Giving Black: How philanthropy needs continued growth in disrupting the power of whiteness

Giving Black: How philanthropy needs continued growth in disrupting the power of whiteness

By: Shaniqua Rudd

The profession of Fundraising and Philanthropy is not only a male-dominated industry, but an industry that is, and has historically been, predominantly white. In fact, of the 40,000 fundraisers that are registered members of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, only roughly 13% are fundraisers of color. In a survey conducted by Nelson Bowman, Senior Managing Director of Philanthropy at UNICEF, and former Executive Director of Development at Prairie View A&M University, black men and women in fundraising can often identify with one or more of the following three different categories: They have very little exposure to the field as a career option, there is a perception that in non-profits the salary options are limited, and the lack of comfortability with “the ask”. At some point in my career, I’ve identified with each. I’d never heard of fund development until the scholarship luncheons I’d attend in my teenage and college years. It had not occurred to me that this was a career path until my advisor said “Have you ever considered nonprofit development?” My response: “Never heard of it.” My first point of exposure was the Phone-A-Thon my senior year of college. Even then, I had no idea of the realm of philanthropy but it seemed pretty cool to plan University events and have wine and hors d'oeuvres. I applied for my first job as a grant writer with a nonprofit that focused on college and career opportunities for at-risk youth and the rest is history! Although it didn't take me long to experience the other points of view Bowman mentioned.

As I worked my way up and became a front-line fundraiser, I realized just how isolated the field was for people of color, especially a young Black woman. Most times, I was the only Black person on staff in the Development department, at Development workshops, and learned quickly how someone who looks like me would be judged in a room full of affluent people. In some cases, I was paid significantly less than my white predecessor or successor. It didn’t matter that I had the experience and numbers to back my skill set, it was controversial to have a young Black woman making more than white counterparts and managing a portfolio made up of “the old boys club”. Then comes the challenge of “the ask”. I would love to say that asking for thousands of dollars created some level of discomfort for me. But it didn’t. What did create discomfort were the ways I was challenged by colleagues, board members, and donor prospects. In their eyes, how could I manage funds in amounts I’ve never had in my personal bank account? How could I create rapport and talking points without ever having a membership at a country club or personal connections to the wealthy? At 24, I developed the thickest skin as the Director of Advancement for a local Catholic high school with deep old school South Philly Italian ties (not the most welcoming community for Black and Brown people). The saga continued as I was introduced to the Squash community which has historically been extremely unwelcoming toward people of color. I recall being stunned to find out that I made the same salary and later held the same title as my white counterpart who had no development experience because they did not want to make her feel “uncomfortable” being my direct report. Throughout my career I faced many systemic, religious, and racial challenges but was fortunate enough to have the strong support of some allies who wanted to see me succeed. On the days I wanted to throw in the towel, I quickly reminded myself that there aren't enough “mes” and I have to keep going. But my experience begs the question, how can we build more community and career path support for Black and Brown individuals in Development?

  • Support research. In the last three decades there has been very limited research on Black philanthropy and fundraising as a profession. With more universities closing the doors on DEI centers and race-based research, it’s important to direct dollars to scholars who continue to bring black philanthropy to the forefront.
  • Create more communities. The lived experiences of Black fundraisers are rich and exist within affinity groups such as AADO (African American Development Officers), WOC (Women of Color in Fundraising & Philanthropy), and Black Philanthropy Network. Larger consortrums of philanthropy can help move the needle by partnering and uplifting the convening of folx. CASE, one of the largest associations for educational advancement professionals, has recently partnered with AADO to create an annual conference on diverse philanthropy. 
  • Career exposure in post-secondary education settings. Historically Black Colleges and Universities are using homecoming and alumni events as a way to expose the field to up and coming juniors and seniors. In some cases, freshman orientation has included a session on Philanthropy. 
  • National awareness. Black Philanthropy Month (August) created in 2011 has bred Black Giving Day, August 28th–a day to bring awareness to and acknowledge Black-led charities. Unfortunately, Black Giving Day has not gotten the same spotlight as Giving Tuesday. I would love to see more philanthropists step up and use their platforms to uplift the day.

There’s a long way to go before we can close the gaps on the imbalances and inequities that exist within black and brown vs white philanthropy. But if we continue to push the agenda forward, we can see great strides over the next decade.

Shaniqua is the Senior Development Strategist of RE-Center, a Black woman who was born and raised in urban Philadelphia and uses her roots and earned experiences to stay present in the privileged world of philanthropy.