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The Importance of Diversity and Inclusion for Our Future

August 15, 2017

Cheryl Blackman is the assistant vice president audience development for the Royal Ontario Museum. The following comments on diversity were part of a short presentation given by Cheryl at the recent AFP Leadership Retreat in Ottawa.

My name is Cheryl Blackman, and I am a member of the first cohort who completed the Fellowship for Inclusion and Philanthropy. I bring greetings and gratitude.    

I am a self-proclaimed CPO—not to be confused with a chief product officer. In fact, my CPO stands for Chief Passion Officer, and my passion is for diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility. 

My path to fundraising is somewhat unusual. 

I graduated with a social work degree and then fell into aviation work. After spending nearly 17 years at Air Canada, I decided to leave the for-profit sector because the not-for-profit sector was supposed to be less stressful!? What was I thinking?

Before transitioning to the Royal Ontario Museum, I worked with an executive coach who helped me to identify my leadership style and understand how to be my most authentic self.

In 2004, I joined the Royal Ontario Museum as its first director of visitor experience. Over the next 13 years, my responsibilities evolved. I got my MBA, and today I am the assistant vice president, audience development.  

In my current role, it became clear to me that being entrepreneurial also meant learning how to fundraise effectively. As a mid-career professional who decided to learn fundraising, it has been exciting to discover the many ways that we enable philanthropy to happen. 

AFP's decision to advance diversity and inclusion through the Fellowship Program is a powerful example of an organization being the change it wants to see. With more than 3,800 members and 20 chapters, it is more important than ever that we are steadfast in our intention to collaborate with diverse visions and voices. 

When I arrived in Ottawa for this retreat, I toured the Canadian Museum of History's new Canada Gallery and had the privilege of meeting with one of the curators who worked on the project. I heard emphatic testimony and saw for myself that the exhibition would not have succeeded without consultation with the Indigenous, First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities. I encourage you to visit this gallery and hold it as a powerful model of the success that comes with being inclusive. 

Today, I extend a call to action to everyone attending this retreat. We must deepen our awareness and understanding of diversity and inclusion in all of its forms. Our esteemed guest speaker, Ian MacQuillin, said, "fundraising needs a new narrative."  He also says that we must "advocate for a profession where fundraising is intrinsic and a vital part of the mission of non-profit organizations." I would offer that we need to make one small edit to these very impactful points. 

We need to add the word "inclusive" before fundraising. 

I understand that it can feel daunting to navigate through issues of diversity and inclusion. But it certainly isn't as bad as fighting off a pack of zombies in an episode of The Walking Dead! 

So, with that in mind, MY hope for every member of the board is that you get bitten—by a passion for diversity and inclusion. Trust me. This passion is infectious. When it is paired with the deep love you already have for philanthropy, the sector doesn't stand a chance. Change will come, and I look forward to working with you all to make it happen.  


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