Diversity, Inclusivity, Visibility: Making Space for Trans Fundraisers, Issues
I never dreamed of entering into the field of nonprofit development or fundraising as a profession. It wasn’t until my final year of undergrad that I shifted my commitment to the capacity-building of Black, trans-led grassroots organizations. While taking a grant and advocacy writing course at Towson University, I pivoted from writing grants for the institution to writing for local organizations addressing the material needs of trans people in Baltimore City and in the state of Maryland.
I quickly learned the limitations of fundraising, especially when it came to the barriers that Black transgender and gender non-conforming (TGNC) communities face in emergency crowdfunding and mutual aid requests. Local organizations are always left scrambling to find resources to directly meet the needs of their communities, often without a 501(c)(3) or 501(c)(4) tax-exempt status. If they’re lucky—or fundable enough—they might acquire a fiscal sponsor that takes on tax liability. However, they are still required to pay percentage-based administrative, legal, donation platform, website, and a host of other fees. This may not sound like a critical thing to mention, especially in the grand scheme of fundraising, but overhead costs are one of many barriers that keep small, grassroots organizations from raising nearly as much as medium- to large-sized nonprofits.
How do we move funding from the organizations to the people when the language used to appeal to potential donors doesn’t perform the politics of respectability? When we mention the ways in which we prioritize resourcing trans folks engaging in survival sex work? When we don’t dream of replicating systems of impoverishment, anti-Blackness, homophobia, and trans-antagonism in philanthropy?
Challenges for Black Trans Fundraisers and the Trans Community
Challenges in fundraising as a Black, trans, community organizer, and student of abolition have been abundant for the last two years. It’s not because of the work in the movement, but instead, the required posturing that must occur to secure funding for a program. I struggle to operate in a field where philanthropy has committed to investing in social justice but has yet to acknowledge the anti-Blackness and trans-antagonism that rests in the institution itself. What does it mean to implement an anti-racist statement without an explicit commitment to funding grassroots, Black, TGNC+ organizations, regardless of tax status? What does it mean to implement staff training on practicing an anti-racist politic without redistributing organizational wealth to individuals enduring the material harm of anti-Black, trans-antagonism? According to Transforming the Social Sector: The Opportunity and Need for Action, organizations led by Black and Latinx folks only receive 4% of total grants in the nonprofit sector today. Those same organizations tend to receive a mix of small-dollar, short-term, and/or restricted funding allocations instead of flexible, unrestricted funding. Keeping this demographic in mind, it is crucial to acknowledge that if we counted Black TGNC-led organizations, the grant allocation percentage would be exponentially less, which fuels our need to turn inward to our communities to sustain the work through individual and in-kind giving.
In the midst of a global pandemic and the hyper-visible movement for Black [trans] lives, many organizations witnessed a spike in individual giving throughout the summer of 2020. Organizations that couldn’t break $20,000 in revenues were beginning to acquire over $100,000 in donations—gifts given in the spirit of reaction, of urgency. This troubled me deeply because it required the death of Black [queer and trans] folks to move people to act. I had to accept that many donors are invested in responding to the problem instead of sustaining long-term work for marginalized folks to create solutions. When we fuel a culture that only responds to death, loss, policy rollbacks, housing crisis, food insecurity, we commit to maintaining those very same structures. When foundations prioritize BIPOC-led organizations for “Rapid Response Funds” and reserve invite-only RFPs for majority white, cisgender and/or heterosexual organizations, a cycle of violence is perpetuated under the guise of anti-racism.
In the last two years of fundraising, I have raised and redistributed funds to Black, queer and trans folks, people living with HIV, Black youth, students, and more. When I write, I am offering Black queer and trans folks the opportunity to remain whole, without the need to sacrifice any part of themselves under a white, funding lens. I strategize with my community around ways to get sustainable resources without investing in the 501(c)(3) or the nonprofit industrial complex (NPIC). There is transformative work that happens when we truly invest in Black trans grassroots organizing efforts. In its simplest form, what that looks like is not requiring Black trans leaders and organizers to build networks of professionalism to acquire major donor funding. I witness a wealth of funding get funneled into programs that do not facilitate undoing structures that continue to keep Black TGNC+ communities unsafe, unhoused, food insecure, and without resources to claim autonomy over our lives. When we require small, grassroots organizations to report measurable outputs, outcomes, and statistics, we leave no room for failure. We leave no room to create sustainable change because of the requirement to align with an ethical approach that calls for methods, statistics, outcomes via an undoing of the things that are anti-Black and trans-antagonistic in nature. How do we perfectly measure this undoing to receive continued funding?
Inclusion for Trans Fundraisers
Making the fundraising sector more inclusive for TGNC+ fundraisers begins with our hiring practices and nonprofit culture. Oftentimes, the nonprofit and fundraising sectors expect a return on an investment that was never initiated. Development, events, and grant writing positions typically require at least three years of successfully demonstrated nonprofit experiences, including (1) met organizational fundraising goals, (2) experience stewarding wealthy donors, and most importantly, (3) a bachelor’s degree in a “related field.” Placing these barriers as the entry point into the field maintains a culture of exclusion instead of an opportunity to position trans folks, especially Black, trans organizers in fundraising positions.
After facilitating this pipeline, it is important to invest in and sponsor our skillset through memberships, conferences, networks and support systems that acknowledge the very few number of us in this field. Most importantly, fundraisers must create a culture of care. As previously acknowledged, many of us who hold intersecting identities often have to leave parts of ourselves and of the work out of the stewardship, RFPs, and events. I challenge us to reimagine a workplace where we can show up fully because we have divested from a workplace culture that shames transness, queerness, Blackness, disability, and more. I challenge us to reimagine our commitment to funders as opposed to a sustained, transformative commitment to the movement.
Thinking through the work and the movement for Black trans lives, I look forward to continuing my commitments in organizing around resourcing Black trans masculine folks outside of the 501(c)(3) lens and always committing to a freedom that is not bound to the nonprofit industrial complex. I sincerely thank Iya Dammons, founder and executive director of Baltimore Safe Haven, who deeply believed in my commitment to our community. I also thank Lee Blinder, executive director of Trans Maryland, who truly invested in my pivot from the academy to grant writing for trans-led organizations. I am accountable to and greatly thank the many mentors and organizers who continue to guide my politic around the NPIC and how divesting from anti-Black systems is the only true path to freedom.
August Clayton, development associate, at the National Center for Transgender Equality, coordinates fundraising events, stewards donors, manages foundation proposals, and engages individual donors at NCTE. August's previous roles have spanned from community organizing, to institutional policy, research, and grant writing. A recent graduate of Towson University, his interests in nonprofit development stem from a commitment to exploring innovative methods to dismantle barriers in funding through a Black and trans justice lens.