'Hope is critical in your ability to change the world'
I’ve just gotten back from a 10-day trip to New Orleans, partly pure fun and partly attending the international fundraising conference of IoF’s North American cousins, the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFPs).
New Orleans is a wonderful and upbeat city, seemingly thriving again post Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the Deepwater Horizon Oil spill five years later. You only get a taster of a city on a short trip but my taste of New Orleans was positive – a diverse population, universally friendly and helpful; the restaurants, bars and shops busy, and music was delightfully everywhere.
AFP reflected New Orleans’ journey over the last 13 years in the theme of its conference, opening with a session on resilience, and taking delegates through a whistle stop tour of its approach – “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”. Resilience, in panellists views, needs to be built at all times, not just after an event; local community organisations are vital as they will be there before, during and after any disaster or change in circumstance; partnerships between business, the city and the social sector are key “where money and morality come together, that’s when the magic happens”. Good learning for us all.
Similarly to the IoF and the wider fundraising community here, the AFP, and the fundraising community in the US, have a clear priority to make the fundraising profession better by becoming more diverse. The AFP’s work is led by its IDEA Committee (Inclusion, Diversity Equity and Access) relaunched last year. Within that, this year it is prioritising women in fundraising, through a new Women’s Impact Initiative (WII) – specifically to address gender inequity in the fundraising profession, including sexual harassment, salary inequality, and the lack of women in senior leadership roles. As a strategic partner of AFP we will be sharing some of its resources in due course.
The AFP presented the voices of a range of senior fundraisers from diverse backgrounds at the opening plenary, and had a series of workshops on a variety of diversity related topics throughout the conference. Really well received by the vast majority of attendees, there was also some controversy. After highlighting the importance of diversity, why did the four-person opening panel have two white men on it?; why was one of the voices of diversity a white man? (answer: he was a white gay man); did one of the facilitators handle a tricky race issue as sensitively as they could have done?; a mistaken accusation on social media that a panellist was white when she was Mexican led to the response “am I not of enough colour for you?”. Tricky issues, all of them. And issues I think the AFP dealt with very well in the circumstances. Staff immediately began to learn from it, debriefing and discussing the issues and their responses at the IDEA Committee that I was able to observe, identifying problems and beginning to plan how they might approach things differently, or not, moving forward.
I also attended receptions hosted by some of AFP's Affinity Groups, bringing fundraisers together from different diverse communities. The groups are universally supported by AFP members for enabling them to “find people like them” and “share stories of situations and approaches”, and also seen by many as “showing AFPO is committed to increasing diversity”. AFP also celebrated their Diversity Scholars, fundraisers from different diversity groups enabled to attend conference through a scholarship programme for people from specific diverse backgrounds, and asked for their members to donate to building that fund.
I learnt a lot over the course of the trip, and will bring lessons back to the IoF. But one thing is for sure – no matter how hard we try to get all these things right, we are bound to make mistakes. What I can commit to is that we will learn from them, like the AFP, and make ourselves stronger through the process.
And finally, I want to leave you with the closing plenary by the totally inspiring, and I use the word rarely, Bryan Stevenson, from the Equal Justice Initiative. He set out some truly shocking data in relation to inequality of incarceration and racial injustice across the US, urged delegates to get greater “proximity” to the people they represent or serve: “Where are your cuts and bruises? Where are these medals of honour for fighting to change the world?” he challenged. “Get proximate, change the narrative, and be willing to do uncomfortable things”. He ended with a powerful call to action to many in the room depressed or bewildered by the current state of play in many aspects of our world: “Hopelessness is the enemy of justice. Hope is your superpower. Hope is critical in your ability to change the world.”
Thank you Bryan Stevenson. Thank you AFP. Thank you New Orleans.