fundraising that I've had. It was such an enriching experience for me, and it was both supplemental and complimentary to the academic experience I had at the University of Cincinnati. It helped me dive deeper into fundraising, which is where I really wanted to see myself, and I just felt upon graduation that it just set me on this great platform for success. I mean, the network that I got out of the program—from getting a mentor, to the people that I met through my internship, and then just getting the membership through AFP, which helped me get my first job as part of the annual giving team at the University of Cincinnati—was just incredible.

AFP: Was there anything that surprised you about that experience, or looking back, anything that you learned that you’re glad you knew before going into fundraising?

Adrienne: I think the biggest "Aha" moment for me was realizing that I had been philanthropic my entire life. The program talked about the value of those who are giving their time and making connections, and how that volunteer work could then turn into giving dollars. Reflecting about being part of the Girl Scouts—and things I did when I was part of a pre-professional dance group and how we needed to raise funds for a conference that we wanted to go to—that realization tied all those pieces together and made me feel like that I could really be a fundraiser because I’ve been doing this kind of work all of my life. I just didn't know that this could actually be a career where I could earn a good wage and feel good about the mission that I'm representing.

AFP: And so having gone through the University of Cincinnati program and New Faces of Fundraising, what was your first professional job in fundraising?

Adrienne:  I received a full ride to attend the university and complete my master's degrees. When I heard that they had a foundation full of fundraisers that were asking people for scholarships to support individuals like me, I said, “Yes! I'm a beneficiary of the philanthropic support, so I feel so honored to be able to ask other people to support someone like me." I was at the University of Cincinnati Foundation for five years and loved my time there.

AFP: How did you get to the Women’s Fund of Cincinnati?

Adrienne: I was at a conference where a CEO of a foundation talked about investing in organizations that are moving the needle in different, more difficult ways, looking at the toughest challenges in our society. When I was presented with the opportunity to apply for the development director role here at the Women's Fund, that idea stuck with me. What the Women's Fund does with regards to minimizing the barriers to women's economic self-sufficiency—it's so difficult, and there's nuances to causing change at a systemic level, but it’s so rewarding!

AFP: What are your responsibilities there at the Women's Fund?

Adrienne: I am the sole fundraiser for the Women's Fund and am responsible for executing the fundraising strategy to drive our mission. Within our fundraising strategy, we have the annual gift campaign, we have corporate sponsorships that we try to obtain, there are grants that we write for that drive our research, our advocacy work, and our general operational expenses that we have.

We are a team of six and each person on the team has their respective area that they're focused on. I love our team concept and the scrappiness of our team, which we like to call the “Six Pack.” We love being challenged and the idea of bringing such important change to the systems we live in.

AFP:  Are there one or two things that we ought to know about women in the workplace that maybe we don't know? Is there anything that struck you at work or a common theme that you've seen from some of the work?

Adrienne: Back in January, the Women's Fund was preparing for a vote on a salary history ban. We were trying to get a vote passed whereby private and public companies in the city of Cincinnati could no longer ask a job candidate what their salary history was. We found disclosing salary histories is a contributing factor to the gender wage gap.

On one hand, you might think that women should negotiate what their wage should be and ask for what they feel they should be paid. But the research bears out that salary negotiation can sometimes have a negative impact on the women who are trying to speak up for themselves.  Therefore, salary negotiation may not be the best solution to closing the wage gap.

Another lesson that I learned from both the Women's Impact Initiative and my work with the Women's Fund is the importance of having men in your circle. Delivering the message of gender equity and how to change culture to men can sometimes be more powerful when it’s coming from a man who get it. Men and women are both needed in advancing gender equity—women can’t do it alone.

AFP: What identities and perspectives do you bring to your work?

Adrienne Taylor: I've become very inclusive-minded—thinking about who is at the table already, and who needs to be at the table to be effective. Once I get that information and realize where gaps are, I try to be very intentional about filling those gaps. I think a great example of that would be when I chartered the University of Cincinnati Collegiate Chapter in 2015.

I did some research and was looking at the demographics of other collegiate chapters and AFP as a whole. I was very intentional when I was recruiting for the collegiate chapter. Once we started receiving applications, I was sure that we looked at where our nominations were coming from. So, we had two from the College of Business but where were our health-related students? Where were the engineers? I felt like in some way, fundraising or philanthropy would impact them, and they needed to be at the table.

I was very proud that out of the 14 different colleges that are on UC's campus, ten were represented on the collegiate chapter’s executive committee. We had people of color and four. I made it very clear that I was being very intentional so that when other students were looking at our chapter and wondering if they belonged, or how their lives may intersect with philanthropy, they’d see someone that looks like them.

AFP:  I love that word "intentionality." One of the next questions was, "How do we encourage diverse people to think about entering the profession?" It sounds like for you, it's really all about that intentionality and showing that there is a place for people at the table. Is that fair?

Adrienne: Yes, yes. I can add with that, as an African American woman, I think we are some of the most philanthropic individuals just by nature and because of our history. We have an innate need to take care of each other in our community. We just were philanthropic from having bake sales at churches, from people getting together and serving meals, doing canned food drives, or collecting clothes. That is already ingrained into our history and in our culture.

It's just about providing those individuals the tools that they need to be successful fundraisers. That’s why I'm such an advocate of the New Faces of Fundraising program because we get that foundational knowledge. We get some in-depth discussions about different areas. We see that everyone may not be a frontline fundraiser, but knowing that we do have good writers, or that we do have people who have great data analytical skills—that can help us be successful in our entire development cycle or fundraising strategy for whatever type of organization they may be passionate about.

AFP: You’re going to serve as the chair of our Emerging Leaders program, which is going to launch in March at AFP ICON 2020 in Baltimore, Md. What is that program all about?

Adrienne: It’s about setting up our emerging leaders for success where they are. When we say, "setting them up for success," it means providing them with the tools and resources to be our next leaders in the field. It also involves finding out where our investing priorities need to be to help them be successful. Does that mean we need to change or insert more curriculum topics about the fundamentals of fundraising, or is it more about connecting them with people and really expanding our mentorship programs to make them more robust?

It's similar to the Women’s Impact Initiative. I was really moved by the relationships that the women in the programs developed and the changes that they saw in themselves. I think the changing outlook and the hopes that they have about who they're going to be as a woman in the fundraising profession were just so inspiring. I want that program to have the same effect for our emerging leaders, so they can envision themselves being the next executive director, the vice president of philanthropy at an organization, or even the next chair of AFP. What can we do as an organization to set them up for success?

AFP: When you look back at your career so far, was there ever a time when you thought, “"Gosh, I don't know if I can do this?" Are there a couple of challenges or issue that you're thinking about right now as chair of the Emerging Leaders program that you think we absolutely need to address, especially in terms of keeping younger people in the profession?

Adrienne: I feel that AFP has done a great job in preparing fundraisers for the changing demographics of our donors and all of society, but I also think we have an opportunity—and really a responsibility—to prepare our donors for these changes as well. For example, there are some donors for whom I don’t feel comfortable asking for a gift because I won't be able to be my true and authentic self in front of them. I know that we get told that it's all about the right fundraiser at the right time making the right ask at the right place.

We are doing all this work on the fundraising side, but what are we doing to help our donor learn that you may not always get a fundraiser that looks like you or shares all of your preferences, but is still devoted to the cause and is a great professional? Maybe AFP and the profession are ahead of the curve but we need to look at bringing our donors along on our journey of inclusion and diversity.

AFP: It’s Black History Month in February. What does it mean to you?

Adrienne: Black History is a time to celebrate, educate about, and remember the giants on whose shoulders we are standing on today, regardless of the field we are in. Additionally, it is important to appreciate the roads that were paved and the sacrifices made so that we as Black people may not have to experience the same struggles or obstacles. It’s about lifting up individuals who are creating history right now and inspiring our future leaders to not be afraid to cause change.

AFP: What kind of advice would you give to a fundraiser, or what kind of life lessons have you learned during your career?

Adrienne: I just know that I'm so happy to be a part of this association. I tend to joke sometimes and say, "I'm a fundraising lifer" because I don't feel like there's any other type of field that I would want to work in. For me, fundraising is one of those roles that you can be in and don't necessarily have to retire from. You can have a second act, a third act, even fourth act, and you can just feel good about having an impact in your community, regardless of what makes you happy—whether it's pets, religion, the arts, healthcare. It's a feel-good place, and I would urge all fundraisers to find that space where you just are inspired and feel joy in getting up every morning and doing what you need to. Because otherwise, you need to think about making a change.

AFP: Thank you for your time, Adrienne, and we so much appreciate everything you are doing for AFP and the fundraising community!

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