Surviving and thriving as fundraisers of color
On June 12, I had the honor of moderating Candid’s virtual workshop “Fundraisers of Color: From Surviving to Thriving.” Christal Cherry, Katiti Crawford, Anjali Englund, and Rachel Wyley shared their experiences as fundraising professionals who are women of color. We also made space for fundraisers of color, who don’t always feel seen and heard, to connect with each other in smaller breakout rooms. The workshop sold out, so we repeated it July 24. (You can read more about the panelists from “Fundraisers of Color: From Surviving to Thriving” at the end of this post.)
Christal, Katiti, Anjali, Rachel, and I began planning the workshop(s) long before police killed George Floyd in Minneapolis. But his murder, the invigorated calls for racial justice it sparked, and the deaths of Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Ahmaud Arbery, and so many others added urgency to these conversations.
I am pleased to share two excerpts from the June 12 session. In the first, Katiti, Rachel, Anjali, and Christal talk about the challenges they have faced, or “surviving.” In the second, they discuss “thriving,” the things that give them hope as they continue in the fundraising field. My colleagues and I found their truths compelling, honest, and inspiring. We hope you do, too.
In January, Candid Learning will launch a leadership circle for fundraisers of color. Katiti Crawford and my Candid colleague Naomi Busler will join me in facilitating the circle. The group will meet monthly between January and May. For more information or to enroll in the circle, visit the Leadership Circle for Fundraisers of Color webpage.
Finally, I invite you to watch Candid’s other videos on diversity, equity, and inclusion.
About the panelists
Christal M. Cherry, Executive Consultant, The Board Pro
Christal Cherry is a nationally recognized fundraiser who has spent 20 years working with nonprofits and higher education institutions. With passion and a wide breadth of experience, Christal works today with nonprofits to help them create effective and successful boards. At the Board Pro, Christal offers one-on-one board coaching, governance, and fundraising training at board meetings and retreats. Board clients have included United Way of Bartow County, the Rutledge Center, Girls Going Global, Tapestri Inc, and Children of Conservation. In the past Christal worked with many national organizations, among them the United Negro College Fund, multiple higher education institutions, two seminaries, and several human services nonprofits. She has succeeded in advancing nonprofits by employing passionate storytelling, smart development plans, impactful campaigns, and building sustainable relationships with major donors.
Katiti Crawford, Donor Engagement Director, SFJAZZ
Katiti Crawford is donor engagement director at SFJAZZ, and has more than 19 years of fundraising experience, specializing in major gifts, special projects, and legacy giving. Prior to joining SFJAZZ, Ms. Crawford held the positions of director of development, campaign director, capital and major gifts director, and major and planned gifts. She has raised major gifts for Earthjustice, Planned Parenthood, San Francisco State University, Grand Teton Music Festival, and YWCA, and has a background in financial services and advertising sales. She studied Literature at Vassar College, is a member of the Northern California Planned Giving Council, and has a deep abiding love for one of America’s most important indigenous art forms, jazz.
Anjali Englund, Major Gifts Officer, Alameda County Community Food Bank
Anjali Englund is the major gifts officer at Alameda County Community Food Bank and has over 12 years of fundraising experience. Previously, she led the development team at Ventures, a microenterprise nonprofit in Seattle, and was part of a small development shop at Opportunity Council, a large Community Action Agency. In her 10 years of board service at multiple nonprofits, Anjali has chaired development committees and engaged fellow board members in moves management, capital campaigns, and major gift work.
Rachel Wyley, Bay Area Executive Director, Peer Health Exchange
Rachel Wyley is the Bay Area executive director for Peer Health. She has worked in the nonprofit sector for over 15 years. Her professional career has taken her from parks to middle schools to performance venues and beyond. The social justice stance that she brings to her work was most dramatically shaped by her time spent as a middle school educator in East Oakland. She maintains especial interest in the empowerment of folks of color within all corners of the nonprofit ecosystem. Rachel is a member of the 2021 graduating class of the LeaderSpring Center Women of Color, an artist and musician, and can, once in a while, be found performing on international stages.
Ivonne Simms: What exactly are the challenges that you have faced as fundraisers of color‚ you know, making that ask, stepping into rooms‚ and what are you still facing?
Katiti Crawford: When this idea first came about, I think, yeah, we set it up in the fall, I initially jumped at the opportunity, because I personally, I’m glad that Ivonne said we are not experts, we’re not specialists, we, I’m just a practitioner. Because there are days where I’m merely surviving and days where I’m like, “Okay, I got that, I’m surviving, I mean I’m thriving, I did that and I did it really well.”
And, for me, what has been my most challenging experiences as fundraisers of color has been, I would say, two things. One is my voice‚ I’m at the table, I’m bringing my voice, and I’m being shut down, whether internally or with a donor, merely because they see me, and they see me in a certain way. They kind of, I’ve had, I would say, microaggressions and macroaggressions in the middle of asks, preparing for asks, in the middle of visits. So for me, it was, you know, that very, kind of, raw experience of having that and being able to leave those experiences, come back to my desk, and, how do I move forward from that, and learning how to actually react, or be prepared to react in that moment.
I would say on a larger scale, the issues have been, specifically with me, for people identifying how racism actually is embedded, it’s in the structure of philanthropy. I mean, it’s embedded in everything we do here in the United States. I mean, it’s like a cake. I keep saying it’s a cake, philanthropy is a cake‚ it started in the, you know, it started a long time ago, here, our version of philanthropy, and, it’s like trying to take the butter out of the recipe after the cake is already made. So trying to bring that awareness to my colleagues that are also fundraisers, that also say that they’re very committed to this, bringing that awareness and those very specific moments, that has been a very big challenge of mine. That is where I’ve definitely been able to develop more of a voice, and develop an ability to pinpoint things, and have a conversation to bring it up.
And once again, I’m going to say working with Rachel, I got to exam-, I got to experience some of those harder conversations that I had wanted to have, that I wasn’t able to have. Because, like I said, it’s in, it’s in the recipe, so, the challenge for me has been figuring out where it is in the recipe, and bringing it out, without dismantling the entire cake, because sometimes, I want to just get rid of the cake, throw it out, let’s get a new cake. But, we’re not in a position to do that, because our organizations and the members that, and the people that we serve, they, we need to serve them, and serving them means seeking financial support. So I’d say, those are my two biggest things that have kind of caused issues for me, personally, and also within the departments that I’ve worked for.
Ivonne Simms: Okay, I’m gonna throw it to Rachel, and I just, I don’t know if Rachel will cover this, but I’d like to hear examples. So I don’t‚ Rachel, you know, has been beside you, so she may be able to give us more specific—you know, you hear micro, macro, like, what, what’s happening, what’s this aggression? Because some people may not realize what they are. So if,
Rachel Wyley: I’m looking, I’m laughing because I’m looking at the time, and I could talk about this for 17 years and you don’t want that to happen. [laughter]
Ivonne Simms: Okay.
Rachel Wyley: What I will add to what Katiti is saying is, I think part of what I experienced that does tie into that is this, this dissonance between being very hyper-visible and invisible at the same time, in the same room, constantly. And that messes with you, and it messes with your confidence, it messes with your sense of belonging, it becomes a challenge in all the ways.
To Katiti’s point, just to be mindful of time and that there are other panelists, I think it’s shown up in ways; the ways that I’ve seen it show up in really unfortunate ways, or I think, dealing with folks who don’t realize that they’re committed to status quo in a dangerous way. So folks who otherwise would describe themselves as White and liberal, folks who would otherwise describe themselves as being very progressive ideologically, may not realize that sometimes the transgression is in not elevating Black or people of color voices in spaces. The transgression might be in not hiring folks of color, or just hiring one person of color and asking them to be the representative and the spokesperson for all experiences.
And so I think, again, making space for other panelists, sometimes it’s not a massive transgression, it is truly a microaggression‚ sometimes it’s macro, and we have to call that out too‚ but sometimes it’s a microaggression that actually just deals with not thinking about what it looks like to invite other people into the conversation, and I think that’s the most dangerous piece. If one is not thinking about that as a leader, no matter their identity, that’s an issue with leadership, that’s an issue with how they show up as a leader, and you have to question, are they prepared to be a leader if they don’t have their perspective.
Ivonne Simms: Thank you, that definitely helps. I’m gonna, since we’re going back around, Anjali, did you want to add something?
Anjali Englund: Yeah, I would just add, you know, a general thing which other folks have touched on is really, you know, in my experience, just having that double standard of being asked for my opinion, being asked, you know, from those progressive White colleagues, or even some people of color who maybe don’t have an awareness that that I do, about, you know, racism, and what are we gonna do about racism, and then having, being reprimanded for that, or being dismissed.
And just a specific example, I was at a nonprofit previously that, you know, was trying to work on these issues, went to the People’s Institute training on undoing institutional racism, and then basically dismissed the training, and said, well, if you think it’s an issue, maybe the people of color at this organization should solve it. We tried to, it became about us, and us being the problem, people of color, and I ended up leaving the organization as a result. So, I think, it’s not a given that, even if the organization has some sort of a social justice mission, that they’re going to care about addressing the institutional racism at the organization, and you just have to kind of decide if you’re willing to put up with that. And sometimes you can’t change it, and it’s time to say good-bye to that place.
Ivonne Simms: Thank you. Christal?
Christal Cherry: So, I am currently an independent consultant, and that’s intentional. I needed a break from the nine-to-five, working-for-someone-else workspace. I felt like I was being racially profiled at work‚ I know that sounds weird. But being the only Black person on staff or the only Black fundraiser, it was just assumed that any time we had a Black client or a Black donor, that I was the person to speak to that person, right, no one else, you know, wanted to take that on or was interested, or just assumed that because I was Black, I would be able to help them in ways that other consultants or other fundraisers could not.
And that was really mind-boggling for me, and instead of really learning, well, what are the motivations for donors of color, you know, why do they give, why are they engaging, why are they getting involved? No one expressed interest in learning that. It was just that, we’re just going to give it to Christal, she can handle it. And so, and then yet being excluded from other conversations because I am Black, and they felt like, well, she probably don’t want to talk to the, you know, to the ritzy Bettys in Buckhead, or, you know, to the White CEO; she probably wouldn’t fit in on that conversation.
And so, you know, in some ways I felt like I was being the, you know, that I was the token. And so I didn’t know whether to feel resentful or appreciative; I didn’t know what to feel, it was just frustrating. And trying to explain that to them, you know, how I was feeling, they were, they didn’t understand, of course, everyone was like, well, we didn’t mean to offend, we didn’t, we didn’t know what to do, you know, we just thought you would be the right person. And so it was just a really weird mix of feelings that I was having, I’ve had those feelings over the years, and so I just felt like I needed a break from that, so that I can kind of be in control of.
And so now I have clients who are White and Black, but I’m in a space now that even with my White clients, I can be transparent with them about some things. And I think I mentioned it earlier, that I was on a Zoom call with a client this week, a board and some of their staff who, all of whom were Caucasian, and they were giving each other high fives about how diverse they were. And I just, you know, I’m looking at the screen like I’m looking at the screen at all of you all, and I’m looking and I’m thinking, “Okay, did I miss a brown face or a gold face, or maybe there’s someone who’s Latino in the bunch who I can’t, you know, I’m just doing that.”
And so, you know, I sat there for a minute, and there would’ve been a time where I would not have said anything for fear, you know, being fearful. And I was trying to figure out, how do I phrase this without, because I don’t want to lose this client, but, I just felt like I couldn’t be silent. And so, I just said to them, “May I ask a question? How do you guys see yourselves as being diverse? Can you explain it to me?” And they, you know, they said, “Well, we’re, you know, we’re male and female, you know‚” and there was like 17 men on the phone and two women‚ so, that they were really diverse in gender. “And we’re from the North and from the South, you know, we have folks here from Florida, we have”—because they’re a virtual organization so their team is all over the country. “And we have diverse backgrounds, you know, we all have different niches, you know.”
And I was just like, “That is not what we say, what we mean when we say!” And so, I just had to explain to him. So then finally I just said, “Do you think you guys represent the clients that you serve?” 95 percent of whom are African-American children in New York City. And everybody got quiet, faces got red, everyone. It’s like it never dawned on them that perhaps you should have someone from the community that you’re serving, that looks like that community, on your board, on your staff, something.
And so, there was some quiet silence, uncomfortable silence, and finally, you know, they said, “Well, perhaps, you know, perhaps we need to have some more conversations with that, you know, with you about that later.” And I just said, “Okay, that’s fine, we can certainly do that.”
But, there would have been a time where I would not have felt comfortable, so, clearly if I had been working for someone, if I’d been working in an organization, I probably would not have done that. But, now that I’m my own boss, you know, and I can kind of control my space. But I do feel like I have a responsibility to shift the culture in this for us. So, I just had to be bold enough to speak my truth. So, yeah, those are the kinds of examples of being in this space as an AfricanAmerican woman that have been very disappointing and frustrating, and just sad, actually.
Ivonne Simms: One thing that we talked a lot about when we were creating this, or planning this, was that, we didn’t want to just talk about how bad things were and kind of have, like, a pity party or venting session; we wanted to talk about, you know, how are you thriving, why are you still here? So I’m just going to give every panelist just a minute to tell us how they are thriving, and then we’ll end after that.
So I’m going to start with Rachel, because she’s right in the middle of my screen.
Rachel Wyley: My thought about that is, so much of my thriving comes from leading a team that’s all folks of color, and being able to, by virtue of the platform that I have, elevate their leadership.
So it’s not actually relative to fundraising; I think my thriving comes from the reality that fundraising is a lever for me, it’s the platform through which I do my advocacy. And that keeps me coming back every day, that’s why I do the work. And so, that helps me to thrive, knowing that I’m in a place where I can do something to elevate the leadership of others, but also that I can continually talk about societal injustices and advocate for shifts through disruption.
Ivonne Simms: Wonderful, thank you. Katiti?
Katiti Crawford: I’m thriving right now, and that really is, that really has to do with some recent changes. And it has to do with being able to work with board, having access to board, having access to a strong African American woman on the board, having the ear of leadership, finally, you know, ready to listen, and also, having them finally ready to take some action, take action items and address them in a short term, but also looking at long term. We’ve made, within the past two weeks, I’ve got to say, we’ve made amazing strides. And that is making me, that’s giving me, that’s helping me thrive, but it also has been a lot of work over the past two weeks. So I’ve taken the time to step away from it, and reached out to friends, other friends, that are of color, that work in the nonprofit space, and talked about things completely that have nothing to do with this. So for me, it’s really about the balance and finding a way to stay grounded in the work.
Ivonne Simms: Thank you. Christal?
Christal Cherry: So for me, I talked about this with you guys, you know, so much of fundraising is about my spirituality, right?
Ivonne Simms: Yes.
Christal Cherry: And so, I connect the work with my purpose and why I believe God has me here on Earth. And so I believe He’s, I use my spiritual gifts to connect people and to promote for causes that I’m passionate about. Right now, I’m working in the board space—the name of my consulting firm is the Board Pro—and so I get to work with lots of boards, which is where I think some of the problems start. [Ivonne makes affirmative sound] And I can share with, talk to them about culture and about leadership and recruitment, and all this, all these conversations about equity and inclusion—I can have those conversations at the top, which will hopefully permeate down to the CEO and the executive team, and then down to the members of the development team. And so—and the program staff—so I believe that my connection to God [Ivonne makes affirmative sound], and what he wants for me as a person on this Earth, is that I am to help transform, in my own way, the world in a way that I can best do that. And so, fundraising for me is my ministry.
Ivonne Simms: Wow.
Christal Cherry: So, that is why I continue to stay in this field.
Ivonne Simms: Thank you so much. Thank you. Anjali?
Anjali Englund: I would say something that helps me thrive is finding an organization that’s a good fit, and finding an organization that’s willing to do the work, and willing to talk about racism, and willing to challenge White supremacy, and that makes me able to do my work.