“Looks Like Me”: How Diversity & Inclusion Will Do More For The Field
Chapter Leadership Brief 10.20.2022
By Marilyn Alexander
Development Officer, NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital
Over the course of the last three years, in the wake of George Floyd and other ongoing current events, I have participated in a number of conversations about why diversity in philanthropy and fundraising is important. Time and time again, it has been established that diversity and inclusion create access to new networks, broaden an organization’s reach and increase their chances of success in donor engagement and retention. Diversifying fundraising teams leads to more understanding and better and broader perspectives in donor engagement strategies. But has anyone thought of how it can also help promote fundraising as a valid career choice to the next generation of philanthropists while in an attempt to attract a more diverse and inclusive talent pool?
Having grown up as a first-generation American in an immigrant household, the only career options I knew of were the “traditional” ones of doctor, lawyer, or nurse, as these were the professions that were most popular with others who “looked like me.” Part of their popularity status was due to the promises of job security and financial stability, two things that were highly valued amongst members of my ethnic community. The thought of “When I grow up, I want to become a professional fundraiser” never crossed my mind because I did not even know it was a career option, especially since I did not see or know of anyone who “looks like me” sitting at that table. A career in philanthropy only became an option after I dropped out of law school to pursue my master’s degree in International Affairs/Global Economic Development in New York City. To afford having a social life in the city, I was forced to juggle two part-time jobs, one of them as a student caller for my university’s Annual Fund Phonathon. It was a very rewarding part-time position, and I looked forward to each and every single shift when I could connect with alumni of my program, and get advice with regards to career options post-graduation, but I never thought it would be what lead me to my career today. In the middle of the third semester of my program, during one of my shifts, my supervisor and I were talking about career aspirations. She asked me if I had ever considered entering into a career in fundraising. When I replied no, she asked me “Why not?” I simply replied “No one told me it was a career option, especially for someone who ‘looks like me.’”
Throughout middle and high schools, as well as in college, I attended various career fairs and informationals, some of which were specifically targeted at women and BIPOCs. There were panelists who hailed from professions such as engineering, law, and the health sciences, but never was there an individual to speak to targeted audiences about the wonderful field that we all belong to. No one to present the idea of embarking on a career in fundraising and philanthropy and how rewarding and fulfilling it would be on so many levels as well as present another option for all those individuals who “looks like me” – one that provides also plenty of job opportunities and career growth, which also leads to financial stability. Perhaps if there had been a fundraising professional at one of those career fairs I attended, maybe I would have been able to save myself the time, energy and money spent stressing and agonizing over the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and embarked on a career path that I am excited to be on. While I cannot go back in time and change history, instead of focusing on the perhaps of what could have been, maybe I can help the next generation by being one of those people who paves the ways for the other individuals who “look like me” to pursue a “non-traditional” career that is just as important and just as meaningful as a “traditional” one. This in turn can lead to an even wider, more talented and more diversified pool of fundraisers and philanthropists who all share the same mission at the end of the day – to make the world around us better for future generations to come.
Now is the time for us to take a stance to “do better, be better” and spread the word of what a career in fundraising and philanthropy is to those who “look like me” and may not even know of it as an option. Let’s not just focus on diversity and inclusion when it comes to how we can better engage and retain a broader donor base, but let’s also place importance on what we could potentially be doing for the future of our field.