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Building diversity into the fundraising profession starts with hiring

October 1, 2020 Category: ColumnFeaturedLongPurpose
Diversity in fundraising is a popular topic right now. We, as a profession, have recognized that we’ve got some work to do in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement spurred by the death of George Floyd. 

First things first, though, let’s call it what it is: we say diversity, but we actually mean racial diversity. We’re a profession made up of mostly white professionals that cater to mostly white donors. Yes, we could stand to diversify in other ways, but our biggest gap is racial diversity.

As a result of BLM, I’ve observed a lot of conversations about hiring diverse candidates. And most times, the focus is largely on where to find diverse candidates. However, I want to challenge us to think bigger: it’s not enough to just hire racially diverse candidates.

Yes, hiring someone who does not look like you is a good thing. However, hiring that person is not a magic bullet to solve whatever diversity issues your organization is struggling with. Being able to point to someone on your team who is not white does not mean you’re finished or that you’ve achieved diversity.

Intentionally building a profession that is racially diverse takes a lot of work.

Before you even begin the hiring process, there are many things to consider:

  • Are you prepared to speak up when a colleague makes a racist remark?

  • Do you know what a microaggression is and how to confront one when it happens in front of you?

  • Does your organization have an HR department equipped to handle racism in the workplace?

  • Has your organization implemented regular implicit bias training for all staff?

  • Is your organizational culture one that is accepting and inclusive of all races?

  • Have you built a space for your team that is inclusive and welcoming of all members of the team?

  • Are you prepared to handle a donor or board member who discriminates against your new hire because of their race?

  • Is your organization equipped to handle religious holiday requests outside of the “traditional” holidays?

If you’re not ready, if your organization is not ready, then the work really starts there. Hiring a racially diverse candidate into a situation where they will be discriminated against, have to live with racist remarks and microaggressions regularly, not have an outlet for formal complaints for their colleague’s behavior, and not feel a part of the team is doing them a disservice.

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You’re setting them up for failure (not to mention trauma) so that you can check a box and pat yourself on the back for hiring a diverse candidate. The only person benefiting from that situation is you.

If your organizational culture is accepting, if you personally have the skills and are willing to confront racism on the spot, then (and only then) you’re ready to hire a racially diverse candidate.

Yes, you’ll have to look outside of your own networks to find candidates. Build partnerships or relationships with organizations that hold space for diverse candidates, like the African American Development Officers Network and the Urban Affairs Coalition (or list your organization’s opening on Generocity).

However, ensuring that you’re advertising the position outside of your usual circles isn’t enough. You also need to look at the job description itself. Is a degree really necessary for the position? How much experience does someone need in a related field in order to be successful in this role? Are there transferable skills that would apply to this role, and how can you communicate that in the job description? If you want a more diverse candidate pool, you need to be intentional about what specific skills you need and be open to those skills being found in different professions than fundraising.

Once the job is listed, be aware of your own implicit bias. Studies have shown that regardless of an organization’s stance on diversity, white-sounding or Americanized names receive more interviews. Take that seriously when reviewing resumes. If you can, block out the names on the resumes and focus solely on their experience to keep yourself from making assumptions.

Also be sure you aren’t writing off a good candidate because they don’t have direct experience — it’s entirely possible that person doesn’t have direct experience because fundraising is a hard profession to break into if you aren’t white. If they have a great work history with transferable skills, then they should be granted an interview.

During the interview, be aware of the judgements you make on appearances alone and don’t let them influence your decision. For a long time, I judged anyone who wasn’t wearing a suit to an interview harshly. I’m grateful to the many people over the years who pointed out the problems with that judgement, because honestly, what does wearing a suit to an interview tell you about someone? That they have enough money to pay for a suit or took the time to borrow one to adhere to arbitrary social norms?

The presence or absence of a suit during an interview tells you nothing of someone’s skills and abilities. Ditto to hair styles — natural hair doesn’t speak to skills, only to your bias. Examine your judgements and assumptions about a candidate based on their appearance, and don’t let those biases influence your decision.

Finally, if you do hire a racially diverse candidate, you have to commit to investing in their success. You have to ask them what they need from you, and then provide it. You have to advocate for them when others let bias or discrimination get in the way. You have to connect them to the resources and trainings they require to do their job well.

You brought this person into this profession, and it’s your responsibility to ensure that they have all of the tools and supports needed to learn and grow so that they can, in turn, continue to build a stronger and more diverse profession in the future.

Be intentional through that person’s entire tenure with your organization, not just in the hiring process. Tokenism doesn’t do anyone any favors — you, your new hire, and your organization will all lose.

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