Mike’s Monday Message Takeover with JP Paul: Addressing Inclusion in 2022
We’ve heard it from Boards of Directors and donors for years: “How do we make our organization more inclusive? Why do we still struggle to engage with Millennials and Generation Z in our philanthropic endeavors, and how do we reach those across social and cultural identity groups?” Nonprofit organizations seem caught up in a cycle of questions and answers that have no discernable end.
As we look to 2022 and beyond, we should look to develop intentional, meaningful strategies to tackle Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Access (IDEA) work in AFP and beyond. This will create the next generation of philanthropists and create organizations that reflect the diverse and culturally rich communities they serve.
Inclusion: The First Benchmark
While there exist various acronyms for diversity and inclusion work, AFP uses IDEA (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, Access) to describe four key areas to guide its work. Inclusion is the first metric by which organizations can measure how they attract, retain, and empower people from diverse backgrounds. Through intentional construction of spaces for individuals to express themselves, to feel valuable and accepted, and to contribute freely, organizations build inclusive spaces to share dialogue, to address social issues, and to build strong connections to the communities they serve.
Inclusion is what we strive for, but where organizations struggle is implementing these policies effectively and building the connections they desire. Many times, this is a result of a feedback loop. Organizations don’t have diverse leadership in administrative capacities or on their boards, so they don’t know how to move forward with inclusion, which results in diminished returns that feed into these structural issues. Sometimes Boards and leaders introduce new programs that are well-intentioned, but don’t have buy-in from the social or cultural group for whom the programs are designed to attract. Whatever the case, we as fundraisers can help our workplaces and our volunteer organizations build these networks using the relationship-building we use in our everyday work.
One of the central guiding principles of inclusion is listening with a sincere and open perspective. We should be quick to listen and to hear social and cultural groups outside our own. More importantly, we should seek to know what their needs are and to create spaces appropriately. If we build “inclusive” programs without centering diverse perspectives, we assume we know what these groups need, want, or will be interested in. Centering diverse perspectives in our conversations and responding to their needs and wants in the ways we are able is how we lead our organizations and our board in making tangible strides in creating inclusive and welcoming spaces.
Leading by leaning in, hearing community members, and responding in kind can result in phenomenal progress for respected institutions. The Metropolitan Opera in New York, for instance, struggled for some time to shake the historical prescience of white supremacy in opera, an art form with woefully few non-white musicians on the stage or in the orchestra, and even fewer non-white and non-male composers and conductors. Things began to shift after a new production of Porgy and Bess, featuring the craft of director James Robinson and dancer and choreographer Camille A. Brown, became a hit sensation for the company. The Opera reopened after the pandemic by premiering its first-ever opera by a Black composer, Fire Shut Up In My Bones by Terence Blanchard. The production was fully sold out in its initial run from September 27 to October 23 of last year and was heavily publicized in The New York Times and other media outlets. The work’s popularity also resulted in a rare re-release in the company’s Live in HD series this spring. These two timely productions are a testament to the Metropolitan Opera responding to the needs of the community they desperately sought to connect with by focusing on what Black musicians and opera lovers wanted: more representation for Black musicians—on the stage and off of it.
Inclusion and Your Organization
As fundraisers, we may find ourselves at organizations with established external diversity programs, nonprofits looking to dive into this space, or somewhere in between. The history of an organization’s diversity programs or its size is not as important as the way in which it embraces inclusion. Any organization—regardless of size or scope—can follow through on inclusion initiatives for its workers and constituents if it considers those initiatives a priority of constant and sustained focus.
First and foremost, fundraisers as allies must realize that there is no one perfect model of inclusion. Just as the diverse communities to which we belong evolve and change, the work of inclusion must follow suit and be a flexible framework that attempts to identify the needs of community members as they intersect our organizations. This flexibility not only gives us the opportunity to reach new funders but also gives our leaders and stakeholders the capacity to make mistakes. Just as we are human, we will make human mistakes. Inclusion is not about being perfect, it is about centering diverse perspectives and hearing them when they provide feedback.
The second and perhaps most difficult step for inclusion efforts is recognizing that we may have uncomfortable conversations with those whom we wish to include. Marginalized social and cultural groups often have collective shared historical trauma, and some still experience present-day oppression in the form of racism, sexism, homophobia, disability violence, and other bigotry in their workplaces and day-to-day life. When we embrace inclusion efforts, we must embrace the historical and present-day lived experiences from those we hope to bring into our organizations. Consequently, we must also embrace that sometimes our organizations may receive criticism for the lack of inclusion efforts. If we truly wish to embrace inclusion, our organizations must lead with empathy, hear these concerns, and respond with sincerity. These conversations may be uncomfortable, of course, but what we stand to gain is an organization that values its community members as well as those working within our organization!
Similarly to the way we strategically plan our capital campaigns and solicitation efforts, the third step toward more inclusive organizations is the development of short-and-long-term goals and the assignment of actionable steps to achieve those goals. Many times, leaders make goals that are well-intentioned but lack any tangible steps or describe how efforts will be achieved and measured. This may occur for a variety of reasons, but whatever the case may be, inclusion efforts must have actionable goals that have clear expectations that will measure success. These can be small considerations like adding clear disability accommodations requests for events or more comprehensive changes like hiring an official diversity officer to manage an organization’s IDEA efforts. What’s important is that these steps are tailored to the size and mission of an organization and that they center diverse perspectives.
The Future is Inclusive
The future of AFP and the future of philanthropy itself is inclusive. We are already seeing a commitment to IDEA work in Generation Z through their volunteer work (and their respective fundraising efforts). As we look to the future of our profession, we should make it our collective responsibility to increase inclusion in our workplaces and foster constituency groups that reflect the communities we serve. Our efforts will in turn create opportunities for AFP to become more diverse by increasing representation of diverse groups amongst frontline fundraisers and senior leaders alike. All it takes is a willingness to embrace inclusion and the determination to follow through.
JP Paul is a major gifts fundraiser and an independent fundraising consultant. A young professional with a passion for assisting up-and-coming nonprofit organizations, JP assists organizations with donor relations, development communications, and long-term fundraising strategies for ensured success. JP got his start in higher education philanthropy and applies his knowledge and expertise for organizations advancing causes for which he cares about, including vocal and choral music, Parkinson’s disease treatment and education, animal welfare, LGBTQ+ advocacy, and others.
JP is a strong advocate for making fundraising more equitable and making programming and relationships more reflective of the diverse communities that encompass society. He is most passionate about making fundraising more accessible to those with disabilities as well as those in recovery for addiction and mental health disorders, and believes that more equitable fundraising benefits the marginalized the most but makes the fundraising profession better for everyone.
JP is a 2022 AFP/Blackbaud Emerging Leader Mentee, a member of the AFP Global Emerging Leaders Task Force and the AFP Global Marketing, Awards and Communications (MAC) Committee, and a volunteer recruiter and judge for the 2022 Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) Circle of Excellence of Awards. He currently resides with his husband and two cats in Blacksburg, VA.