Pulse Check on Diversity & Inclusion: A Look at AFP’s #Solveathon Insights Report

By Melody Song, AFP Calgary & Area IDEA Chair 

Diversity and inclusion is a hot topic. But how does it affect us as citizens? As fundraisers? As prospect researchers? 

When I arrived in Canada 24 years ago, I never dreamed that I would become a fundraiser — a profession that did not exist in China, where I grew up. Working as a prospect researcher and later a major gift officer, I am already witnessing changes in the makeup of Canada’s donor demographics. I found myself working with more Chinese-Canadian philanthropists and international companies with different cultures. Sharing the culture of philanthropy is rewarding, but at the same time, I feel that many of my colleagues’ attitudes toward diversity did not change. Everyone was happy that I happened to be Chinese and could work with Chinese donors. In a sense, there is a misunderstanding in our society among people who think diversity can be taken care of primarily by those who are diverse.

In fact, such misperceptions will only threaten the survival of our nonprofit organizations, as many of today’s disruptions and changes are rooted in fundraising practices designed around white male philanthropists. As power and wealth shift, diversity is not just about having someone from diverse culture to sit on a committee, board, conference panel or program. Diversity is about fundamentally changing our practices and creating an adaptive system and process for change. In other words, we all need to be part of the solution. 

Earlier this year, the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) Calgary & Area teamed up with Women’s Work Institute to create a #solveathon: the first step of an innovative approach to tackle issues related to inclusion, diversity, equity and access (IDEA) by surveying members and co-creating solutions through an ideation workshop. We focused on finding solutions for a fundamental problem: how can our practice be adapted to an increasingly diverse donor and client base? Instead of focusing on only one community, this approach aims to create systemic change that all marginalized communities (women, youth, LGBTQ+, indigenous people, immigrants and many more) can benefit from.

The #solveathon Insights Report, which came as a result of the workshop, was co-created by fellow fundraisers with their active participation. As the IDEA Chair for AFP Calgary & Area, I am incredibly proud of all the participants (over 100 fundraisers all together) from Alberta, other provinces of Canada and parts of the United States in this process over a relatively short amount of time.

 The report includes many passionate voices, like this survey respondent who said:

“This sector is facing significant changes. In order for fundraisers to thrive as we face the challenges ahead, we will need people with different backgrounds, experiences and identities bringing their best ideas to the table. We will have a greater chance of success if we can work together toward common goals. Success, in our sector, means working toward building a better world for all.”

The report also identifies some common misperceptions, or perhaps the perception of a false problem:

“Among fundraisers located in more politically conservative regions, respondents are more likely to believe inequality of opportunity does not exist in the profession, that it is a "false" problem. They assert the profession operates as an unbiased meritocracy. If they concede discrimination exists, they believe it favors female fundraising professionals because the profession is staffed predominantly by women.

Furthermore, they do not believe that diversifying representation in fundraising would have any effect on the effectiveness and impact of the profession.”

From my experience being a fundraiser from a diverse cultural background and an advocate of diversity, I have observed two forms of misperception amongst fundraising professionals: 1) the diversity issue is taken care of by tokenism, checklists or by the diversity person/committee so that we don’t have to do anything about it nor contributing to the conversation; and 2) diversity is a false problem and professionalism (what Stanford Social Innovation Review would term “white professionalism”) is the only standard.

The report also presents a list of actions we can take on the practice level to initiate change. Themes focus on collaboration, developing a shared knowledge base and broadening engagement. 

Actions suggested by workshop attendees include:

  • Create an AFP Inclusivity Charter
  • Engage with higher education institutions
  • Let the cause drive action (include program staff and those we serve in decision making)
  • Maximize awareness about donor communities
  • Consult a more diverse donor population
  • Create innovative engagement opportunities (collaborative projects with donors)
  • Share expertise (digital knowledge base)
  • Create collaborative fundraising cohorts (cohorts of nonprofits with similar causes)
  • Measure and reward collaborative efforts (AFP Collaboration Award) 

The prospect research community has always been positioned to lead change because most of us are assuming the role of knowledge owners within our fundraising teams. We can leverage knowledge to provide insights for frontline fundraisers, and at the same time encourage collaboration with more diverse constituents, including programming staff and donors.

This is an opportunity to improve our practice and the fundraising effectiveness of our organizations. Prospect research professionals are equipped to design new adaptive processes and procedures that take a more fluid and diverse constituent base into consideration. In other words, you, the readers of Connections, can also be change-makers. The first step for change is to raise the right questions and join in the conversation. 

Get the AFP Banff Compass #solveathon Insights Report 2019 here: https://community.afpnet.org/afpcalgaryareachapter/career/new-item6

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