To bring to life the concepts and ideas discussed in the The Great Rethink series, we bring together experts in the field, who can offer first-hand experience and important insights on these topics. This Q&A focuses on how a changing understanding of “Inclusion” is impacting the recruitment process for hiring organizations. It features three leaders with decades of experience:

Darrell Bell Jr. is Vice President of Advancement at Nazareth College, where he serves as Chief Development, Alumni Engagement, and Fundraising Officer. Darrell brings a wide array of advancement experience to Nazareth, including expertise in annual giving, frontline fundraising, diversity, capital campaigns, and management. He served as the Vice President for Institutional Advancement at Roberts Wesleyan College and Northeastern Seminary since 2016. He has more than 20 years of experience in advancement roles at several well-known research universities including the University of Rochester, Carnegie Mellon University, and University of Pittsburgh. Darrell also serves on the Executive Committee of the CASE District II Cabinet, and as an Associate for Aspen Leadership Group.

Jonah Nigh is Senior Vice President of Development and Alumni Engagement at The New School where he leads its strategic fundraising, institutional advancement, alumni engagement, corporate, and foundation relations. He came to The New School from the Jewish Museum, where he served in a number of roles before being appointed Chief Development Officer. Other roles included positions at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, Columbia University, Opera America, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. He earned his undergraduate degree at Lawrence University and a Master of Music degree from the New England Conservatory and has served as speaker, talent, emcee, moderator, or panelist for NBC, New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, NYC Pride March, Association of Fundraising Professionals, Association of Independent Colleges of Art and Design, Development Debrief and DonorScape podcasts, Columbia Business School, among other organizations. In 2019, he was appointed to Bronx Community Board Four by former Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. and served on its executive and economic development committees.

Maureen O’Brien is Executive Vice President for Institutional Advancement at New World Symphony, where she oversees a team of 30 responsible for a $10M+ annual fund and a comprehensive endowment/capital campaign as well as public relations/communications and marketing/audience engagement. Maureen was part of the founding team of the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix and has also held positions in NYC as Director of Development at Midori & Friends and Assistant Director of Development with Orchestra of St. Luke’s. She has taught at Arizona State University and Prescott College and as part of NWS’s and Sphinx LEAD’s Fellowship curricula.


This roundtable discussion was moderated by Clare McCully, a Senior Consultant at Aspen Leadership Group, who has more than 30 years in leadership roles in non-profit institutions and higher education.

(IMPORTANT NOTE: This roundtable transcript is longer than previous Q&A panel discussions because – as the participants note – conversations around true Inclusion tend to be infrequent and inadequate. We are providing an extended transcript out of respect for the thoughtfulness of the participants, and to make sure this topic gets the space it requires and deserves.)

CM: Thank you all for joining us today to talk about this important topic. I wanted to preface the conversation with an idea from the employer-focused article that ran earlier this month. That is, moving the needle on Inclusion requires not just that diverse voices are present in an organization, but those diverse voices must be listened to, and valued. That struck me as something that we need to think about – a principle that can guide us as we have this conversation today.

So, we’ve been through a lot in the last two years with COVID. And when you think about some of the driving factors in awareness around inclusion, how have they driven change in your advancement offices? Particularly around hiring and recruiting? I’m just going to throw that out there, and let’s take off.

MO:  I think there’s been, as you said, a lot happening over this period of the pandemic. Obviously, the murder of George Floyd was a real point of reflection, and I think a catalyst, for a lot of people personally, and for organizations.

We’re certainly experiencing internal movements within the organization, especially driven by a younger generation of employees who are asking for a different seat at the table and expect to have a voice in a different way. So there can be a bit of intergenerational conflict sometimes around hierarchy and decision making, but we have to try to make room for those voices. It’s not something we have all figured out, but we’re actively working on it. Also, social media presents a new form of accountability, that organizations are getting called out if they’re silent, or called out if the actions they’re taking are performative in any way, or perceived to be performative.

On the positive side, there’s a lot more antiracism training taking place, and that’s something that we embarked on as an organization. There is a lot to think about in terms of how to keep that going with new hires, and making sure trustees and others key constituencies are on board. In Florida, for example, some new laws make it difficult to continue some of that training, or certainly around making it mandatory, which was our original intention when we started.

Finally, with this whole ‘great resignation’ or ‘great rethink,’ we’re seeing a reprioritization of what matters to people, and how they want to invest their time. All of that has created change, in how we think about everything from the recruitment process, to how we post a job, to where we post it. We have revamped almost every aspect of the recruitment process. So it’s had a huge impact.

Inclusion…starts at the top. It doesn’t start with the vice president of advancement. It starts with the president of the organization and making all the different departments within the organization accountable for moving this forward. – Darrell Bell Jr.

JN: I would add to that framing, in addition to the murder of George Floyd, we also hear about the rise of anti-Asian hate crimes, the rise of antisemitism, growing income inequality.

But just focusing on the immediate pain of it lets people off the hook – including ourselves – because our existing challenges were all in plain sight. We had mostly exclusively white boards and development teams. Job postings often asked for master’s degrees where they weren’t truly necessary. Or asked for ten years of experience without touching on competencies. So I would say that at this moment, in some ways, there have been breakthroughs about people’s willingness to have radically candid conversations about conventional thinking and the challenges they pose. Even if we have not had meaningful breakthroughs in terms of metrics.

And I’m not even sure that in philanthropy and fundraising, as a field, we actually know what Inclusion means. For some people it’s warm and fuzzy. For some, especially here at The New School which has a very progressive and activist-oriented history, it’s an assertive gesture. But I don’t think we’ve actually boiled that down to what it means in terms of policy and practice. Or how the community feels about it.

That was the basis for a retreat we had recently with my team. To focus solely on what Equity, social justice, and Inclusion mean at The New School, and then drilling down. What do these things mean for you as a frontliner? We’re just beginning to do some of this work, creating spaces and forums to talk about it without having everyone cringe and look away.

DB: I’ll jump in and say that Jonah, you’re 100% right. We’re experiencing the same cycle. Nothing much has changed. What’s happened in the past two years is that all the pain and disruption has created an opportunity and space for critical dialog. But when you really look at organizations and their movement on Inclusion, meaningful change is not happening. When you look at strategic planning, it’s not happening. You can offer as many trainings as you want. But if you’re not coming up with intentional plans to try to move the needle within your organization, that needle isn’t going to move.

One of the previous Inclusion articles made a great point that it starts at the top. It doesn’t start with the vice president of advancement. It starts with the president of the organization and making all the different departments within the organization accountable for moving this forward. The trouble is that too many times we’re not seeing that. There is often a big disconnect between presidents and other key parts of the organization that are forward-facing – those parts of the organization that are responsible to implementing Inclusion and Diversity and bringing together our many constituents, to reflect our many different backgrounds. So I think that it has to start with leadership.

That’s one of the reasons I moved to Nazareth because the president was very serious about Inclusion. It wasn’t lip service. When you look at our cabinet compared to other cabinets, it is diverse. And if Inclusion is about valuing people, allowing for them to have a voice and influence, unless you have those people at the top of the organization advocating for those values, you’re going to continue in the same old cycles.

JN: I heard it said really well recently that most Diversity and Inclusion statements are kind of like New Year’s resolutions. They’re aspirational but don’t come with any planning or hard metrics. I feel like most of Diversity or Inclusion statements are sort of eye-roll-inducing because so many people rush to put them out. We’re still not at a place where we’ve decided to value it, and by value it, I mean spend money on it.

CM: And there’s no repercussion if you don’t make the goal.

DB: Yes. A lot of times the effort stops at a Diversity statement. There isn’t a well-thought-out plan that reflects all the breadth of challenges. That’s one thing that I worked on when I got here to Nazareth, making sure that every area within my purview had a voice to be on the DEIB advancement committee to help to shape our planning.

MO: We created a DEIB committee that has cross constituents. It includes trustees and fellows. Which, by the way, we’re an orchestral educational organization for young musicians aged 22 to 30, post-graduate, phenomenal musicians. So we’ve got a lot of passion and youth here.

In its first year, this group has created five subcommittees. A governance and steering committee and one each for recruitment, retention and advancement; communications; education, research, and institutional convening; repertoire and programming. So through that, we are on a path towards getting someplace where every single one of those subcommittees has specific goals that are measurable. We would like to get to a place where those goals get integrated into the individual performance appraisal processes, so people are held accountable and it also ladders up to the institutional strategic plan.

But I’d love to hear from the two of you on what accountability could look like – even if it’s more in a future state? How can we make sure that we are holding our organizations accountable to specific metrics around these DEIB goals?

…everything matters from how you write the job description, to where you post it. – Maureen O’Brien

JN: I think a lot could be accomplished with a deep reexamination of the entire lifecycle of recruitment. We hear a lot about recasting job descriptions, fine. But then also looking at the referral systems that we use, including the ‘quiet’ or informal referral systems we use.

Our Senior Vice President for Equity, Inclusion, and Social Justice, Melanie F. Hart, says that collaboration is key to centering justice. I like to think about that for our hiring committees too, having diverse people on that committee. The interview process itself, the offer, the workplace dynamic, the onboarding, the landing – I feel like you can build in metrics for all those pieces of the hiring process. To hold people accountable for a more inclusive process.

DB: I don’t have much to add to that, but I would say that you have to take a step back and be really critical about your culture and your organization. First, in preparing your organization to hit those metrics. Because you can attract a bunch of different voices to your organization, but if you’re not prepared to care for those new community members, then you’re going to lose them. So make sure you do the work internally first, before you pivot to setting benchmarks and driving towards trying to bring people on board.

CM: So how do you put Inclusion into practice? While I totally agree that if you don’t have leadership on this issue, you’re missing a big piece of the puzzle. But we can’t always rely on it coming from the top down. We can have influence in our departments where we are. 

MO: Just in terms of the hiring practice, we have found some technology tools very helpful, including one, called Textio, that analyzes job descriptions to identify biases in language. It’s fascinating. They also now can do the same thing for performance appraisals to make sure feedback removes bias to the extent possible. I think we also need to make sure from the very start that the job description is very concrete and reflective of the actual work that needs to be done. But everything matters from how you write the job description, to where you post it.

CM: That’s so helpful because we think that we have put in neutral language, and then we may not, so thank you for that.

DB: In addition to what Maureen said, I think that we’re at a point now of having to look at advancement experience differently, especially when you’re looking at inclusive candidate pools. With marginalized and under-represented communities, you may not find as a deep bench as you’d like. So what do you do to attract people from those communities?

Advancement work is mostly about relationship building. It’s a set of soft skills. So how do we adapt our expectations to attract new talent to this field? Because the reality is, nobody grows up glorifying being a fundraiser. Kids grow up wanting to be nurses, police officers, or doctors, and the like. We have to be more intentional about going out into the community to share with people that this is indeed a profession where you can work for the greater good.

But at the same time we need to be cognizant that they may not have ten years of advancement experience. They may not have five years of experience, but they have the soft skills, and with the proper coaching, we can bring them to a place of being an effective advancement professional.

JN: Let me actually gently push back on that and add that this is a generational question, because I am now encountering candidates who specifically went to school for fundraising and know that this is what they want to do. I think we have crossed over from a time where fundraising was considered a function, to a point where it’s now considered a profession.

So it’s no longer a world of just rich people talking to each other. That notion perpetuates the stereotype of what a fundraiser looks like. We did an exercise with my team, if you close your eyes, imagine what a donor looks like, and what comes to mind? And whoops, we all make the same mistake, myself included.

Well, close our eyes quickly and what do you think a fundraiser looks like? Now we work in a profession with best practices, credentials, and continuing education. So to your point, one of the ways that I look for people is to look outside of the field, but still adjacent. I came from the arts, and I’m often fascinated with people who work, for example, at the membership desks at museums, because they are selling. Anyone who worked phone-a-thons in college, I’m very interested in.

Also when I speak at colleges and business schools, I start my talk saying very specifically, ‘My goal today is to convert one of you from going to the dark side. I know you’re all here to go to McKinsey, or Boston Consulting Group. But let me tell you, if you’re doing that for the money, you can be well compensated and find alignment with your values and fulfilling work in philanthropy.”

It’s a little cheeky, but I often start a lot of my talks like that, ‘This is a possibility for you.’ The proud-to-be-poor motto of nonprofit work should be relegated to the past. That’s not a thing anymore. You don’t have to buy into that or accept that.

MO: There are also more and more affinity groups. For example, my friend Yolanda F. Johnson started Women of Color in Fundraising and Philanthropy (WOC)®. And that’s been a great resource just in terms of networking and extending our reach when we are trying to build a pool of candidates for an open position. She also has programs for allies. I’m sure there are other organizations like that out there, which can be amazing resources in looking for new candidates.

JN: Yes. There are lots of groups now, but oftentimes I will have to be the one to bring those to HR, or I will be the one to bring them to my team if I think there’s someone on my team who might have a lived experience that I don’t have, could I pair them up with a mentor so that they can have a talk about that.

DB: That’s a good point. I think one word that we haven’t said yet is intentionality. There has to be some intentionality in the organization around our actions.

We have to have a commitment to growing the people that we hire, understanding their career aspirations and aligning them with your needs as an organization. – Maureen O’Brien

CM: So, looking forward, how can we better work toward systemic change in Inclusion?

DB: Again, for me the biggest challenge is that, systemically, you still have leaders who are not engaged enough to make sure that action is happening throughout the organization. They are lacking intentionality. They know that this Diversity thing is going on at their organizations. But no one is really driving any action, to make sure that all internal leaders are accountable for it.

It doesn’t make sense if I’m going down one path, and all the other vice presidents are not going down the same path. Because then I’m attracting all these people with an inclusive lens, or different skill sets, and they get here and the rest of the organization looks completely different.

At our organization, it’s highly ingrained in our strategic plan, which means we’ve got specific plans, with multiple metrics and accountability along the way. It’s infused in all of our departments. So where there is action, there is also accountability. And as a result, you’re seeing changes happening, starting at the top.

JN: Stepping back, I think one of our biggest challenges in advancement, philosophically speaking, is that you can’t divorce philanthropy from larger issues of economics. We work in spaces where we’re often working with wealthy people and the financial elite. That raises issues of access to education, classism, elitism.

For example, we never talk about the issue of code-switching in philanthropy. I talk about this with my BIPOC colleagues a lot, especially frontline fundraisers. What do you wear if you go to an investment bank, versus a large foundation, or a business owner who didn’t inherit all their money? There is a performance aspect to how we show up for different kinds of donors, based on what your identity is. My experience as an Asian man is going to be different than for a Black woman. She will adapt and present in different ways than I will.

So I think that that is something. It’s a continued challenge. I think it’s a challenge that’s not talked about, but it is something that we all know how to do instinctively if we are on the frontline.

CM: Can you drill down, Jonah, on the code-switching part?

JN: Sure. It’s a question of finding social currency. For example, you might want to find common ground with a donor by discussing the recent Whitney Biennial. But that assumes the fundraiser knows what the Whitney Museum is, and what a biennial is, and that it happened this year. There’s all this social currency that you have to accumulate through study if you haven’t experienced it or weren’t born with it.

If I was meeting with a very conservative donor, it might affect things like how I dress, or whether I reference my husband or not. If you’re already walking into the room looking very different from everyone else in that space, then you have to find ways to blend in. It’s a topic that fascinates me, and I think it’s something that we don’t talk about enough, and need to train frontline fundraisers on.

MO: On that topic of perception and social currency, one of our challenges in this profession is getting past a hurtful and damaging fallacy – one not necessarily spoken aloud but implied – is that people of color don’t have disposable income to be philanthropically engaged. It’s a way of lifting a burden off the organization to engage with that community. They don’t have to ask the question of ‘What are we doing wrong to not connect with these donors.’ It’s very lazy, damaging, and untrue, but unfortunately, I think it’s widely pervasive. When in fact there are plenty of people in BIPOC communities who have the capacity and inclination to give.

DB: Yes. And on the topic of code-switching, sometimes you have to code-switch internally just to have the opportunity to be able to deal with the elite donors. So you’re having to navigate your internal surroundings.

I did a panel similar to this for CASE back in February 2020. A woman of color came up to me and started crying, telling me, ‘I had one of my bosses say to me that I couldn’t have a promotion because they couldn’t put me in front of elite donors. Because they didn’t think that they would resonate with me.’

It’s just crazy to me that you could have that happen. But sometimes you have to learn how to navigate your internal surroundings to even have a shot at engaging with external constituencies which is very unfortunate.

JN: And the truth is, we all have our areas of vulnerability. I had a very good boss once who sat me down and said, ‘Jonah, you look younger than you are. So you’re going to have to come to the table and take up space immediately.’

There are many unspoken rules of engagement, and I was really lucky to have a boss who noticed me being obsequious and deferential to the academic powers in the room. And she coached me, ‘If you are going to be successful, they’re going to need to see you in a different light. You’re going to need to break through some of their preconceptions about you.’

DB: And in that same vein, you have to work at making sure your difference doesn’t limit you. Maureen, you were talking about the perception that folks of color may not have money or resources. And like Jonah said, you may not be perceived as being able to code-switch well enough to be put in front of elite donors.

But there’s rarely any doubt that you’re able to deal with the diversity components of advancement. It’s like you’re the diverse professional of advancement, so you can deal with this section of advancement, but you can’t deal with the elite part of advancement.

So many times you see that mistake being made as well.

Just be honest with people. Meet candidates where they’re at, don’t be afraid to say, ‘Hey, we are working on building things. They’re not perfect. We’ve got a long way to go. But we really want you to be an integral part of helping us to move this vision forward.’ – Darrell Bell Jr.

JN: I was talking to a Black fundraiser who lives in Los Angeles, and we were just getting to know each other. And we joked about playing Misery Olympics. You tell me one, then I’ll tell you one.

So he told me a horrible micro-aggression story, and then I told him one. And then I said, ‘Do you ever just walk away?’ Because I want my team to know that they can exercise their agency and walk away from such confrontations if they have to, and I will always support them. However, if you want to achieve the goal, then sometimes you do have to work through those difficult situations.

I asked him, ‘How did you respond?’

He said he didn’t run from it. He told this person, ‘I’m really glad you feel comfortable bringing up hard conversations with me. This is where we don’t agree.’

It was such an elegant, artful way of easing into a message of, ‘Okay, I’m grateful for having this difficult conversation with you, but you’re wrong. And I know I’m right and let me tell you why.’

He told me, ‘I could have walked away from that because it was so egregious, but then I wouldn’t have gotten the job done.’

So there’s always a tension of, is this worth my dignity at this moment or not?

CM: So, given where we are on the Inclusion journey, that there are still myriad difficulties in the profession, how do we retain our diverse populations that we have worked so hard to bring into our organizations?

MO: I think having career development plans, like formalized talent management is key. We have to have a commitment to growing the people that we hire, understanding their career aspirations and aligning them with your needs as an organization. And then if there are gaps, invest in individuals with professional development training, and help them get to the next step. We also can’t be lazy and say, ‘The pipeline doesn’t exist.’ I’ve heard that so many times. Very rarely is that true.

JN: I agree. Career advancement is key. Pairing them with, or at least showing them a role model who looks like them. They did it. This is not inconceivable.

Also, if you’re not in a well-resourced organization with formalized talent management, it may mean just going out twice a year with a rising star, and saying, ‘We want to keep you here.’ Just being intentional about it goes a long way.

I also believe in setting the table during the interview process. One of the questions I ask is, ‘How have you worked specifically to advance the principles of Equity, Inclusion, and social justice?’ For me, that factor weighs more than years of experience for some of the roles, because we attach so much credit to years of experience and look where it’s gotten us. So unless we start asking some different questions and weighing the factors differently, then we’re going to just continue to get the same results.

DB: The one thing I would add is that this is a prime opportunity to partner with other parts of the organization. We have developed a great partnership with our Culture, Community, and Belonging department – working together to build community.

I said this before, but I think it’s important. If you want to retain people, they have to come to a place where there’s community. Like dating, everybody puts forward their best face until they are in a relationship. What looked good superficially maybe isn’t the reality deeper down.

So you have to make sure you’re stable internally first. So that when you start to recruit and bring people on board, they feel like they’re being welcomed into a community that looks like what they expected. Transparency was one of the issues raised in your last article on Inclusion. Just be honest with people. Meet candidates where they’re at, don’t be afraid to say, ‘Hey, we are working on building things. They’re not perfect. We’ve got a long way to go. But we really want you to be an integral part of helping us to move this vision forward.’

To attract great candidates we need to be honest with them.

MO: On our EDIB committee, some of our colleagues came up with the concept of sending up the Bat-Signal, and that if anybody in the organization is experiencing something, or something has happened that’s triggering or that’s really difficult. They can just say, ‘Hey, I’m gathering in the conference room at this time. Anybody who wants to come and talk about it, let’s come and talk about it.’ And we’ve done that a few times. I think it goes a long way just to have that sense of community, that others care about how you’re feeling.

CM: Well, as you were referencing before, I think there are some things that we have, but we have a lot of work to do on it. But maybe it also involves some of our internal policies and procedures.

Everybody gets an HR policy and procedures brochure when you join an organization, and I wonder if that’s another thing people look at and say, ‘Wait a second, I don’t see myself here.’ That’s not inclusive. And maybe, as Darrell was referencing, we need to partner with a lot of different departments in order to make things change. Because we’re not an island in advancement, we have to deal with all the different departments in any organization.

MO: I think candidates do their research as well, when they’re checking out an organization to see if it’s somewhere they want to work. They go to your website, and even if you have a statement on Diversity, if it’s not reflected in your programming, if it’s not reflected in your leadership team, and your board, they will come to their own conclusions. So we have to demonstrate that, even if it’s a work in progress, Inclusion matters to us, we value it, and there’s at least some evidence that it is pervasive throughout the organization as something we’re working toward.

DB: The one thing I loved from the article was the culture fit versus culture add, and really changing the way that you look at talent, and your culture, and bringing people on board. I thought that was absolutely brilliant.

JN: Yeah, whenever the word fit comes up in a hiring committee, I call it out, or someone will call it out, it’s just biased. They don’t mean it, but that’s what that translates into.

MO: It’s just a euphemism for a reason why somebody doesn’t fit, but it’s not that specific. I love that too, where you can reframe it to say, ‘We’re not looking to reinforce the status quo. We’re looking for people who have other perspectives to bring to the table. And it’s going to make everything richer, and more interesting, and more successful.’

…hopefully one has different voices in the room who are doing the interviewing, because not everyone shares the same perspective. – Maureen O’Brien

CM: So, with the idea that Inclusion, in principle, encompasses a very broad mandate, can you offer some concrete approaches for putting it into practice?

JN: In a perfect world, someday the dashboard that I present to the president every week will have something about Inclusion. Again, I don’t know what it is, or what the algorithm is to get to it. But instead of the normal economic engagement numbers, is it maybe measuring how inclusive are your community circles, encompassing your queer alumni, Black alumni, etc. and scaling your engagement with different groups. I’m not quite sure what it is. I know that it needs to be measured because – I know it sounds trite – but what matters gets measured. So I don’t know quite yet how to get at it, because we’re just so used to measuring dollars, and asks, and medians, and things like that.

MO:  One other specific thing that my HR colleague has really worked on is redacting identifying information like names, photos, reference to a sorority or fraternity which indicates gender in the process of looking at resumes. It takes a lot of time to redact that information though, and so I think there’s been some challenges around educating the rest of the team on why searches, for now, might take a little bit longer. But it’s proven to make a huge difference in terms of leveling the playing field.

DB: I love that. And one thing that I’ve seen work in the past is having clear-cut rules. For example, that if you don’t have a diverse candidate pool, you can’t move forward with the process. It forces you to pound the pavement and be very innovative in finding new avenues for talent. But again, even if you get people in the pool, are you hiring them? How do we make sure that we’re getting talented people not just into the pool of finalists, but also as candidates being hired?

JN: Personally, I’ve always been curious about taking out identifying information from resumes, because at a certain point you’re going to get interviewed. People have biases. And when they see you, the jig is up. And then what happens is as we get these pools that look like a rainbow coalition on paper, and we feel like, ‘Wow, we did it.’ But then, to your point, they’re not getting hired. So something is still not happening – because of all those hurdles that we talked about earlier in the hiring process. And I don’t have the answer as to how to fix those.

MO: That’s a great point. We’ve implemented a goal of the number of candidates, or percentage of candidates that advance to each round. And so at least that’s one way to make sure that it’s not just a diverse candidate pool moving towards a finalist pool that is not diverse.

It does not solve the issue of who’s ultimately chosen, but it’s at least helping to have a metric that as people advance through the process, you’re presenting a diverse candidate pool of finalists.

And as you said before, hopefully one has different voices in the room who are doing the interviewing, because not everyone shares the same perspective. For example, with our fellowship auditions, we have alumni of color joining the audition panel. So just simple things like that, I think, all these practices hopefully add up, and over time will make a difference.

CM: I don’t think, Maureen, anything is perfect. But what I love about that is you at least have leveled the playing field for the first pass. And then as Jonah said, then you’re going to meet face to face. And I think it’s a great reminder that this takes time. I know we’re all impatient, but it does take time and patience to make that change. Everybody needs to hire yesterday, we all know that.

MO: And hiring, in general, is really hard right now. I’m imagining all of you are experiencing this, depending on the position. We literally have positions where no one responds to calls, because I guess they have better offers. It’s a really crazy market right now. That’s an ongoing challenge just for recruitment in general, and then trying to apply these Inclusion practices to the recruitment process on top of it poses an additional challenge.

DB: Even more of a reason to try to look in other places that we haven’t looked before, because we’re still searching, a lot of the times, for that silver bullet of gift officers with years of experience. Instead of looking at, say banking. Lots of people in retail banking have people skills. So why can’t we look in other areas?

There’s one thing that I have seen throughout the pandemic is that people are really reassessing what they want to do in life. A lot of people are making career changes. So how do we interact with those people? I find doing general, broad-based outreach – not just advancement-based networking – has allowed me to meet new people who have the soft skills to transition into an advancement career.

JN: Especially for entry-level jobs, anybody who’s worked in hospitality or retail jumps to the top of the pile for me. They have had to take ‘incoming,’ that is, deal with difficult people and situations. They have had to read people very quickly and determine how best to engage them, because there is money at stake, or a commission, or a tip. And you have to have hustle in those jobs.

Those are the kinds of skills that I say, ‘Okay, we can work with that.’ Because it’s actually a straight one-to-one competency. If you can sell a bottle of wine, you can sell an annual fund gift. I was a booking agent, and that work is not really any different from any sales role, it’s just for profit versus nonprofit.

To see if you’re doing well with Inclusion, not only do you need to see retention, but you have to see Inclusion in the leadership composition and behavior. – Jonah Nigh

DB: Coaching requires similar skill sets. Coaches know how to build teams. They know how to build community. They know how to adapt to different personalities, and economic levels, and whatever the case may be. And they have the drive.

JN: Plus, they’re great managers, which most fundraisers are not.

CM: So, looking forward, what do you think are the challenges ahead of us for Inclusion in our workspaces?

MO: We haven’t touched on salary transparency. I think that was touched on in the article. That’s a huge one I think is coming down the pike. And we have to figure out, are we going to be leaders in that space? Are we going to wait until it’s required by our state to do it? What is our role in that? And I’d love to hear everyone’s perspective on that piece of it.

DB: I agree with the salary piece. But more than that, I think one of the biggest challenges is that we know change needs to happen now, and it’s hard to change. In truth, there are decades of conditioning and habit present in our profession, systemic barriers that have been with from the very start. And we still see them to this day.

So in my lifetime, the way that I look at it is, I’m just a part of a journey to take small steps to help to make a change. I don’t think things are going to completely change in my lifetime. This is going to take a long time. So for us, doing the work now, the biggest question is, how you unravel a culture that’s been so ingrained for such a long period of time?

JN: I was hoping it would be done for me by now. About 11 or 12 years ago I was at an event and there was one other Asian person, whom I know. And I said to her, ‘Where are the Asians? Are we the Asians?’ I remember very clearly saying, ‘You know what? In half a generation it’s going to look better.’

She and I were on a Zoom call for fundraisers during the height of COVID. There were about 80 of us, and there were three Asians. I said to her, ‘It isn’t better. So we are going to have to be intentional about going out recruiting, disrupting the narrative, and at least saying that we’re trying to do our part.’

Sitting back on our heels and waiting for demographics to change on their own didn’t fix anything. Our profession is stuck and has made very little progress. That means our generation of leaders is going to have to be really assertive to create any forward movement.

CM: On that note, I want to highlight the difference between Diversity and Inclusion. Diversity is just having people in the room who look different or have different backgrounds. Whereas Inclusion requires actually listening to them and incorporating their ideas.

Inclusion is about one’s ability to listen and be receptive. It’s about attitudes and behaviors. And it can surface unconscious biases and preconceptions. Those can be very challenging things personally for people who are not used to doing that work. What does that work look like in practice and how can we move that forward, in addition to making progress on the Diversity front? 

JN: I think the bystander training model is really important because, of course, you don’t know what you don’t know. And you’re not aware of the behaviors that you’re doing. So you assume good intentions, and aim for an environment where no one is talking over, or interrupting, or not making space for other voices.

And I think a part of the training system has to be, if you see this happening, as an ally, or in that moment, or in that space, you have to jump in and gently steer the dynamic back to where it needs to be. For example, saying, ‘I’d like to go back to what Maureen was saying because I don’t think she was finished with her thought.’ When you start seeing that sort of advocacy, in the moment, that’s Inclusion. And that is where things start to change. That’s letting a diverse voice be a part of the leadership composition.

Consider it like measuring your ‘vitals’ in medicine. To see if you’re doing well with Inclusion, not only do you need to see retention, but you have to see Inclusion in the leadership composition and behavior.

I like the saying, ‘Your love is only as good as how the other person feels about it.’ You need other people to help do that work. It doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It’s not incumbent on one person to suddenly become aware of their own limitations. Everybody has to chip in and create space to do that. And that takes training and a lot of ‘radical candor’ as our President, Dwight A. McBride, says.

MO: Yes, I love that book Radical Candor.* I’m reading it with my leadership team right now. It’s got some really good ideas and feedback in it.

I’m proud of what we’ve done to create space for difficult conversations. As an organization, we have talked about a lot of really hard stuff. There have been awkward moments. Shocking moments. Embarrassing moments. But we kept going. And it’s in this cross-constituent format that I’ve described.

So what’s been beautiful is that you’ve had these moments of vulnerability between a young fellow and an established trustee who’s a major donor; and/or a staff member and a fellow. Even others that are sitting quietly in the room experienced that same moment of vulnerability.

And I’ve seen that vulnerability translate into so many other domains of our working together. It doesn’t mean that we have all the answers, or that we’re done, but just by being brave enough to sit with it, we have been able to talk about these tough conversations in each other’s presence. That, I think, is a big piece of it.

When I get up there and make myself vulnerable, sometimes people will say, ‘Yeah, I had a similar situation. Next time I’ll raise my hand to share my story.’ Leading by example creates change. – Darrell Bell Jr.

DB: I was going through the same thing as Maureen with being vulnerable. As much as I hate it, I also see the need for it. That is, really opening myself up to share life experiences and educate other people as to what I go through as a person of color. Or things I’ve seen from my lens working in advancement.

But it helps to educate people. Because if you don’t have a personal relationship with somebody, they’re going to know you in a work capacity, and not truly understand your lived experiences. So I feel like you can bring groups together for critical dialog, to open up and be vulnerable. That discussion allows for understanding, and hopefully translates into actions to change whatever it is you’re trying to change.

JN: Our president calls it radical candor, and then with asterisks, from a place of deep respect. We all know that person who claims, ‘I just say it like it is,’ and then they’re rude to everybody.

That’s not what we’re talking about. This is about having hard conversations. Like me being challenged by somebody for using the phrase good cop, bad cop. When trying to set a strategy for an upcoming meeting, I asked the other person, ‘Do you want to be the good cop or the bad cop.’ That analogy was problematic for them, so it’s up to me so say, ‘Right, sorry.’ And accept it, hear it, thank them for that feedback, in front of others, and then move beyond it. That’s what an inclusive, radical, scary, and sometimes the cringy environment can look like, but that’s what the work looks like.

MO: I would love to ask Darrell and Jonah something. One thing I’ve struggled with is the fine line between inviting colleagues or team members of color to share their lived experiences and not wanting to put the burden of emotional labor on them to do the work for us. Or for the larger organization to have an expectation that our employees of color are going to solve DEIB for us. What is your advice for me or to others, how do we get the balance right in terms of that?

JN: I just can’t in good conscious volun-tell a team member to do one of the heritage months or something like that. I just can’t, because in other institutions I’ve been the only person of color in leadership or something like that. And you just end up doing it grudgingly because you feel you have to, not because you want to.

I’m glad to be in a different space now where I do it because I want to, not because I have to. But I just can’t bring myself to ask a teammate to do that kind of work. I will invite them into strategic planning committees where I know that’s going to be the vein of it. Or even Equity, Inclusion, and social justice committees. My approach is to ask, ‘Can I nominate you?’ But when it’s really that specific, like Asian-American month, or something, I just can’t bring myself to ask my Asian colleagues to do any free work.

DB: I agree with you on that. I think it’s all a part of the planning process. And it’s more of an invitation that intersects with the big picture of creating change – that is, an opportunity for us to make change by being vulnerable. If people are comfortable with doing that, then fine. But it’s more of an invitation.

And I lead by example sometimes. Like I said, I hate being the person who is asked automatically – especially at a school that’s majority white – ‘Will you do this for us?’ But at the same time, you see the good that it can create. When I get up there and make myself vulnerable, sometimes people will say, ‘Yeah, I had a similar situation. Next time I’ll raise my hand to share my story.’ Leading by example creates change.

JN: Taking that theme one step even further, I’ll share that a huge organization recently asked me to teach a class for free. And I said, ‘I’m not going to do that. If you want to do an honorarium, I usually donate those back to the organization. And I’m trying to model for my team that the days of free brown labor are over.’

Their response was, ‘Well, that’s our policy.’

To which I replied, that’s the problem. This all gets back to policy and practice. It’s not words. It’s metrics. And I show that e-mail exchange to some of my BIPOC staff to drive home the point that you do not have to do work for free.

I’m like Ru-Paul. I will take a job anywhere. I never say no to a job, but it’s not a job unless I get paid. And I think we have to feel empowered to send that message. Because otherwise, again, we’re just reinforcing the idea that only financially elite people are entitled to be treated fairly and on their own terms.

CM: I think that idea brings us full circle. Inclusion is about an organization’s ability to engage people fully, on their own terms as individuals, and allow them to bring their full selves to their role. And that work cannot be offloaded onto communities that have been traditionally marginalized or excluded.

I have learned so much from all of you, and I’m now keeping several words and concepts front and center as ALG continues our own Inclusion work.

Intentionality is absolutely critical if we are to turn aspiration into action and change. Leadership matters, and it has to come from on top. We have to model inclusive behaviors for each other. Mentoring and cultivating talent is also part of the hard work of Inclusion, making sure that once people join an organization, they feel welcomed. Which gets to another important concept, and that is community.

I’d end by quoting Cheryl Russell, of Saint Anthony Hospital, who participated in our last Inclusion panel. She said, ‘Addressing the “I” will get you a lot more of the “D,” even if the ‘I’ is a lot harder.’

We’ve talked about some very hard, but important, work. About vulnerability and difficult conversations. Hopefully our peers and colleagues in advancement will welcome these insights, and find them useful on their own Inclusion journey.

*Radical Candor: How to be a kick-ass boss without losing your humanity by Kim Scott

Curious to learn more? Read the next article in our series here.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.