Discussing Diverse Talent: Highlights for CFA’s Finding Diverse Fundraising Talent webinar

When a client strongly recommended to Paul Johnson, president of Creative Fundraising Advisors (CFA), that he add a consultant of color to the CFA project team, Johnson readily agreed. To find that person, he turned to the channels he had long used: his LinkedIn contacts, traditional professional fundraising entities, and colleagues.

“I thought it would be relatively easy to find somebody to join our team,” says Johnson. “But over and over, people told me they were struggling to build staffs that were culturally and racially diverse, that there was shortage of diverse talent. And I realized that the fact I didn’t know how hard it was going to be to find consultants of color showed my implicit bias. That bias got me started on the wrong foot.”

Johnson sought assistance from Lisa Tabor, president of CultureBrokers, a trusted diversity, equity and inclusion consultant. “I told her I’m obviously doing something wrong here.” That admission launched a whole new journey for CFA. “CultureBrokers helped us take a broader look at our possible pool of talent and to consider changes to our hiring process, like posting on the African American Development Officers Network (AADO) site. As a result, we found several great candidates and ultimately hired two deeply experienced women of color, AJ Casey and Utica.”


Sharing Knowledge and Experience with the Field

The experience of building diversity in his own company led Johnson to partner with Tabor to develop a “Finding Diverse Fundraising Talent,” a panel discussion with national fundraising experts, which was hosted by CFA on February 25 and attended by nearly 150 people.

Tabor moderated the panel, which included William Harris, president and CEO of Space Center Houston; Birgit Smith Burton, executive director of Foundation Relations at the Georgia Institute of Technology and founder of AAD; Sunanda Ghosh, director of Strategic Relations for The Redford Foundation; and CFA’s new of counsel consultant, AJ Casey.

The panel started by answering the question why it matters to have people of color represented in fundraising. Their responses: Fundraising is where the narrative of an organization is shaped, so it matters whose voice is included. Fundraising manages external relationships, so it matters whose face is seen in community conversations. And importantly, donors of color are increasing, so diversity in staff is vital.

One panelist shared that, despite the importance of diversity, it has been estimated, by the Lilly Foundation, that of the approximately 37,000 development professionals in the U.S, only 12% of. are people of color. Often, Ghosh said, she is the only person of color at fundraising conferences.

Why is this? AJ Casey said one reason is that, until recently, it has not been a priority for nonprofit organizations to make sure their fundraising staff was diverse. And Birgit Smith Burton said organizations don’t commit resources to the search. “You can’t post and pray. You have to do things differently. You have to look for connections. With filling positions, you can’t just turn on the spigot; you need to always be out there.

The demand for professionals of color in fundraising is there, Burton said. “I’ve got 20 requests in my inbox of organizations looking for people of color.”

Recommendations for Building Diverse Fundraising Teams

One of the most helpful things that can be done to attract more staff of color is to develop an action plan, said Harris. “If you don’t operationalize it, you won’t have change. And attracting talent is fine but what about retention? It’s not only about putting policies in place but about culture.”

Panelists agreed that the focus of finding diverse talent cannot be about numbers. “It’s not about putting bodies in seats,” said Casey. “It’s about a complete social paradigm shift in how we do business, how we interact with each other, about our hair, our clothes, and how we interact with donors who come from different backgrounds.”

A common myth, Burton pointed out, is that you have to lower the bar to attract people of color. At the same time, the panelists all said that employers often have higher expectations for people of color, and that there was an expectation that they couldn’t make mistakes.

Ghosh said that having people of color in many positions throughout an organization is critically important for attracting diverse talent.

The panelists also addressed the issue of white leaders needing to create more space for people of color. “Sometimes it’s about white professionals stepping aside, making room at the table or giving up their seat,” Tabor said. As for dealing with leaders who don’t understand the value of diversity in a staff, Harris recommends you look to that person’s peers to help build awareness of how that lack of diversity is holding an organization back. Tabor agreed: “Peer pressure works.”


Supporting Professionals of Color in Philanthropy

For young professionals of color starting out in the philanthropic world, Casey recommended cross-cultural mentoring, and Burton suggests considering the difference between mentoring and sponsoring. “Mentors provide guidance. A sponsor uses influence to connect a person to opportunities, and sometimes we just need connection, not more guidance.”

 Harris said to make sure to ask pmmitment to diversity, equity, access and inclusion and about what kind of advancement opportunities they offer. “Be proactive in expressing your career aspirations,” he said, “and choose your boss carefully.” 

Being Willing to Stay in the Game

Casey noted how hard the work of diversity, equity, and inclusion can be. “We all want it to just be simple and easy, where we’re not always feeling like we have to learn something new. It’s always going to be awkward until it gets easy. So we have to socially normalize the awkwardness that we’re going to feel until we all learn to understand where each other is coming from and to respect each other.” 

Casey shared a helpful metaphor about diversity and inclusion: “One of my favorite sayings is, ‘Diversity is inviting different people to the dance; inclusion is playing the music that makes them want to dance.’ Don’t look at it like some people are just going to have to leave the party because if you don’t want to listen to the music I want to listen to, then you have to leave. If we all stay in the party, we will learn to like things about each other’s music…It’s going to be hard until it’s easy, and it’s never going to get easy if we all just walk away from the difficulty.”