Development Professionals of Color

Raising money to create social good, for a professional of color, should not have to mean sacrificing one’s humanity. However, based on the special relationship of money and power to development department success – and the deeply entrenched links with racial equity that are so difficult to untangle – you will need to navigate circumstances differently than your white peers.

  • First and foremost, don’t go it alone. Universal advice from professionals with many years in the sector was to look for support, empathy and advice from peers and colleagues, both within and beyond the organization.
  • Attend professional gatherings to learn new material – and to meet your peers from across the field. Don’t rely on webinars, which by their very nature cannot serve this purpose. Connecting in-person with professionally-based communities of practice is vital not only to career growth; it can present chances to learn how others are coping with and addressing a variety of organizational issues and concerns.
  • Seek professional development opportunities that increase your leadership skills. These don’t have to be fundraising focused – everyone wins when you broaden your existing skill set and apply your acumen to further the mission.
  • Take advantage of ways to experience your organization’s program agenda and finances. You will be a better fundraiser with that knowledge, and staff in those departments will be your advocates when they feel that you’ve taken the time to understand and respect their work.
  • As a developing professional, look to broaden your range and understand your strengths, then ask for assignments that help you display them. Make sure to keep your manager informed of your wins and ask external stakeholders to validate you – perception becomes reality. Trust in your value and in the idea that your presence at the table greatly enhances your organization.
  • Be prepared to advocate for yourself. DEI training provides common language and strategies for “naming the problem” in ways that can help the entire organization create solutions for moving forward.
  • Consider providing feedback, if it feels safe, to HR regarding your experience as a person of color in a mostly white environment.
  • Forge relationships with those who can help you. Be proactive in seeking:
    • Mentors: You can have more than one of these. Seek out thought leaders and other subject matter experts within your fundraising specialization – and outside of it. Don’t be afraid to reach out to someone you admire from afar.
    • Sponsors: Are you open to providing and contributing to intergenerational mentoring? Then explore sponsorship within your organization. Find a sponsor who will speak well of you, think about opportunities for you, and will validate you when you’re not in the room.
  • When interviewing for positions, look at board makeup and ask about it. If the board’s composition is not reflective and inclusive of the communities served by the mission area, is there an intention to change that? And beyond good intentions, is there a timeline with concrete next steps and assigned responsibilities?
  • Make sure the place you work is aligned with your values. Your job by its very nature is hard, and you need the psychic nourishment of knowing that, at the end of the day, your labors contribute to a mission you are passionate about.
  • Make time for self-care. This is an important reminder for all development professionals, indeed for all who work in the nonprofit sector. But especially in the context of working in an environment which can be disorienting at best, and hostile at worst, it is critical that you set boundaries, shut the office off, and schedule yourself for activities that nurture and leave you refreshed.
  • Leave the organization if it can’t or won’t improve conditions. The experience of senior development professionals of color shows that as a developing fundraising professional, you can find another position in which you will be supported to reach your full potential as a nonprofit fundraiser.
  • Don’t conclude, based on a particularly difficult professional position, that fundraising is not for you. The capacity to raise money for social change can be tremendously empowering and rewarding. Keep going to find a work environment in which you can manifest your full ability to resource a mission that ignites your passion.

Return to the list of Recommendations


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    NYC 276
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  • The New York Women's Foundation

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