I’ve now been a fundraiser for 25 years and a donor for much longer than that. I remember when I was invited to sit on a panel with a couple other major donors of color, and I was asked if I’d change anything about how I was asked for money. I said, “Yes, absolutely.” The audience listened attentively.
“When I was a CEO, making lots of money, I was rarely approached at events. I was never courted to be a major donor and I found that surprising. I believe it was because folks assumed I didn’t have money as a disabled woman of color.” I could see the looks on some of the faces. I saw shock and disbelief. Had I really just pointed out the prejudice in an already prejudicial system for preferential treatment of people based on their economic status? Yep, I sure had.
Others smiled as I listed the benefits I felt I had been cheated out of in this club of philanthropic angels. I told my audience, and ghosts of fundraisers past, that I wanted the same things that had been done for White donors. (I heard more nervous laughter from my listeners.)
I wanted to be taken to lunch. I wanted to be called for my advice. I wanted folks to thank me with a handwritten note. I wanted whole Development Departments to ponder my title, my age, the correct spelling of my name, and more. In fact, all the same things I had done for thousands of White donors throughout my career.
Don’t get me wrong. I love my job. I love pleasing donors of all giving levels, of all colors, of all backgrounds. It’s been a calling and it chose me. But I’m sad for the missed opportunities of diverse generosity that our collective racism and classism have stolen from us – especially during this season.
It’s possible that almost everything about philanthropy is classist since it was built on rewarding benefactors and patrons. I say, let’s take back the term “philanthropy,” and make it about you and me. Let’s change whom we honor on our donor pages.
And this year-end, as you work hard for social justice, and fundraise to change the future, don’t be surprised if your next donor looks like me.