President's Perspective Blog

Representation

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I’ve been thinking a lot about representation lately, especially in the context of IDEA—Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access. Whom do we represent, and how do we represent them? And in some cases, are we representing people at all, or representing them in the right way?

For me, the key idea is about access to that proverbial table where the decisions are made. To best represent people—and in AFP’s case, to ensure we are serving and championing them the best way possible—we not only need to make sure everyone can get to the table. We have a responsibility to ensure they have a spot at the table, feel welcome to the table, can speak comfortably at the table, and most importantly, want to stay at the table.

That’s a theme that I want to have in all of AFP’s programming as I discussed in a recent message. It’s also one of the reasons I like to have my Monday Messages “taken over” by different voices with different perspectives. It’s an opportunity to hear from people directly and learn about the challenges and victories they live with every day. Sometimes the stories are inspiring, and sometimes they make us uncomfortable, and sometimes both. And that’s OK.

I’m thrilled that we’re going to have more stories like that here during May as we recognize Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month in the United States and Asian Heritage Month in Canada. It’s been a challenging time for the AAPI community, with studies showing that hate crimes targeting Asian Americans increased 150% in 16 major cities last year, according to the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism. AFP issued a statement about rising violence toward the AAPI community earlier this year. The Senate recently passed a bi-partisan bill to protect Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. The House should approve it soon, and President Biden is expected to sign it.

The theme of representation is also a key issue, as the AAPI community is itself incredibly diverse. According to the U.S. Census, the Asian category includes people from countries as diverse and different as China, India, Japan, Pakistan, and Vietnam (to name just a few), while the category for Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders includes people from Hawaii, Samoa, Guam or other Pacific Islands. While we won’t be able to hear from all of those different perspectives during May, it’s important we understand that the AAPI community is not monolithic, and that there are hundreds of diverse voices in this community.

Our work begins with understanding, uplifting and representing each unique voice. Today, you can read about Melody Song’s extraordinary story and her ideas about representation, conformity and what it means to be truly committed to diversity and inclusion. Melody calls on all of AFP to move beyond “check-box diversity,” and she’s absolutely right. As she writes, “It takes courage to challenge the establishment starting by changing our own behaviour and calling ourselves out to embrace differences.”

I promised last year that AFP would not be afraid to look at itself and embrace change and differences. The work that we started internally, looking at our leadership nomination process, our hiring practices and other systems, is now moving externally as we examine how to make our programming and conference more equitable and representative. I’m also excited about the results of our collaborative IDEA survey, involving nine other fundraising-related organizations, and that data—which will form the foundation of our work moving forward—is expected to be announced at our AFP ICON Virtual, June 28 – 30.

The strength of our fundraising community lies in its incredible diversity, and AFP’s goal is nothing less than fair and equitable representation of—and advocacy for—our community. Celebrating Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month—and highlighting the voices of that community—is one small step forward in reaching our goal. Thanks for joining us.

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Mike Geiger, MBA, CPA

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