When I started reading Collecting Courage, it made me uncomfortable. As a middle-aged white male, it was challenging to read. But, as I continued to read story after story of Black and brown fundraisers’ experiences, I saw this collection of stories as a real gift. For the first time, I heard in unbridled honesty what Black and brown people truly experience in the non-profit community. For them to trust me with their stories – that is truly a gift.
This is why I’ve encouraged my entire staff, and I encourage you as well, to go through the Path to Action training offered by the authors of Collecting Courage. It will be life-altering. And it will lead you to action. Read Matt’s experience below to hear what an impact it can make on you and your work culture. – Jeff
It’s Friday, and I dial into another zoom meeting, my umpteenth this week. I’m sitting comfortably at home about seven miles from where George Floyd was murdered. Earlier this morning my run took me past the police station that employed Jeronimo Yanez when he killed Philando Castile.
Faces pop onto the screen, a colleague in Asheville, others in Philly, Ohio, Switzerland. A few more dial in from Toronto, this hour a reprieve of sorts from the AFP board saga there.
We’re not here to amp up our fundraising programs, and we’re not discussing The Veritus Way. We’re coming together to take the next step in our individual journeys and our struggle against racism.
And while we’re generally aware of broader systems impacted by race, such as criminal justice or the wealth gap, today we’re closer to home. We’re reading and listening to stories of Black and brown fundraisers through a training called A Path to Action. These fundraisers, like so many of us, came to the non-profit sector to change the world, to help people, to fight for justice and to stand shoulder to shoulder with program officers and philanthropists and idealists against the forces of inequality and oppression and to fight for a better life for everyone. They, unlike those of us unburdened by the accident of birth into the non-dominant caste, found themselves blindsided by racism in the very organizations claiming to work for good. For example:
Mide moves from victory to victory in a career spanning two continents and multiple large international organizations. Despite this success, white executives decline to entrust their mostly white fundraising teams to his leadership, and instead give the roles to less qualified white candidates.
Muthoni is recruited to a new fundraising role by an executive who claims to want to diversify their team. She takes a chance, leaves her stable position, and joins the organization. Immediately, however, she feels pressure at every turn to hide parts of herself, to change the way she talks, to alter her appearance and actions to reflect a more “corporate” or “professional” image. She endures microaggressions related to her kinky Black hair or heating up her traditional Kenyan food in the staff kitchen. Despite her best efforts at fitting in, seven months later Muthoni is fired with little explanation.
As we work through each module of A Path to Action, the stories come in thick and fast. Fundraisers talk about being passed over for promotion. They talk about being hired on in a probationary status when none of the new white hires are, or about a donor who said something awful with no meaningful intervention from their leadership, or about a boss who was concerned that donors wouldn’t understand their accent.
You may not be surprised by these stories. You may have your own. Our cohort comes together to bear witness, and to find ways to make these stories less common.
Our weekly discussions as part of this program are guided by moderators Nneka Allen, Camila Vital Nunes Pereirea, and Nicole Salmon. (Avid readers of the blog will have met them before.) Together, they edited the book Collecting Courage and created the learning modules of A Path to Action. They assume positive intent, and their questions expertly and gently demand more. They prod us to dig deeper, to open up, to question the assumptions beneath our responses.
As the weeks march on and we grow closer as a group, something blossoms in our midst. We’re no longer individuals trying to navigate our own paths, stand out, or perform for each other. We’re no longer spinning our wheels in the mud of inaction. This Friday as we connect across the miles through our computer screens, we’re becoming a community of people moving forward in practical ways, together.
OK, so what, Matt? Happy for you, but what do you mean by practical?
One practical application for my Veritus Group colleagues and I is that we carried the conversation to the whole team at our recent all-Veritus retreat. Veritus hasn’t kept silent about our own journey these past few years, and the retreat gave us an opportunity to further commit to tangible actions.
Together we built a toolkit to support our clients who have stories like the many shared in Collecting Courage and throughout A Path to Action, a toolkit which serves a starting point for each of us to stand alongside our friends in this specific and crippling challenge while also building up their fundraising capacity.
Our toolkit is internal and specific for our work, but if you’re a colleague or supervisor of a Black or brown fundraiser, here’s what the skeleton of a toolkit might look like, using Jemar Tisby’s ARC of racial justice as a guide:
- Grow your own awareness of the issues of systemic racism in society and how racism shows up in the workplace. Nothing happens just because we’re aware, but nothing happens until we are.
- Deepen your relationships with people who have experiences outside of white-dominant culture. It’s harder to dismiss, belittle, or ignore people you have meaningful relationships with.
- Commit to taking meaningful steps to change things in your sphere of influence. Many small steps, many small actions, can combine to make big change.
If you, like me, have been struggling with what your next steps should be, or your fervor for this work has waned, I encourage you to look for tools that can help you keep progressing forward. And here’s a group who can guide your next steps in ways that are specific to our industry. If you’re ready to change how race impacts your team, your donors, and your work, run—don’t walk—to sign up for the next cohort of A Path to Action here.
This path leads to the journey of a lifetime, and I can’t wait to walk it with you. See you out there.
Matt Gill is a Client Experience Leader at Veritus with over two decades of leadership, fundraising, and storytelling experience. He has served in major gifts and fundraising leadership roles for several large human services nonprofits, and as a board member, volunteer, and co-founder with a number of smaller organizations. He spent more than 11 years on active duty with the Navy in special operations and public affairs. Matt continues to serve as a public affairs officer in the Navy Reserves, where he holds the rank of Commander. He is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, the Naval War College, and the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs.