Advancement and Development: A Black Professional’s Perspective
Building community and finding ways to meaningfully engage with each other amid upheaval and isolation has been particularly important for school professionals over the past year and a half. Our schools have worked to nurture connections, and I have channeled my role as a senior administrator to lead discussions at my school about how we can create even more welcoming spaces where everyone feels a sense of belonging.
After the racial justice protests during the summer of 2020, I took on the role of chair of the diversity committee at Buckley Country Day School (NY), in addition to my full-time responsibilities leading our development, fundraising, and alumni relations activities. Although diversity work often falls on people of color and can feel like a burden, I’m finding peace and hope in my new role, instead of feeling helpless. I’m actively involved in providing guidance and perspective to create communities of belonging for students, faculty, and families, and I see the synergy between my committee and advancement roles.
I’ve been thinking more broadly about diversity, equity, inclusion, justice, and belonging (DEIJB) and the need for more people of color in my role. I’m taking the momentum from my committee work on DEIJB issues and am applying them to advancement by exploring ways to support open and honest dialogue around these topics as well as making broader space for Black advancement professionals to thrive.
Finding Black Advancement Professionals
Some may see advancement and fundraising as being exclusionary, and the lack of representation of Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) can present a challenge in connecting with a wide range of donors. In my 25 years of experience, there have been few BIPOC senior-level professionals working in advancement; I do not want that to continue to be the reality. It can lead to a limited discussion around prospective donors, volunteer leadership, selection of venues and honorees, and limited consideration for the views or needs of people of color.
In spring 2020, along with Jan Abernathy and Courtney Archer-Buckmire, who lead communications and advancement efforts at Browning School (NY) and Grace Church School (NY), I helped form a group called the Black Advancement Network Group (BANG) for Black professionals who work in communications, alumni relations, and development in independent schools. The idea emerged when we volunteered together on the planning committee for the New York State Association of Independent School’s Institutional Advancement Conference. We reflected on the instant connection and support that resulted from our work together and wanted to extend those opportunities to others.
The world of philanthropy and fundraising is predominantly white. BANG is a way for Black professionals to meet and offer support to each other. Currently, our members are advancement professionals in the New York metro area; however, we hope to invite professionals from other geographic areas to join our discussions. As we strive to make sure students of color feel like they belong at our institutions, we recognize that we, too, are fighting to be seen, heard, and reflected in our school communities.
Our goal is to hold a safe space for Black advancement professionals and to grow the number of people of color who choose to work in advancement. We’ve been presenting at regional conferences about the need for diverse candidate pools and networking, mentorship, and professional development for people of color who currently work in advancement. In this way, we are visible examples of career paths in advancement.
We hold monthly Zoom meetings to discuss specific tactical issues around enrollment, communications, development, and alumni relations through the lens of DEIJB. We also talk about what we each need to sustain our work and how we can help our schools provide the best experience for students of color.
Advancement and DEIJB
Through conversations with parents, alumni, and colleagues, we hear about the racism and marginalization they sometimes endure. We have an opportunity to change this for the next generation. This is what keeps me motivated to do this work. Through my career experiences, along with more recent discussions with my advancement peers, I have seen a few ways that advancement professionals can help to support DEIJB goals.
Tell the story of your institution. As advancement professionals, we spend a lot of time talking about the history and missions of our schools. It is important that these stories include all school community members. Take time to review the stories and consider: Who is left out of the narrative? Are we telling the stories that are not widely known? Who were the first families of color in your community? Explore ways to engage them and create opportunities for them to tell their stories.
Welcome families to your community. As advancement professionals, what are we doing to welcome new families and help them feel like they belong? Who are the parents who are not on campus as often? Reach out to them. Review the timing of your meetings and alternate between mornings and afternoons to provide more access. Communities that help connect families to the mission of the school and to each other are stronger––and result in parents who are inclined to give.
Engage families in philanthropy. When looking at your advancement and development portfolio, are there activities for families at every level of giving capacity? Do you have events that balance fundraising, community building, and a combination of both? Are your event venues accessible to everyone in your community? How you package your fundraising program to balance these concerns can create a more inclusive environment that encourages everyone to feel invested in your school and motivated to give.
Governance. Who are the people in leadership positions and do they represent your community? Advancement professionals often know the school community and can suggest volunteers from marginalized backgrounds for various positions, including the board and special initiatives. Look at how to expand your efforts.
Fundraising. Be sure your activities, events, and venues do not perpetuate stereotypes or make individuals feel uncomfortable. Before you hold an event at a particular venue, ask about the history of the space and understand if there is anything that might be off-putting to families. Did the venue once have policies that excluded certain groups? Similarly, before deciding on an event theme around a particular culture, engage members from those communities for their feedback. As advancement professionals, we must learn the background and history of practices that are no longer acceptable.
Understanding and celebrating our differences is integral to the fulfillment of a school’s mission, its competitive advantage, and the success of its students. We have a real opportunity to be part of the change that is underway and to support our institutions. We can work with each other to help our schools own their pasts, engage in productive conversations, and not shy away from the important work that must be done.
For more information about BANG, visit https://blackadvancementnetworkgroup.com.