Research | Money, Power and Race: The Lived Experience of Fundraisers of Color

publication date: Jan 15, 2020
author/source: Cause Effective

In 2018, Cause Effective launched a year-long field-learning project to explore questions of racial equity through the lens of the development director. As the primary person responsible for fundraising, the development director serves as a pivot point toward institutional advancement and sustainability. We reached out to development professionals of color from across the country to ask such key questions as:

  • Why is the development role, so critical to an organization’s capacity, sustainability, growth and ability to achieve its mission, often excluded in conversations about leadership?
  • How do issues of race play out in the context of fundraising, which includes discussions about money (as a means of organizational investment) and involves significant relationship-building with people of wealth and privilege?
  • How do issues of race (as well as the intersections of ethnicity and gender) impact the job satisfaction and professional advancement of development directors of color?
  • What should the nonprofit sector, and individual organizations, do to ensure that development directors are supported in navigating issues of race and class that hinder their effectiveness?
  • How might those barriers be permanently erased?

In total, we read dozens of articles and reports, conducted 52 interviews, received 110 survey responses, and shared the findings with 13 professionals across the sector for their review.

Key findings

Why does diversity in fundraising matter?

According to our respondents, because:

Fundraising is where the narrative of organizations is shaped – development professionals create the language that describes the problems, solutions and visions for change.

Fundraising manages the external relationships of nonprofits – development professionals are entrusted with representing their institutions to individuals with the ability to make a game changing difference in their constituents’ future.

Fundraising is the nexus where money comes into the organization – carrying with it the power to bestow resources and enable programming.

Donors of color are a rising philanthropic asset for the nonprofit sector – and seem especially responsive to being approached by fundraisers of color.

Fundraisers of color identified the following themes throughout their careers

Establishing a career in fundraising means entering into white dominated spaces.

Fundraising is a field in which donors, board members, and executive directors’ comfort with the fundraising relationship is essential for success; when people of color are viewed (consciously or subconsciously) as outsiders it is harder for them to bring in the expected resources.

The very fabric of fundraising deals with discomfort, rejection, and often unrealistic expectations and inserting a racial component adds an extra hurdle to an already charged interaction.

The nature of fundraising changes as one advances in the field, from tactics oriented to relationship based, which opens up more exposure to racially tinged interactions within a development professional of color’s career trajectory.

The competency of fundraisers of color is questioned while white fundraisers are assumed to be proficient.

Belittlement happens as a matter of course in dealing with donors, board members, and, in some positions, executive staff.

Internal support, particularly at the executive leadership level, is key to individual professional success. Fundraisers of color who do navigate the racial barriers find development to be a very rewarding way to contribute to social change.

Cause Effective strengthens the nonprofit sector by helping organizations build engaged communities of supporters. We transform people, culture and systems, coaching nonprofits to learn, carry out and sustain new approaches to fundraising and board leadership.

To read the full report, click here


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