“Donors want to talk to people who look like them.”
A colleague recalled this advice from an executive we both worked with early in my nonprofit career.
As a first-generation immigrant family identifying as Latina, I recalled being asked to leave before an event began, not attend an event, or leave before donors arrived, not realizing the bias and discrimination embedded in those gestures.
More importantly, I began to doubt whether I could ever be seen or heard in the philanthropic and fundraising space.
It was not until several years later when I heard Urvashi Vaid, Ashindi Maxton, and Hali Lee share the report, “The Apparitional Donor: Understanding and Engaging High Net Worth Donors of Color” at the Communities Foundation of Texas, that I began framing my role as a fundraiser through a different lens.
Nearly five years later, The Donors of Color Network new report, Philanthropy Always Sounds Like Someone Else: A Portrait of High Net Worth Donors of Color, shows my instincts were reflective of the nonprofit culture found in many organizations.
The report includes the journeys of 113 BIPOC wealthy individual donors who collectively had given away $56 million with more than half of them donating more than $1 million during the year they were interviewed.
The report also shows an estimated 1.3 million U.S. individuals who identify as BIPOC that have a net worth greater than $1 million. More than 25,000 BIPOC individuals have annual incomes of $10 million or more.
Yet the majority of philanthropists in the news are white, including MacKenzie Scott and her latest pool of donations, despite her attempt to draw more attention to the recipient organizations she has funded in many marginalized communities and communities of color.
Other donors, like the Kresge Foundation, are setting the bar by reaching its goal of at least 30% of their funding going towards minority-led groups through the Climate Funders Justice Pledge, also launched by The Donors of Color Network.
This is a stark contrast to the just 1.3% of funding going towards BIPOC-led environmental groups. Other groups like the Black Future Co-Op Fund and Hispanics in Philanthropy are drawing attention to BIPOC philanthropists giving to Hispanic and Black led organizations.
Organizations like the Latino Community Foundation and the Hispanic Foundation of Silicon Valley seek to engage philanthropically minded Latino philanthropists, in the state of California. They invest in organizations that are either Hispanic-led or that work predominantly with Latino communities. This funding is extremely critical since estimates are between 1.1 to 1.5% of private foundation giving in the U.S. supporting organizations like these.
The representation journey of BIPOC philanthropists also mirrors those that identify as BIPOC within the fundraising profession.
The 2020 Grantmaker Salary and Benefits Report found minimal change in the diversity of foundation staff in terms of race, age, and disability over the last five years through the nearly 8,800 survey respondents.
According to the survey, people of color comprised 27.3% of full-time foundation staff, up slightly from 25.8% in 2016, and 10.3%of those in CEO and leadership roles, unchanged from 2016.
However, the 2018 demographic report from the Association of Fundraising Professionals in 2018, which includes more than 31,000 members, listed less than 10% of all fundraisers identifying as BIPOC. Staffing trends show that Latinos occupy less than 1% of foundation CEO positions, and hold just 9.3%of program officer positions, according to the Council of Foundations’ 2019 annual survey.
Many students of color may not grow up wanting to pursue fundraising as a career, or even know the profession exists when they graduate from college. Many report their initial experience with fundraising is when a student calls them to donate after they graduate.
To remedy that, the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) a few years ago began offering a residency training program for students wanting to pursue a career in fundraising. Part of the program was aimed at diversifying the ranks of fundraisers in higher education.
Another strategy is for nonprofits to offer internships and encourage new college graduates to apply for entry level roles, recruiting from Historically Black Colleges and Universities or Hispanic Serving Institutions, like the pilot program offered through CASE.
Those working as fundraisers or philanthropic advisors can share their story with students. More than a decade and a half ago, a friend invited me to career day at the elementary school where he worked, and I spoke to kindergarten students about my job.
Since that day, I have spoken at over a dozen career days to more than 400 elementary, middle school and high school students. Some regional chambers like the Dallas Regional Chamber have a Principal For A Day Program.
There have been times over the last decade and a half where I have questioned whether I deserved to be in the philanthropic and fundraising space. I did not come from the right family or live in the right part of town. I have an ethnic sounding name. I did not grow up in the city where I was fundraising or have connections to other families or circles of influence that could lend me some form of credibility.
We should support more young professional groups and leadership programs that have no cost, are company-sponsored as well as giving circles. Seeking mentors for short meetings on how to navigate the philanthropic space can be helpful.
Fundraisers and philanthropic advisors who identify as a minority may likely have something in common with donors of color. They may have experienced being the only or one of a few in a room throughout their career or profession. They may have had a similar experience growing up or know someone from their community of faith or even neighborhood, if they grew up in the same city.
Yes, there is a correlation between philanthropic advisors and donors sharing similar identities. But instead of shutting the door and excluding people, this bridge of inclusion on both sides is a critical step in the right direction for any organization, small or large.