To bring to life the concepts and ideas discussed in 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 world of advancement, for both hiring organizations and candidates. It features three leaders with decades of experience:
Sergio Gonzalez is senior vice president for university advancement at Brown University, where he oversees advancement areas across the University, including the Office of Development, Office of Alumni Relations, Foundation Relations, the Office for International Advancement, the Brown Sports Foundation, the Brown Annual Fund and others. Previously he was the architect and leader of two successful fundraising campaigns at the University of Miami that together raised more than $3 billion. Before his role at the University of Miami, he served as chief of staff for the Miami-Dade County executive mayor, and he was the first executive director of the Miami-Dade County Homeless Trust.
Cheryl Russell joined Saint Anthony Hospital in 2022. As the Vice President of Development and Chief Development Officer she will establish initiatives and continue to build an internal infrastructure to grow philanthropic giving to the Saint Anthony Hospital Foundation. Prior to coming to Saint Anthony Hospital Cheryl Russell spent ten years at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC), serving as the Executive Director of Corporate, Foundation, Government, and Civic Affairs; and Registered Lobbyist. Cheryl has served in an array of organizations to gain experience in diverse policy areas, including the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Mayor’s Office – City of Chicago, and the Chicago Public School system.
Chris Street has spent the last 25 years building the All Stars Project, Inc. (ASP) into a national organization. As ASP President since 2020, and a member of the executive leadership team, Chris provides strategic direction to the organization’s national operations. He works closely with national and regional board members on advancing ASP’s impact and influence and oversees the planning and execution of all programming, operations, nonprofit partnerships and community-building activities. Under Chris’ leadership over the last two decades, the ASP fundraising operation has raised over $150 million from both individual and institutional funders for Afterschool Development programs.
This roundtable discussion was moderated by Ronald Schiller, Founding Partner and Senior Consultant at Aspen Leadership Group.
RS: For a variety of personal and professional reasons, all of us have been involved with diversity for decades—in the nonprofit sector overall, but also specifically in advancement work, and in our work with boards, donors, colleagues, and staff, as well as in hiring, recruiting, and retention.
So I want to start out asking about the ways in which the current attention to inclusion is different than the historical focus on diversity. Could you talk a little bit about your personal journey, and then characterize how your own thinking about inclusion may have changed as you moved into senior management roles? And then specifically how, if at all, have you seen inclusion work accelerate as a result of this Great Rethink of the last couple of years?
SG: Very generally, my own trajectory as a diverse leader has provided me varying perspectives on DEIB (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging) work.
I began my advancement career in Miami, and when you’re leading an organization in South Florida diversity is ever-present given the milieu and the community. After moving to Rhode Island, diversity continues to be incredibly important, but in a different context given the composition of the community and its lived experiences. And certainly, what’s happened in the world over the past three to four years has impacted organizational views of the subject and frankly, it has made me more reflective in my own perspectives and experiences in many ways.
A great part of the historical focus for advancement leaders and organizations has been on recruiting more diverse staff. But there has been a shift in the past several years which you aptly described in your last article.
First of all, we saw an increased focus on the progress and impact of diversity efforts overall after the murder of George Floyd, and in the context of the reenergized social justice movement it sparked. Two, there has been heightened focus on anti-black racism, impacting not only recruitment and retention, but also creating greater awareness about the experiences of diverse communities within the workplace – issues like micro-aggressions, inclusivity, and a sense of belonging.
Many institutions have really taken on these issues in a meaningful way, many thinking of diversity in the broader context of inclusion and belonging. My own institution, Brown University, has had a longstanding commitment to DEIB and has continued to prioritize and enhance this work.
Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) is another example of an organization that has continued to grow its educational programming and initiatives in the DEIB space to better serve its member institutions.
CR: Definitely over the past couple of years there’s been an increased focus on diversity, equity and inclusion across a number of areas. I think that within the advancement field, a key issue is that once we get people into the pipeline, what’s the intentionality around keeping them? Often, that’s where the fall-off happens.
From personal experience, I’ve seen differences in how newly emerging fundraisers of color are mentored as opposed to non-POC, early-stage fundraisers. In my own career I’ve always been a self-starter and very good at creating my own opportunities to learn and grow. But I do remember when there was just an implicit understanding about the narrow role for people of color in advancement. When it came to major gifts and other leadership roles, it was made pretty clear to me that it’s ‘hard for us to get those jobs.’ I remember that phrasing.
When I became the Executive Director of the North Lawndale Learning Community, we needed to diversify our funding pool and I had to learn by doing. Thankfully, I had some great board members who were wonderful at working individually with donors. I had wonderful friends who guided me. But I had to step into those opportunities and make them work – all of it invaluable experience that led to the job I have now at St. Anthony.
So, what I’ve been thinking about as I’ve been building my team at St. Anthony, is how to be intentional with the wonderful young talent I have here. Making sure that I’m being thoughtful about everything from the projects that I give them, to how I talk with them about those projects. And I feel like, more leaders need to give more thought to how we intentionally keep people in the field. We can get them in, but if they’re leaving because they don’t feel welcome, why is that? What are we doing? Or what are we not doing? Intentional mentorship is really important.
Inclusion work is in many ways an enhancement and deepening of our diversity work, not a separate pillar. The two things are not exclusive. – Sergio Gonzalez
CS: I come from a non-diverse background, growing up in New Canaan, Connecticut. I didn’t have that in my life. But then going through college at University of Michigan and then the London School of Economics brought me to a sense that, personally, I needed to learn from and embrace diversity.
In 1992, at 22 years old, I joined a community-based organization whose mission was the empowerment of young people of color from working class and poor backgrounds. Over 30 years, I’ve sought to grow that institution into multiple cities and into many different kinds of partnerships.
The political environment of the last 12 years or so, starting with Obama’s election as President, galvanized a tremendous amount of student engagement. We began reaching out and creating a diverse pipeline program into our fundraising operation, which was featured last year in The Chronicle of Philanthropy.
So on the one hand, I have been working on this process with a group of senior colleagues at this organization, and with our board, for some time now. That said, we have significantly redoubled our efforts to really understand what it means to create a culture of inclusion, and then move toward a culture of belonging, which is something that we feel perhaps more aptly describes the kind of change that true ‘inclusion’ is aiming for.
Berkeley’s Dr. John Powell, in his Othering & Belonging Institute, highlights a growing recognition that it’s not just about looking around a room and seeing diverse people. Is there a sense of cohesion, shared framework and practice? That’s the true test. And it raises the question of how are you creating that culture?
SG: Can I just squeeze in a comment?
CS: Yes, please.
SG: Your comments prompted a thought. Creating a culture of Inclusion gets to the way we lead and manage. It’s about rethinking how we make decisions as leaders and how we encourage members of our team to manage teams and make decisions.
Some of us are more consultative generally in our decision-making, and I think folks who are more consultative naturally lean more toward taking into consideration others’ views and perspectives in making decisions. Whereas hierarchical-type managers may be more instinctive in their decision-making and maybe have further to go to be more inclusive in their style. It’s important to be aware, as a leader and manager, where you fall on that spectrum.
To your point Chris, it’s not just having folks at the table, the real pivot is listening and acting on perspectives that are being put on the table about the work we do, and about the culture that we’re creating. Or at a minimum, providing transparency to folks about why certain decisions were made and why maybe you’re not pursuing something they suggested. Inclusion puts a focus on how we think and act as decision makers and leaders. We need to be aware of that if we are going to be more inclusive leaders.
RS: That’s a great point. And you are all leaders and managers, but you’re also leaders and managers of other leaders and managers. Can you talk about what you’re doing, or how you may be shifting your thinking about preparing other leaders and managers to be more inclusive?
CS: Ron, with your help I’ve gone from a fundraising leader to an organization leader over the last five years. In this kind of role, you have to be a diplomat. You’re relating to stakeholders, and leading people, and leading managers of people. It’s a role that requires listening to people in new ways.
I would say that as a leader my style historically leans more toward top-down. We have very specific and measurable outcomes we need to drive and need to create a high-achieving environment. To make those goals you can’t manage by committee. I don’t think that works. Inclusion doesn’t mean averaging everyone’s views to create a plan or strategy.
But what we are doing is creating spaces where people feel valued, recognized, and respected, as they have a right to share their views and opinions. Even if you’re the manager laying out a strategic direction, you still need to make sure everyone is aware, connected to, and part of the creation of that.
For instance, during Covid we started monthly virtual staff town-hall meetings, and everyone on the staff has an opportunity to speak, no matter your level within the organization. That has been critical in allowing people to hear each other’s voices across the country, across function, across level. We’re increasing the volume of communication and self-consciously talking with everyone about creating more transparent decision-making processes.
SG: I recently reminded my senior team, that they all need to provide opportunities for members of their teams to feel comfortable offering their perspectives. I feel my team is inclusive, but it is easy for all of us to default to a more hierarchical style given the demands on our time and the need for expediency. Second as a leader you have to be ‘present’ and be part of the conversation. Think about all your team members, particularly the more junior ones, and how they feel about contributing to the conversation. Some folks won’t speak if they feel like they’re not going to be heard. So create spaces for discussion and then listen.
We also need to create awareness across the entire team that we’re going to be better if we do this. We’re not just doing this to check a box. We should be listening to all perspectives on the work we do, and the culture we’re creating as a team. If we’re not listening to diverse voices, we’re not going to make fully informed decisions and certainly not representative of the constituencies we interact with- our alumni, parents, and donors. We’ll also be stuck doing things in the same old way.
…if you are not intentional every day, no matter what your values are, you will not achieve the outcomes that you want in this area. – Chris Street
RS: Cheryl, you’re doing a lot of work right now building out your advancement team. How are you working with team leaders and managers in applying inclusion, specifically with respect to recruiting and retention? How are you looking to move the organization forward and avoid, as Sergio says, getting stuck in the old ways of doing things?
CR: For me, it’s important to involve your managers in the early-stage conversations about the development of procedures, policies, job description – all of the basic functions of building and leading a team. The way I tend to operate is that it’s easier for me to bring people along on the journey from the very beginning, which makes it a very organic process when we do get to that point when we’ve narrowed down the candidate pool.
I’ll give you a perfect example. I’ve just finished the process with St. Anthony where we reassessed team structure, revamped job descriptions, added new job descriptions, and added some new roles – and team members were able to contribute to those job descriptions. So as I’m introducing managers to the new org chart, knowing that we’re in growth mode, I talked to them specifically about how they envision their teams growing.
I shared my views on what positions I thought we needed to add, and in the course of that conversation, we talked about what kind of candidate we should be looking for once we post these roles. And how do we find them? What are some of the contacts that you have? What are some of the contacts that I have? Can we tap our networks to find someone?
Throughout that process, I was able to talk to managers about qualifications for these positions, and the different types of experiences that diverse people can bring. Even if their experiences may be different from what we’re used to seeing, that doesn’t mean they’re not qualified for the job. So for me, and I think for others potentially, it’s helpful to involve your frontline managers from day one of the development of the team they’re going to be managing. The goal would be for a more inclusive planning process to result in more inclusive team building and leadership style on the part of frontline managers.
RS: Chris, that should resonate with you, given the work you’re doing internally on team building. Can you share some of that?
CS: I was recently on a call with a major family foundation, and they are beginning to think about a workforce development program to bring young people of color into the museum world as employees. We hope to help with this. And I would love to be doing that for fundraising departments. Not just showing young people what investment bankers do, and what advertising executives do, but show them you can make a healthy salary in the field of philanthropy, to provide for a family, and actually do good in the world. So I do think that the advancement field could be a little more honest and self-critical in this area because, as you say, there’s been so little progress over decades.
What we’re doing to diversify the fundraising talent within our organization, is to focus on teamwork. We’re putting multiracial teams together, and then rather than tracking individual fundraisers’ progress, we measure the team’s productivity.
Second, we have an open door between our fundraising and program departments, with staff members moving back and forth between those functions or in some cases doing both. That’s been particularly important because many of our external facing community leaders are younger adults of color. We want to make sure they’re not siloed in lower paying positions within the organization, and we want their connection to the mission front and center.
CR: If I could add something here. What I’m finding is that young people today are really asking hard questions about inclusion. They’re asking about the values of the organization and its leadership. They’re asking about how the institution lives its values. They are very focused on purpose and meaning, not just diversity. There is a level of intentionality where young people really want to see their potential leaders walking the walk, not just talking the talk. So, for those of us in organizational leadership positions, the bar is high for sure.
RS: Do you think that is a generational thing?
CR: I think it is a generational thing. And candidates of color, of all ages, may ask another layer of questions, exploring what the DEI policies are for an organization. Not that non-POC candidates wouldn’t ask those questions. But the potential candidates of color that I’m talking to for my open roles are very much interested and feeling empowered to ask the tough questions of organizations in terms of specific diversity policies and procedures.
So transparency is key. Don’t sugarcoat your story. Be really clear about where the organization may be on its inclusion journey, while getting across the message that leadership understands the challenge. People will be forgiving if the numbers aren’t perfect, as long as you are up-front about what you’re doing to create a welcoming place where all types of people want to build their careers.
SG: I would add here that while we’re talking about how to lead and hire in a way that includes everybody on your team, it’s important for members of our teams that come from underrepresented and marginalized communities to understand that we’re still committed to traditional efforts around diversity. Inclusion work is in many ways an enhancement and deepening of our diversity work, not a separate pillar. The two things are not exclusive.
I think that point is important as we continue to focus on the various reasons why our profession is not as diverse as it should be, or could be. We need to address the lack of awareness about the profession in under-represented communities. Inclusion and belonging can be a game changer in this regard. As more members of under-represented communities work in our profession and have positive experiences the more awareness and appetite there will be about careers in advancement.
…if you…do the work to make your people and organization truly inclusive…The next person from an under-represented group who walks into your organization will…feel like they have access to leadership opportunities and that that access is intentional. And that all those elements of a great workplace have been intentionally thought through. – Cheryl Russell
RS: So if you all had to give other advancement leaders some concrete advice on the topic of inclusion, what would you say based on your own journey and experience?
CS: Well, I’d start by noting that we are raising more money than ever before. So, if you ask, how are we doing as a business, and as an organization? We’re growing. A lot of that is because we’re intentional about our inclusion and development strategies and we’re involving all our leaders, staff, and board – all our stakeholders – in these questions.
My advice, or at least my observation, is that if you are not intentional every day, no matter what your values are, you will not achieve the outcomes that you want in this area. And as a corollary, I would add that as a white man, I have had to sit down with white men in my organization for engaged conversations, telling them, essentially, ‘I am going to promote a fabulous, dynamic, and well-qualified woman, person of color, LGBTQ employee over you, and I want you to support it. I want you to help make this promotion a massive success.’
As a grassroots organization, when we wanted to significantly increase the pay of program leadership roles, we sat down with the white senior fundraisers and finance professionals and asked them to get behind this move even as it meant their salaries might not grow as fast. And our people stepped up and lived their values on this question.
This has to be part of the conversation. Very often, Diversity and Inclusion are pitched as something that’s not disruptive when, in fact, it can be. When you look at corporate leadership, you can’t make the argument that, ‘Oh no, we’re not reducing the leadership roles of white men. We’re just going to increase the number of folks from diverse backgrounds.’ Well, there are only 500 CEOs in the S&P 500. If you’re adding CEOs from diverse backgrounds, then it follows that there will be fewer white CEOs.
So the question for white leaders, and for white partners across organizations, is what are your values? What kind of organization do you want to be a part of and to be building? Because there’s going to be those kinds of decisions that we need to make and they have to be intentional and thoughtful, and I would say developmental for the candidates and the organization jointly. I’ve had those conversations, and they’re not easy conversations, but they’re important conversations.
In this regard, our CEO, Gabrielle L. Kurlander, has provided tremendous leadership. She and I sat down over the last couple of years and said we are going to put our values first. We’re going to challenge the industry’s traditional pay scales, which may be holding back pay for leaders of color. We just took that on head on, and our Board embraced this leadership.
So my advice is to be intentional every day. Be intentional and expressive of your values every day in every meeting, every planning session, every conversation, every decision. There will be days you fail, but let’s make those the exception.
SG: One thing that’s been a lifelong learning experience for me is the concept of diversity within diversity. What I mean by that is to be careful about making assumptions or generalizations about under-represented communities, which are often diverse within themselves. There can be myriad different perspectives within any given community. And that’s been a lifelong learning experience for me because I am diverse, but I recognize that within even my own diversity, there are so many varying perspectives that enrich conversations and viewpoints.
On the question of advice to leaders, I’d go back to the issue of inclusion as a parallel pillar and an enhancement of our diversity work – and understanding the difference between the two. Inclusion should speak to everyone. Make that pivot if you haven’t already and it will change the way you lead and manage.
And the last piece of advice is, be nimble and open to new ideas. In this space, we will continue to learn. I have reflected and learned quite a bit in the past two years on these subjects and I expect that I will continue to do so.
CR: So, I think that people are still putting most of their focus on Diversity, which is the ‘D’ in ‘DE&I.’ Because it’s easy in a sense. You can see if an organization is honoring Diversity just by looking at an org chart. The ‘D’ is easy because it’s a place to start.
I hear a lot less about the ‘I,’ which is Inclusion. Because the ‘I’ is about changing how an organization works. And when you start talking about changing how an organization works, that is a very different conversation. You’ve got to have the authentic conversations we referenced earlier. You’ve got to challenge people to think about how they’re doing business, how they’re managing their teams. So the ‘I’ is harder.
But I think that if people can figure out how to do the ‘I’, the ‘D’ becomes easier to sustain, because then you’ve created that place that is more organically and naturally welcoming, because you already did the hard work of Inclusion.
People of color leave institutions in this field because they don’t feel welcome. And so if you think about what are your inclusionary practices, and really think that through, then do the work to make your people and organization truly inclusive, you’ve arrived at that first benchmark. The next person from an under-represented group who walks into your organization will be beneficiaries of that.
They’re going to see that the work was done. They’re going to feel it and feel like there’s a pathway for them. They’re going to feel like there’s some mentorship structures already in place. They’re going to feel like they have access to leadership opportunities and that that access is intentional. And that all those elements of a great workplace have been intentionally thought through.
So addressing the ‘I’ will get you a lot more of the ‘D,’ even if the ‘I’ is a lot harder.
RS: In closing, I want to underscore the point that you all have made about intentionality. It’s a great reminder that values are not enough. Awareness is not enough. Understanding is not enough. You actually have to change behavior on a very regular basis, thinking about that intentionality daily and talking about it regularly with other leaders in the organization.
And Sergio, I like the way you expand the concept of unconscious bias into false assumptions. There are a lot of false assumptions or just assumptions that limit us, including a lack of recognition of diversity within diversity. We sometimes all fall into the habit of oversimplifying things, and in our profession we have to be careful about false assumptions regarding how people from diverse backgrounds are going to think about their work and their jobs, and how we should be addressing those diverse communities as valuable stakeholders in the organization’s mission.
Finally, I just want to thank you all for this important discussion. I know you all as fundraisers – and inclusive fundraisers. That is to say, you are all genuinely interested in what the donor is trying to accomplish, what your institution is trying to accomplish, and putting those two things together. So for those who celebrate this kind of donor-centric approach, maybe we can draw on those lessons about listening and appreciating different perspectives, and apply that within our own teams and organizations. I agree that we will be stronger for it, as individuals and as a profession.
Curious to learn more? Read the next article in our series here.