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An Inside View of the Diversity and Inclusion Summit—A Renewed Sense of Excitement

December 3, 2013

James Phelps, ACFRE, member of the AFP Diversity and Inclusion Committee, recounts how his passion for diversity came about—and how it led all the way to the Diversity and Inclusion Summit in Pittsburgh, Pa. Read along as he takes you inside the open-discussion surrounding diversity and inclusion—what issues were brought to the table by the 50 participating organizations, how they foresee the future of diversity and inclusion, what they’re doing to change it and how you can join the conversation.

I joined AFP’s Diversity Committee in 1999, shortly after attending my first International Conference on Fundraising. As a gay man, I have experienced discrimination, the feeling of exclusion and concern about how my sexual orientation might hamper my career. I was delighted to find out that my professional association valued a diversity of experiences, perspectives and cultures. This was demonstrated both in the strategic plan and the existence of a Diversity Committee.

Over the years, AFP has made a lot of progress in diversifying the profession and the association, including a growing emphasis on inclusion. That focus led to changing the name of the committee to the Diversity and Inclusion Committee a couple of years ago. I have seen the growth of the Art Diversity Showcase and the Diversity Workshop at the International Conference on Fundraising, the creation of the Friends of Diversity designation and the Diversity Scholarships, and additional support for chapters in their diversity and inclusion efforts.

One event that served as a catalyst for building the diversity and inclusion efforts of the association was a Diversity Summit held in Baltimore, Md. in 2005. That summit brought some focus to the association’s efforts and developed a number of initiatives, including the diverse communities program that was designed to build stronger ties among affiliated individuals within the greater AFP community. That initiative then led to affinity group meetings at the International Conference, affinity list-servs, and pages on the AFP website for African-American and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender professionals.

I was honored to be asked to co-chair another summit and looked forward to working with Jaye Lopez Van Soest, my co-chair for the planning committee. We recruited a dedicated committee of individuals within AFP who were committed to diversity and inclusion. We crafted a concept paper to serve as a charge for the day and began planning the summit. The three questions that guided our planning and discussion were:

1.         How can the Association of Fundraising Professionals and other fundraising professional groups assure that the fundraising profession and their memberships reflect all of the diversity and richness in the communities they serve?

2.         What can the fundraising community do to ensure that all who want to be a part of the profession feel welcome and engaged?

3.         How can the entire philanthropic community feed the pipeline of future fundraising professionals to ensure that the profession continually strives to reflect the communities they serve and welcomes all who want to be a part of the profession?

Despite the success of the previous summit, we heard two areas of feedback that we wanted to heed as we moved forward. One concern was that the best part of the previous summit had been when the discussion was opened for all in attendance. Unfortunately, that portion had been a short time at the very end of the day. The other frustration was that despite the desire to extend the impact on the profession beyond AFP, the result of the previous summit was a plan solely for what AFP could do to advance diversity and inclusion within the association itself.

The committee worked hard to address both of these concerns. The day was structured so that the morning session would consist primarily of a discussion among thought leaders in the area of diversity and inclusion, and those who had positions in the professional and philanthropic community to be able to help move our efforts forward beyond AFP. Their task was to set the stage for the day and to help focus the discussion for the work that followed. The afternoon session invited everyone attending to brainstorm on areas for advancement and then help craft a draft plan for moving forward.

We sought partners for the summit in order to extend our reach within the development and philanthropic communities. To help in the planning and outreach, we added two co-conveners to the team: D5, a coalition of philanthropic associations and foundations tackling diversity issues, and Joint Affinity Group, a coalition of identity-based affinity groups leading the call for creating more racial and social justice within the field of philanthropy.

We were joined by our sponsors: AFP Foundation for Philanthropy – Canada; Highmark Health Services; D5; AFP Washington DC Metro Chapter; AFP Greater Philadelphia Chapter; AFP Western Pennsylvania Chapter; and AFP Oregon and SW Washington Chapter. Finally we found some incredible facilitators to help us navigate through the day: Janice Gow Pettey, CFRE, Ed.D., Kelly Brown, Krishan Mehta and Alexis Terry.

With all the pieces in place, more than 50 participants and observers joined us on Oct. 2 for the Diversity and Inclusion Summit. As the day progressed, the group opened up about their frustrations with the long, hard work of breaking down barriers and creating societal change. Everyone recognized that this work is dynamic—we will never reach an end goal and say, “Now we’re done.” Trying to improve diversity and inclusion is an ongoing process.

One of the biggest surprises for me was the clear consensus on the need for more research. Although participants have a sense of how some groups are underrepresented as staff and board members, the problem is hard to tackle without a clearer picture of what is truly happening.

Another issue was a lack of common terminology by those within the philanthropic sector. This was especially evident within some communities where those responsible for resource development as part of their job did not see themselves as professional fundraisers. The problem of common language is exacerbated when we begin looking at this from a global perspective.

The group also discussed governance and staffing. What can we do to promote and ensure that board and staff are more representative of the communities served? The problem becomes even more pronounced when looking at upper management. Some ideas included more recruitment and mentorship within underrepresented communities. Summit participants recognized that emerging nonprofit degree programs serve as a future pipeline to nonprofit careers, and focusing efforts in that direction could have a huge impact on the future.

The other big areas of discussion involved continuing education and marketing. Although most of the people attending the summit have been included in discussions on the topic of diversity and inclusion, we were reminded that others always would be joining the conversation. We need to use continuing education and marketing to further the understanding of the importance of diversity and inclusion, as well as how individuals who understand that importance can help their organization improve.

Despite my long involvement with AFP’s Inclusion and Diversity Committee, I left the summit with a renewed sense of excitement about an ongoing topic. To spread the excitement, the committee will be releasing a report of findings from the summit by the end of 2013, and will continue to make an effort to include all of those who are not directly involved in the committee. All are affected, in one way or another, by diversity, and together we can make this an all-inclusive and embracing world. 

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