How Did We Get Here?
Published May 1, 2023
A bit of "housekeeping" before I started getting to the tea. I will only share what I experienced directly - not what I have heard from someone else. I will also only share what is relevant. I also ask that this link is not shared. It is only for those who have purchased ACCOUNTABILITEA or that I have personally shared with. Please honor that request as I will have to shut this page down if the traffic is heavier than the sales.
I experienced innumerable acts of microaggression in addition to the macro incidents so it is impossible for me to share everything. I will be making regular updates to the page, at least once or twice a week in a sort of blog style. We are still working on the best format so please be patient as we iron out the wrinkles. Also,I won't be sharing any names because those who won't fight for equity are quick to fight for their honor. Lastly, I am not having this professionally proofread so please forgive any typos.
I guess before I jump right into sharing more of what happened, it may be helpful to provide some background context. I realize that some of you may not be familiar with the fundraising profession or understand exactly what my professional background consists of. Perhaps when you hear fundraiser, you think of an event like a gala or a doughnut sale. Or maybe you think more of someone who writes grants. And you are right but fundraising as a profession entails so much more.
The profession of fundraising involves the practice of seeking financial support from individuals, corporations, foundations, and other entities for non-profit organizations, charities, educational institutions, religious organizations, and political campaigns. The primary objective of fundraising is to generate resources to support programs, projects, and initiatives that benefit the community, society, or a specific cause.
Fundraisers develop strategies, plans, and campaigns to attract donations from potential donors, which may include direct mail, online fundraising, telemarketing, major gifts, and events. They often work closely with the leadership team of the organization to understand its mission, values, and goals and develop fundraising plans accordingly. While I have gained experience in pretty much every area of fundraising, my specialization was in principal gifts.
A principal gifts officer, the position I held at The Nature Conservancy, is a fundraising professional who specializes in securing large donations, often from high-net-worth individuals and major donors. Our role is to develop and execute strategies to identify, cultivate, solicit, and steward donors capable of making significant contributions to a non-profit organization or institution. We work closely with the leadership team of the organization, including board members, executives, and other senior staff members, to understand the organization's priorities and develop fundraising strategies to support them. It is a six figure position that often comes with a lot of perks - support staff, global travel, and a generous expense account. It is a position that many would have argued that I should have just kept my head down and collected my considerable compensation. If only I was able to do so but alas, that is just not how I am designed.
I was the first Black person of any gender to hold this position at The Nature Conservancy. Founded in 1951, The Nature Conservancy has had a complicated history with race, as is true to pretty much all of the large environmental and conservation organizations. Many conservation organizations have a history of being predominantly white-led and have been criticized for their lack of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in both their staffing and conservation efforts.
In the early days of conservation, many organizations were focused on preserving wilderness areas and protecting wildlife, often to the exclusion of the communities that lived in and relied on those areas. This led to a perception that conservation was an elitist movement that prioritized the interests of wealthy, white individuals over those of marginalized communities.
In recent years, many large conservation organizations have recognized the need to address issues of race and DEI in their work. They have acknowledged the role that conservation has played in perpetuating systemic racism and exclusion and have committed to addressing these issues through a variety of initiatives.
While progress has been made, there is still much work to be done to ensure that conservation efforts are truly inclusive and equitable. Some critics argue that conservation organizations need to go further in their efforts to address issues of race and DEI and to prioritize the voices and needs of marginalized communities in their work. However, many are still able to operate without taking accountability for harm caused- internally to staff of color and externally to the communities that deal with the brunt of inequity. Many colleagues of color have quietly quit while others, like me, were quietly terminated. Quiet, that is, until I decided to speak out.
You see, I have always cared about the planet. I was the friend that encouraged recycling, broke up with a guy because he wouldn't stop littering, and could spend an entire day in a thrift store buying sustainable, pre-loved clothing. I've built my career on raising funds for causes that resonate with my heart. I joined The Nature Conservancy in July of 2017. At the time TNC approached me with interest, I was the Vice President for Institutional Advancement at Shaw University. Under my purview, I managed the teams that led fundraising, both private and public, as well as most offices that dealt with external audiences.
So transitioning to TNC was an adjustment. I was actually excited to not have such a large team to supervise because that would give me more time to actually engage with donors as well as find new donors to help save the planet.I was so idealistic, lol. During the negotiation stage, I actually had several lengthy, in depth conversations with the person who I would initially report directly to. I proposed a role based on a focus that I dubbed "Operation Skin the Grape". Interesting name, I know but let me tell you why I named it that.
It may seem odd to compare skinning a grape to increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), but there is a connection in terms of the complexity of the process and the challenges involved.
Skinning a grape can be difficult because the grape skin is tightly attached to the flesh, and removing it requires a delicate touch and a certain level of skill. Similarly, increasing DEI can be challenging because it involves changing deeply ingrained attitudes, behaviors, and systems that can be difficult to shift.
I was led to believe that Operation Skin Grape was fully supported by the organization so I accepted the position. I quickly realized that not only was the organization not fully in support but neither was the leadership within my own department.