(Securing the Roots website)
When Allison Budschalow and Brittany Campese, two nonprofit consultants, returned from the biannual Grassroots Institute for Fundraising Training (GIFT) conference in 2018, they were determined to help the Philadelphia nonprofit sector catch up with other areas of the country.
“We were seeing a lot of new ways of engaging fundraising across the country and really seeing the ways that Philadelphia was not keeping up, especially with the Bay Area,” Campese said.
As a result, Budschalow and Campese founded the Securing the Roots six-month fellowship to help local development professionals expand their expertise and establish a network of support between folks who are the primary fundraiser for an organization led by and/or for people of color.
The response was dramatic. When the two approached foundations for support, they were told that grantees had been clamoring for an opportunity like this one. In one case, according to Budschalow, a funder bluntly stated, “I think this has to be an academy that goes on for multiple years. Six months is great but it’s not enough.”
The response from potential participants was also dramatic. “People were over the 12 steps webinars,” Budschalow added. “We knew we were taking a risk but we feel like right now is the time to take this kind of risk.”
According to Campese, “This is not your momma’s fundraising training. We’re not telling folks how to fundraise. This group has the wisdom, we are just creating the container of support for them to be able to move into that power.”
The inaugural Securing the Roots cohort is currently between their second and third monthly session and will conclude in November, after six four-hour sessions, one-on-one consults, partner meetings, and even homework assignments — such as reading the introduction of The Revolution Will Not Be Funded.
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Philanthropy and racial disparities
Racial inequities exist in philanthropy and the extent goes beyond salaries paid to people of color; organizations led by people of color receive less money.
Bridgespan, a global nonprofit consultancy, and Echoing Green, the social impact incubator that brought Teach For America to life, studied and reported the disparities on white-led versus Black-led nonprofit organizations. For example, in the 2019 Echoing Green applicant pool, white-led organizations had almost double the average funding of Black-led organizations: $154,040 to $81,300.
And that’s just one snapshot of data on a prevalent disparity.
On top of that, American nonprofit organizations are as much as 84% white-led, even though non-Latino whites only comprising 60% of the total population. Racial disparities clearly exist in terms of who holds leadership roles, which in turn impacts funding.
So they’re doing what they can to help Philadelphia close that gap. To help achieve this, the fellowship had an explicit goal to recruit 65% people of color and 65% gender-oppressed individuals.
On top of those racial inequities, Campese emphasized that there’s an extra institutional hurdle when a person of color takes over a leadership role from a white predecessor.
“[People of color] are being supported far less and the relationships aren’t being passed on from the white director, especially with the foundation program officers or the individual donors who would support the organization,” she said.
Jamila Medley, the executive director of the Philadelphia Area Cooperative Alliance (PACA), experienced some of that as executive leadership transitioned from her white predecessor, Peter Frank, to her, a Black woman. Fortunately, Frank stayed on staff to help with the transition.
“He did a lot of work to support me in transitioning relationships that he had been holding,” Medley said.
However, even though that overlap helped with the transition of leadership, some instances illustrated the differences between how white male executive directors and Black female executive directors are treated.
“We were at an event in D.C., a co-op event,” she said. “And he was talking with a bunch of older white guys and they were just in their huddle and I came over. And they just kind of looked at me like, ‘Why are you standing here?’”
After Frank introduced Medley to the group, “The tenor and the visibility and the acknowledgement entirely shifted.”
This wasn’t an isolated incident for Medley. She also spoke about a trip to the bank to open a new account for PACA. The bank teller explicitly invited Frank into an office — even though Medley was going to be the signer on the account.
These brief moments illustrate the type of thinking about who foundations trust to be competent with grant awards.
Despite having a resume that qualified her for the executive director role, Medley talked about how the feelings of inadequacy that any fundraiser might experience gets amplified for any person of color in a traditionally white-dominated arena: “Somehow you’re not the one who’s supposed to be asking for this. You don’t deserve it. Your work isn’t important enough.”
This imposter syndrome that crept in is why Medley was drawn to the fellowship — which she has found to be an affirming reminder of how relevant and important her work is.
As Medley looks to the remaining four sessions, and beyond, she hopes the cohort will continue to lean on each other. Personally, she added, “I’m really hopeful about … getting better at moving through my feelings around asks.”
The desire for camaraderie matches one of Budschalow and Campese’s goals too.
Beyond creating connections, they hope that this cohort and future ones also contribute to institutional change for Philadelphia philanthropy, especially with regards to how foundations operate.
“I am always shouting out Douty [Foundation],” Budschalow said. “They went public to spend down their corpus at a different rate than most other foundations.” That commitment — to spend 10- to 15-percent of their assets per year — is uncommon, as most foundations only give the IRS-mandated 5% per year.
“What would philanthropy look like in Philly if it was led by the needs and the wants of the folks doing the work?” Budschalow asked. Both she and Campese hope this fellowship leads to groups of nonprofit professionals giving feedback to foundations to inspire change right now, instead of at a rate of 5% per year. They spoke to how daunting it can be for an individual fundraiser to ask a large foundation to shift operations in such a meaningful way. This type of feedback includes requests for foundations to spend more of their assets per year, as well as giving more unrestricted funds.
So far, Securing the Roots has managed to blend the aspirations of changing the Philly nonprofit sector with training participants on fundraising basics, all while examining the racial inequities in the sector.
It’s a lot to think about in a monthly four-hour Zoom call.
Thankfully, the fellowship includes snack breaks, childcare (over Zoom), and stipends for participants to help make the time to take it all in.
For Medley, the fellowship has filled a gap she felt was missing from her professional development.
“I’ve been the ED of PACA just going on three and a half years,” she said. “There were very few intentional spaces where I found folks who were engaging at nonprofits that are embedded in movement work and social justice work. I welcome very much that this is a space we can do that work.”-30-
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