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On September 13, 2018 we were asked to speak to the Memphis Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP). The monthly luncheon was held, appropriately, at the National Civil Rights Museum. We share these remarks as we believe they are important to all of us who care about Memphis in specific, and fundraising and the nonprofit sector as a whole.

Remarks were written by Melvin and Pearl Shaw and delivered by Pearl Shaw.

Introduction and Thanks

Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Access

Thank you for your openness, for this conversation, and the opportunity to be together as fundraising professionals to officially start our chapter’s conversation on inclusion, diversity, equity, and access. My hope is that these comments will add to the conversation we have begun, and that the conversation will continue amongst ourselves, within our organizations, and across our city.

We were honored when we received a call from Kelsey Hamilton, the chair of the programming committee, inviting us to speak today. We are delighted to be here with you.

As you may or may not be aware, we are a husband-and-wife team, operating a fundraising consulting business that works locally and nationwide. Melvin is African American, Memphis born and raised, though he left Memphis in 1968, a time he describes politely as “tense.” I’m from New York. My mother immigrated from Egypt in her early 20s. My father is white. Mel and I met, married, and started our business in the very diverse San Francisco Bay Area. When we decided to move to Memphis, we had to pause and ask, “Will people accept us?” We didn’t know what Memphis would think of us as a mixed-race couple, or how our business would be accepted.

We have found that the Memphis we live in is very different from the Memphis of 1968. We have been welcomed by diverse leaders from across the city. We write a fundraising column in the local paper — the Memphis Daily News, soon to become the Daily Memphian. And the paper runs our picture with our column. You’ll hear in a moment why that is an important part of our story. We have worked with black-led organizations, traditionally white organizations, faith-based organizations, social justice groups, Latino Memphis, OUT Memphis, the city, private businesses, and philanthropy here and across the country.

We know the diversity of fundraisers, because we work with them: lesbian, gay and transgendered; black, Hispanic, Asian Pacific Islander, Indian, Arab, white, Muslim, Christian, Jewish …We have worked with organizations as they develop the talents of those who have been under represented or unrepresented in fundraising.

I mention our experiences, because we have to grapple with the issues of inclusion, diversity, equity, and access. We grapple with these within our business, in the market, with our clients, and between ourselves as a couple and a family. And we are constantly learning, constantly growing.

While we value and love our clients, the diversity of our work did not come easily. For many years Mel wondered if having his photo on our website and marketing materials would “turn off” prospective clients. We knew that because of our company’s name people might feel uncomfortable working with “foreigners” or worse, that we had terrorist, anti-American sentiments or connections.

What we have found here in Memphis is that times have changed. The leadership of this city has been willing to meet with us, to explore how we can add value. It is because of today’s welcoming leadership that we are recommended as consultants. Today we are not immediately excluded because we are a black firm.

While our presentation today is future-looking, we must  realize why these values are important and why we must be conscious in our practices and policies. It is because we are still emerging from a time when race, gender, national origin, sexual orientation, religion, and even marital status were a criterion for “how well you could do your job.”

We are not far removed from a time when a black person was not welcomed in a white person’s home. A time when it would be more than inappropriate for a black person to ask a white person for a charitable donation. If you look and listen closely you may find that it is still challenging for black voices to be heard and taken seriously within predominantly white organizations. For example, people will laugh and understand the joke about a white woman who makes a suggestion that is ignored, and then watches as — seconds later — a white man makes the same suggestion and it is welcomed as “pure genius.” We don’t always see how that plays out in terms of race.

This is still an unspoken barrier. “We” still question the leadership and qualifications of people of color. “We” assess an organization’s capabilities by who “we” know on the board, or in executive leadership.

We — all of us — have to start this conversation, and ultimately change our policies and practices if we are to develop and grow leadership that serves and represents all of us.

And “we” have to stay at the table during the process. We can’t retreat to our corners, or create organizations that better represent “our” interests, when the interests of others become a priority. We have to be more than “me” — we have to become a “we.”

Personally, people have always asked me “Who are you?” or “Where are you from?” when being polite. Other times, more bluntly, “What are you?” I am a mixed-heritage Arab American woman. I am married to an African American man. Our blended family is diverse in almost every way imaginable.

Today, as fundraisers, nonprofit leaders, and as a local AFP chapter we get to ask ourselves the same question: who are we?

It is not 1968, but that does not mean that Memphis 1968 is not a part of our history. Or that slavery, mandatory segregation as a public policy, redlining, discriminatory lending, violence, prejudice, and “white flight” are not also a part of who we are and why we are where we are today.

Why Diversity Matters in Philanthropy

Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Access

In terms of philanthropy and fundraising, there is a perception that only one segment of our community is in a position to give money and set policy. Yet the truth is that people of color are fast positioning themselves to give back because of our increased education, wealth, and changes in the dominant culture.

It is incumbent upon us as professionals that we grow to understand the different cultures that comprise our community: how they think, what they value. We need to get to know their leadership, and to understand what is important to them. We need to build platforms that allow us to hear voices different from our own and to engage those voices in our work … even when that means our work might change by including “someone else’s” priorities.

Inclusion, diversity, equity, and access have to become a part of our capacity and infrastructure. These have to be part of how we build our programs and organizations, how we interact with each other, and how we allocate our resources. Our organizations have to represent the diversity of who we serve — and we have to stretch to serve all aspects of our community.

Think about the time, research, and energy that goes into identifying, cultivating, soliciting, and retaining the major donors who support your organization. Those who provide leadership gifts may have been giving for years or decades. They may have been engaged and cultivated over the years by people who no longer with the organization. Or, they may be new to your organization because you took the time to find them, cultivate them, and uncover shared values or relationships. You have to do put the same energy and attention into inclusion, diversity, equity, and access.

Today’s talented fundraisers value diversity and inclusion and use these to build and sustain fundraising teams for today and the future. As you build your team, look for new talents. Look for people who can understand the different communities within our community, and how they can contribute to your organization.

It Starts at the Top

A commitment to inclusion, diversity, equity, and access starts with an organization’s vision and is made manifest through policies and practices. Our commitment is made manifest through who we hire, the projects we focus on, the collaborations we create, and how we develop our boards.

As leaders, we need to check our “tolerance for intolerance.” We need to examine our implicit and explicit biases. We need to examine and modify our policies and practices. It is time for us to increase the ways in which we hold each other accountable — within our organizations and within our sector. There are no easy answers — there is only a way forward that is together.

How inclusive fundraising practices can lead to a larger and more diverse donor base for your nonprofit organization 

Inclusive fundraising invites more people to the table. Inclusive practices encourage us to ask who is missing, and to take action to invite others in. And it means we follow up on our invitations with actions that encourage new members to share their highest talents, their relationships, their experiences, and priorities.

Where Do We Go from Here? … Into Action

Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Access

Here are six specific actions that you and the leadership of your organizations – and our chapter – can take as we move forward.

  1. When seeking to increase diversity, look at the composition of the organization as a whole, not just the fundraising team.
    Take time to consciously build a qualified and diverse team. Think about your expectations. Do you want someone to be the “gay employee”? Or do you want an accountant who brings his top game to work on a daily basis? Think about the match — or mismatch — between who you hire and who you serve.
  2. Build pipelines for advancement within your organization.
    It is not okay for executive and fundraising leadership to be white and for African Americans to deliver services and provide administrative support. Create pipelines to leadership that include authority, decision-making, fundraising, and other forms of revenue generation.
  3. Engage people from diverse backgrounds to participate as board members, advisers, and fundraising volunteers.
    Bring new members onto the board in diverse cohorts and beware of creating a situation where one person becomes representative of a race, gender, or ethnicity. Create an onboarding process that shares information about the organization, its priorities, fundraising, and finances so that all members have access to information, not just those who already know someone on the board. Create “board buddies” so that each new board member has someone who can help them navigate and understand the written and unwritten rules of the board.
  4. Review policies and practices to learn what formal or informal barriers to employment may be in place.
    For example, are the educational requirements for specific positions a job-related requirement or a barrier? What about years as a “fundraising professional?” Could sales experience, volunteer fundraising, or entrepreneurial experience provide comparable skills? Does the time or location of meetings create barriers for fundraising volunteers?
  5. As we build the diversity within our staff and boards we need to engage our donors as well.
    Share your vision for inclusion, diversity, equity and access with your donors, especially your major donors. Talk about why it is important and the steps you are taking. Encourage them to ask questions. Ask for their guidance, suggestions, and participation. Don’t let silence pass for acceptance. Create opportunities for long time donors to meet with and get to know your new donors. As you bring on new staff leadership make sure that your board schedules time for your major donors to meet your new leaders. As we increase the diversity of our organizations we must retain the long-time support of donors who have invested in our nonprofits and who believe in Memphis. This is not about “us and them.” This is about all of us.
  6. As fundraisers we want to increase the diversity of our donors so that we increase support for the mission and vision of the organizations we represent. We want to build a spirit of inclusion, a valuing of diversity, and a welcoming spirit amongst all our donors.
    With opportunities to “truly know each other” across differences, donor circles, donor receptions, and nonprofit activities can be a unique space where one of the “benefits of giving” is the ability to participate within a diverse community of peers. We want to live our values in how we treat our donors, how we bring them together, and in how we create equity when offering opportunities and visibility.

Look at the Money

We have primarily focused on encouraging inclusion, diversity, equity, and access amongst our donors, staff, and leadership. Equally important, but often overlooked, is the economic impact of our decisions and how inclusion, diversity, equity, and access need to be included when we spend the money we raise. Who are our accountants, building contractors, endowment managers, event planners, real estate agents, and insurance representatives? Who provides graphic design services, janitorial services and supplies, technology equipment, services, training, and support? Who do we buy office supplies from? Who provides the food or snacks? Who do we bank with? If our organizations serve black people, are we willing to bank with Tri-State Bank, a Memphis-based black-owned bank? 

Looking at Ourselves

Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Access

In closing, we ask that all of us ask the question, what does diversity look like for our chapter? Who do we — individually and collectively — want to become? What do we want to be known for? We have the opportunity as members and leaders to invite people to our meetings. We get to ask ourselves, who do we consider to be a fundraiser? Who are we serving? Is our commitment to our members or to Memphis? Is there a difference and should there be one? We have seen the growth of the Memphis Chapter and the vitality of its members when we participate. The change process is in motion and we are all a part of it.


In closing, inclusion, diversity, equity, and access have to be at the heart of who we are — these are not an additional area to check in on. They are vital to our sustainability — and the sustainability of our region and country. These are not Republican ideals or Democratic visions. These are human values.

Thank you for welcoming us. Thank you for this opportunity. We encourage each of you — and all of us — to continue this dialog with our peers, within our organizations, and within our chapter. Thank you.

Copyright 2018 – Mel and Pearl Shaw

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