New Year’s Resolutions for the Charitable Sector – A Call to Action

end of year gifts

I’m not normally a fan of New Year’s resolutions. They unnecessarily pressure people and create unrealistic goals. For the last 40 years I have avoided setting New Year’s resolutions for myself but after the dumpster-fire that was 2020 I’m compelled to make a resolution – to become a bigger and louder advocate for equity in our sector than I have before.

As a sector, why don’t we all decide to set some significant resolutions for 2021?

I’d like to start with some big, hairy, and audacious goals.

1. Recognizing and acknowledging systemic racism and white-supremacy in the non-profit and charitable sectors. And doing something about it. 

If you have not already read Nneka Allen’s blog post titled “The Two Faces of Philanthropy” I highly encourage you to do so. In this piece, Allen addresses what it means to be a Black fundraiser in the charitable sector in Canada. She writes that “…charities are blind to the unique proximity of people of colour to the beneficiaries of their work and the inevitable contribution Black professionals offer.” In late 2019, Allen and many other Black female fundraisers, took part in a project with AFP Global called “Our Right to Heal.” These pieces, along with the contributors to Community Centric Fundraising, paint a picture that is clear and true: the foundations of the philanthropic sector are rooted in white-privilege, white-complacency, and white-saviourism.

If you don’t believe this to be true, think about your own organization’s board, volunteers, and donors. Take a moment to reflect on how diverse they are. Probably not very diverse at all. 

In 2019, Canadian Senator Ratna Omidvar wrote a piece titled “Canadian Nonprofit Boards have a Diversity Problem”. In it she notes that “only 38.1 percent of boards analyzed had at least 20 percent racialized minority leaders, 19 percent have none.” 

So what can we do about this as a sector?

Well as Senator Omidvar notes, the first step is recording and recognizing diversity in board and leadership structure in the non-profit and charitable sector. In the process of reporting and recognizing the lack of diversity in our organizations, we will begin to see the depth and breadth of this issue, and start to focus on ways to fundamentally shift our focus. 

Do something about this in your own organization. Ask your board and senior leaders to complete a demographic survey and be transparent about this with your membership, donors, and volunteers.

2. Acknowledging that fundraising glorifies and idolizes wealth, and is not doing enough to democratize philanthropy. And doing something about it. 

Over the past year, there has been a significant debate in our sector about two important movements: donor-centered and community-centric fundraising. Some have tried to posit that these movements are diametrically opposed. Fundraising think-tank Rogare even published a discussion paper titled “Donor-centered baby and the Community Centric bathwater” which explored if there was sufficient common ground between the two to collaborate. 

I believe that the pendulum in our sector has swung too far from its original purpose of inspiring, motivating, and encouraging philanthropy to the idolization and glorification of wealth. I have witnessed donor-dominance in my own career, and it has ultimately affected how I operated as a fundraiser. I have seen the detrimental effects first-hand. 

So what can we do to change this?

I believe we are living in a time where philanthropy can reinvent itself by through democratization of giving. There are many ways we can democratize our organizations, how they interact with our donors, and provide more equity in how we recognize philanthropy. If we refuse to acknowledge this change is afoot, we will become irrelevant. 

The Nonprofit Quarterly’s Tiny Spark Podcast recently featured “The Growth of Giving Circles: A Growing Force for Democratizing Philanthropy.” In this piece, Tiny Spark explores how giving circles “allow friends, neighbors, families and people with religious, civil, cultural and other connections to learn about issues of shared concern and decide where to donate their money.” This is one way that individuals are coming together to build networks to convene power and influence change in their communities. These giving circles are increasing engagement and giving amongst BIPOC communities throughout the US and Canada, and will become a larger influence in the years to come. 

So what can you bring a more democratic approach to giving with your organization? I encourage organizations to look at their recognition policies and outreach efforts in 2021. Find ways to acknowledge the efforts of all who give, versus the glorification of a few very wealthy individuals.

3. Recognizing that as a sector, we continue to fail to protect our own people. And do something about it. 

I’ve written extensively about how our sector has failed to protect its own people from sexual harassment. But sexual harassment is just the tip of a very large iceberg that leaders in our sector continue to shy away from. The issue of bullying, harassment, and systemic inequities in our sector continue to fester. 

In 2020, Canadians saw a number of stories go public about toxic non-profit workplaces. Stories like the Canadian Human Rights Museum, where staff reported serious issues of racism and sexual harassment. And of course, the infamous We Charity Scandal where numerous staff and contractors came forward to expose racism, bullying, and harassment at the core of that organization. Many Canadians were caught up in the political aspect of the We Charity story, but at the core the issue was best described by Hawa Mire as the story of “a gang of brothers quietly marking their territory as profiteers of the non-profit industrial complex.” 

Keep an eye out in 2021 for work by industry advocates like Shanaaz Gokool who is working diligently to highlight and expose discrimination in our sector. As Gokool writes: “when the people who raise these issues are not treated with dignity — and the legitimacy of their experiences is not acknowledged — the situation can get very ugly, very quickly.”

Prepare for an ugly 2021 for some organizations who have failed to deal with toxic and discriminatory work environments.

So what can you to fix this in 2021?

Ask your executive team and board if your organization has strong policies and procedures to protect employees from discrimination of any kind. Encourage your organization to explore anti-racism, anti-harassment, and buy-stander training in 2021. It is important not just to invest in the physical safety of your teams, but the social and psychological safety of your people as well. 

A New Year for our Sector:

I am a cautiously optimistic person by nature. That means that I am cautiously hopeful about the future, and confident in our ability to enact positive change. I am cautious, because by nature humans can revert back to the habits that are easiest for them. And for our sector that would be falling back on old habits that reinforce inequity and white-privilege.

As we start the New Year let’s challenge ourselves to do better. To be better. 

Let 2021 be the year we see substantive and real change.

Liz LeClair, M.A., CFRE

Liz LeClair is proud to call herself a fundraiser and a feminist. She brings more than 15 years of experience to her role as the Director of Major Gifts at the QE2 Foundation in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Born in Toronto, she has lived and worked on both coasts, working with a variety of non-profits, in a variety of sectors. Liz is a long-standing member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals; sits on the board of Certified Fundraising Executive International, volunteers on numerous national boards and committees, and is the current Chair of the AFP Women’s Impact Initiative, an initiative started in response to the #MeToo Movement in the non-profit sector. In January 2019, Liz published an op-ed with CBC on issue of sexual harassment in the non-profit sector followed by numerous industry articles on this issue. She is also a founder of the National Day of Conversation, a one-day digital dialogue on the issue of sexualized violence in the charitable sector. Liz is committed to speaking up about the challenges facing women and marginalized individuals in all sectors.

Liz LeClair, M.A., CFRE
Liz LeClair, M.A., CFRE
Liz LeClair, M.A., CFRE

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