The murder of George Floyd in 2020, and the uprisings that followed, promoted many nonprofit and philanthropic organizations across the country to deepen their commitment to racial equity and justice. As someone who started fundraising because I see its potential for social impact, I thought the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors had finally reached the fork in the road - are we going to start having serious conversations and shift our work for truly equitable outcomes or are we going to keep going about business as usual?
It appeared that both sectors chose the former. Strategic plans shifted, statements were made, trainings were held, and plans implemented. Yet, a 2022 survey performed by Nonprofit HR about Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice (DEIJ) practices shows that many organizations still struggle to implement DEIJ principles and practices into their organization meaningfully.
Of the 588 organizations surveyed, 48% reported that they explicitly list diversity, equity, inclusion, or justice as one of their core values. While many organizations have a DEIJ statement (40%), very few have a formal strategy (17%) or a formal budget (23%) dedicated to DEIJ initiatives, goals, and/or objectives. Nearly half of the organizations that responded to the survey have conducted some formal training or education on DEIJ principles. This data bears the question – Are organizations truly committed to DEIJ, or are the principles being used as a checklist to appease funders and the broader community?
Unsurprisingly, these organizations also report challenges in attracting a diverse pool of candidates (74%), retaining diverse staff across the organization’s hierarchy (62%), and creating a culture of inclusiveness amongst staff (51%). These statistics are troubling, especially when the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that people of color will make up the majority of the American working class by 2032.
I’ve worked in these organizations and have felt these challenges in real-time. Organizations that have beautifully crafted DEIJ statements, but where most of the BIPOC employees work at the level of front-line workers. Where tokenization is seen as progress and assimilation is necessary if you want to be accepted. I’ve worked in organizations that have conducted formal DEIJ trainings, hired Chief Diversity Officers, and yet I was one of few people of color on the fundraising team or within the organization.
I’ve contracted with these organizations too. Organizations that hired me because of my lived experience, ignored said experience and any suggestions I would make, then chastised me when the desired results were not achieved. Organizations that knew they were underpaying me but expected me to give them my undivided attention and all my time.
This lack of genuine investment in DEIJ principles results in staff from marginalized communities feeling isolated and alienated within their organizations. BIPOC employees often face unique challenges, such as microaggressions, unconscious bias, and limited opportunities for career advancement. These experiences contribute to lower job satisfaction and reduced morale among BIPOC staff members, making them less likely to invest in their roles and the organization's mission fully.
As someone who has felt all these things, I can say that these challenges are real, and they made it difficult to show up to work as my best self. My job shifted from fundraising to just getting through the day. My quiet moments at home were spent processing microaggressions and trying to convince myself that I wasn’t being too sensitive. I would convince myself that I needed thicker skin. That if I was just a little less vocal and chose my words carefully, I could avoid the “angry Black lady” trope. I spent a lot of time policing my actions and did the bare minimum. I was doing more emotional labor than actual work. In the end, I was left drained, unmotivated, and eventually would leave to seek greener pastures.
A study by the Center for Talent Innovation found that when employees feel isolated and unable to bring their authentic selves to work, they are 24% more likely to report a decrease in performance and productivity. Moreover, a 2020 report by the Kapor Center for Social Impact highlighted that 40% of employees of color leave their jobs due to unfair treatment or a lack of advancement opportunities.
The lack of investment in DEIJ and the continued marginalization of BIPOC staff can impact an organization's overall effectiveness and its ability to fundraise. Despite an increased focus on recruiting fundraisers from diverse backgrounds, many funders, organizations, and professional associations fail to provide spaces where those fundraisers can show up as their authentic selves.
According to a 2021 survey performed by the Association of Fundraising Professionals, more than half of the fundraisers who identify as BIPOC left a job because of bias or a bad experience. Most of these experiences are not with donors, they are happening within the workplace, with 37% of respondents reporting incidents of bias from co-workers. Additionally, 60% of Black respondents say they must work harder than their non-Black peers to receive equal treatment, compared to 48% of Asian respondents and 37% of Latinx respondents. This lack of investment doesn’t just harm BIPOC staff, the numbers are similar amongst staff who identify as LGBTQIA+ and those with disabilities.
When I would show up to the office with the goal of just getting through the day, I was not doing my best work. I questioned my place in the sector and my ability to do the work. I would withdraw from my team in hopes that if I remained invisible, I could push through. I overextended myself thinking it would keep me safe and that, eventually, I would be appreciated for doing so; it never happened.
In contrast, when I worked in organizations where I was allowed to be myself, speak my piece, and felt valued, I flourished. It wasn’t always sunshine and rainbows, but I knew that I was working with people who didn’t mind weathering the storms with me and who would do so with care. I knew it was safe to show up authentically, even when it didn’t look pretty. I was able to show up authentically because I knew my white colleagues were just as invested in dismantling white supremacy as I was and were making an effort to do the internal work that comes with that.
Unless organizations begin to “walk the walk” and move beyond surface-level DEIJ implementation, they will continually struggle to retain talented individuals from underrepresented communities. Less than 20% of the organizations surveyed for the 2022 Nonprofit HR study have conducted a formal audit to gain some understanding of their employees’ experience related to DEIJ. Implementing these principles without engaging the folks impacted by them and with little to no community accountability produces the results listed above – BIPOC and staff from other marginalized communities feeling isolated and unwelcome.
While many nonprofits are focused on addressing workforce issues, another issue is looming in the wind – a changing donor base. At MCN’s 2023 Annual Fundraising Conference, keynote speaker Nikki Pieratos, Executive Director of Tiwahe Foundation, shared statistics from the Boston College Center on Wealth and Philanthropy showing that $59 trillion will be transferred from Boomers to their Millennial heirs, charities, and taxes. The majority of that ($36T) will be transferred to their millennial heirs, a group that is known for thoroughly researching an organization's social impact before donating and is more likely to donate to organizations that prioritize diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice. In fact, according to Giving USA’s 2023 Special Report “Giving by Generation,” millennials increased their annual giving by 40%, while giving amongst Gen X (4%) and the Boomers (12%) declined.
But millennial donors aren’t the only donors seeking value alignment with the organizations they support. A study conducted by the Women's Philanthropy Institute found that women, especially women of color, are more likely to give to causes that align with their personal values and reflect their community’s needs. The 2021 Giving USA report shows that donors from all walks of life are increasingly seeking to support organizations that demonstrate a commitment to equity and inclusion. The 2023 Giving USA report affirms this, showing that younger generations want easier ways to identify organizations led by people who share their gender, race, political affirmation, and other identity markers.
I’ve seen this in my work as a Major Gifts Officer. Donors are becoming increasingly savvy, and when I was in the field, I found myself talking more and more about how our organization was caring for staff and the work we’re doing to create more equitable outcomes for everyone. They’re curious about how organizations are working to advocate to change the systems that perpetuate inequity and want to know more about how we’re showing up in partnership with the community.
Giving across generational lines isn’t the only indicator of a changing donor base. A 2022 survey conducted by the Donor of Colors Network shows that the number of high net-worth donors is increasing in communities of color. Earlier research conducted by the organization placed the number of high net-worth donors of color in the US at well over 1.3 million people. Of the 113 BIPOC donors surveyed, 55% of the group reported giving more than $1 million per year; median annual giving was $87,500, and giving amounts ranged between $4,000 and $17 million.
When asked about annual giving during the year of the report (2022), the group reported a total of $56 million donated. More than one-fifth (approximately 23%) reported assets greater than $30 million. While most of these donors identified education as a philanthropic priority (65%), social justice (44%) and racial justice (37%) were among the top five priorities.
The changing donor base has forced many fundraisers to move away from donor-centered practices that don’t resonate within communities of color. The Community-Centric Fundraising (CCF) movement, a model rooted in equity and social justice, is gaining traction. The CCF movement seeks to evolve how fundraising is done in the non-profit sector. Its goal is to re-examine every fundraising philosophy and practice we’ve been taught and to explore and engage in fundraising in ways that reduce harm.
During this year’s MCN Annual Fundraising Conference, sessions that centered around the CCF movement and alternatives to donor-centered fundraising practices were full to the brim. An increasing number of fundraisers of all backgrounds are seeking a change. Traditional fundraising methods aren’t going to be as effective as they once were. Shifting to a more community-centric, values-based approach will become necessary, but that is a rant for another day.
A New Level of Commitment
Our workforce and donor base are changing. A simple DEIJ statement isn’t going to cut it anymore. Organizations must move past DEIJ and commit to anti-racism and dismantling the culture of white supremacy within their workplaces. They must make peace with not seeing results now (sense of urgency is a characteristic of white supremacy culture) and commit to ongoing investment, reflection, and correction. They must stop assuming that DEIJ is being implemented throughout the organization and start checking in with their staff.
Hiring fundraisers from marginalized communities (BIPOC, LGTBQIA+, etc.) without creating spaces where they feel safe is causing more harm than good. Putting us in these spaces without doing the critical work of dismantling white supremacy culture does not set us up for success. When we are forced to spend our time fighting to feel safe, you detract from our ability to connect with our donors and do what you hired us to do – fundraise.
Research by The Chronicle of Philanthropy shows that diverse organizations are more likely to attract diverse donors. Despite knowing that, the nonprofit sector is still failing to retain diverse staff and hold itself accountable to DEIJ principles and the community. This continued failure will have profound consequences as the world around us continues to change.
Genuine investment in BIPOC staff and staff from other marginalized communities is essential for nonprofits that seek to foster an inclusive and diverse work environment. Nonprofits must recognize the immense value of this investment and commit to dismantling systemic barriers that hinder the growth of diversity within their organizations. Embracing diversity is not only a moral imperative but a strategic advantage that will lead to more sustainable and successful fundraising outcomes.