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Starting a Diversity Effort—Part One

May 10, 2014

Read: Starting a Diversity Effort—Part  Two

Catherine Connolly, CFRE, serves as treasurer on the AFP International board and is the chair of the AFP Sacramento chapter’s newly developed Diversity Committee. Hoping to inspire other AFP chapters, organizations and communities to broaden their diversity efforts, Catherine will be taking us along on her journey towards chartering and implementing a diversity committee. Join us as she changes the face of fundraising in her community—and tells you how to do it in yours!


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Sacramento was featured in Time magazine as the most diverse and integrated city in America in 2002. Personally, that’s an important reason why I live in this area. 

And our local AFP chapter covers a huge geographic range—from Oregon to the north, Nevada to the east, wine country to the west, and down into the San Francisco Bay delta area to the south.  Our members live in the mountains, on farms, in the city and next to various waterways.  Our chapter encompasses almost every manner in which one could define diversity.

However, our AFP chapter membership and attendance at our events is what I’ve been calling mostly “mainstream”—larger nonprofits from the urban Sacramento area and generally white females of a certain age—with little representation from all the other types of people and organizations in our greater region.  Our chapter does not engage and support all the fundraising professionals in our region—nor does it represent the diverse community it serves.

But why does that matter? 

There are many people in our region who are doing fundraising work, and they have no idea that AFP exists. They don’t realize that there are ethical standards for our profession and that there is a network of people who could help them.  When I talk to a person who has come to their first AFP luncheon program—and has experienced first-hand the education and connections in the room—they are ready for more and understand how much they can gain from the experience. 

And when nonprofits have fundraising professionals who are armed with best practices and ethical standards, their results improve, their missions are stronger and our community is better served.

We have discussed this at our chapter board meetings—we want to be reaching more nonprofits and fundraisers in our community.  But with limited volunteers and many needs, it’s always been a good intention that never got the attention it deserved.

The other challenge has been: Who would lead such an effort? 

As with the chicken and egg debate, there needs to be a diversity effort to recruit a suitable person to build a diversity effort.  I didn’t think that role was mine, as a straight woman of Irish and Scandinavian descent.  I always thought there was someone better qualified than I am. 

However, what someone might not realize when they first meet me is that I’m often the minority, that I’m the only person who looks like me in the room.  My husband was born in Hong Kong and his parents don’t speak English. I have shocked people when I’ve broken out some much-needed Cantonese, and I’ve traveled through rural Chinese villages where foreigners are not allowed.  When my father-in-law recently passed away, through all the various funeral ceremonies, I was constantly being watched and examined—is she maintaining tradition, is she behaving appropriately, is she eating correctly?  I have a great and direct appreciation for the life of an immigrant family, and I’m sensitive to the pressures that others face when they are not considered a part of the majority.

That’s just one of the reasons I wanted to attend the Diversity and Inclusion Summit that took place in Pittsburgh, Pa. in October 2014, in addition to supporting such an important effort for AFP International. Overall, that program was interesting and enlightening. And, for me, it was also inspirational. 

In response to a question about how to recruit minority board members, Birgit Smith Burton, AFP International board member from Atlanta, Ga., said that when you’re the only African American person being asked, you know why you’re being asked.  And she went on to say to just be up-front and honest, explain that you want a more diverse board, and that you think the person you’re asking would be a good fit for your organization.

That comment really hit home for me.  I thought, “I can do that.  I can be honest and make the case.” And having someone like Birgit give me permission to do that, I can’t understate how motivating that was for me.  So I came home from that meeting, ready to tackle this project.

First Things First

First, I asked our chapter board members and other well-connected, local nonprofit leaders for contacts and ideas on who in our community would be interested in helping with a diversity effort.  Next, I went through our chapter membership to see who self-identified as not Caucasian ethnically.  (Over half of our members have no ethnic designation on their membership, and of the rest, only 10 percent were not Caucasian.)  Once I had compiled this list of prospects, I started calling and emailing.

The most fantastic part of this whole process was that every single person I have contacted has been eager to participate and willing to help in some way.  Some have too many commitments right now and don’t have a lot of time to spend on a committee, but I’ve asked those in that situation to review the work of the committee in order to have as many voices as possible engaged in the process.  And they have readily agreed.

We are now getting ready to have our first meeting as a diversity committee, and I’m looking forward to documenting the process to share with other chapter leaders.  I’m hoping that by outlining our process and what we’ve learned, others can see a path for their chapter to take in this direction.

Lessons and Take-Aways:

  • Anyone can lead this effort.  Even if you don’t think you’re the best person for the job, you still might be the best person.
  • As in fundraising, you just need to ask.  You need to give the other person their opportunity to say “yes” to support the case you’ve made.
  • Getting AFP tools and best practices out to a larger audience makes our nonprofit community stronger.

Follow along as we highlight the AFP Sacramento chapter’s process to developing a diversity committee, their first plan of action, and ultimately, how they will change the face of fundraising in their community. 



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