News analysis: Fundraising wakes up to inequality

A discrimination claim has highlighted the fundraising community's diversity deficit, writes Georgina Lock.

Walk into any UK fundraising conference and you cannot help but notice that the voluntary sector values of diversity, inclusiveness and equality are barely evident.

Most of the people in the audience will be white. Those on the stage conducting proceedings are generally white, middle-aged and male - hardly a reflection of many of the communities their organisations are working to support.

This lack of diversity in the fundraising community was thrown into sharp relief at the end of last month when Antony Francis, a former employee at NCH, was paid an undisclosed sum in an out-of-court settlement after he alleged he was discriminated against for being black and gay.

A key strand of his case was a claim that the NCH fundraising team was referred to by other employees as the "pony club" because of the predominance in it of "white, female, straight blue-eyed blondes". Although the nickname is not one that seems to have leaked out to the rest of the sector - no charity consulted for this article had heard of it - there is a consensus that the imbalances it suggests do indeed exist.

Alarm bells

Although the fundraising community insists that work is under way to address the problem, the fact that only one mainstream charity boasts a black fundraising director (Paul Amadi at Sense) should set alarm bells ringing - especially since so many of the big charities are based in London, where more than one in three residents are from a black or minority ethnic group.

The Black Fundraisers Network Special Interest Group, which is independent of the Institute of Fundraising, was set up in April this year, with Amadi as chair. Last week it held the first in a series of seminars looking at the issues faced by BME fundraisers.

The seminar, hosted by Scope and led by Mide Akerewusi, head of high-value appeals at Scope and a founding member of the network, and Glen Fendley, fundraising consultant, focused on major donors in the black community.

About 30 people, including representatives from Marie Curie Cancer Care, attended the session. Akerewusi, who wants to see a holistic approach to solving the problem, was particularly pleased to see a mainstream charity taking an interest. He is also working with the Institute of Fundraising to develop or enhance codes of conduct to improve the diversity of the fundraising community.

Yet even Akerewusi admits he was shocked by the blatant racism alleged in the Antony Francis case. "It highlights a major issue for the Institute of Fundraising, for the mainstream voluntary sector and the Black Fundraisers Network," he says.

Lindsay Boswell, chief executive of the Institute, said that it is taking the issue seriously. Special interest groups for BME fundraisers have already been set up and the Institute will continue to support those from diverse backgrounds.

Simon Burne, former NCH fundraising director, said he had never heard of the 'pony club', but he agreed that more needed to be done to tackle the lack of diversity.

Burne, now a senior fundraising consultant at Think Consulting, would like to see entry-level fundraising jobs made more accessible to people from BME communities, perhaps in the form of graduate trainee schemes at large charities. He also wants to see more female fundraisers making it to the top of the profession.

The NCH declined to comment on the Antony Francis case but Liz Monks, its director of fundraising, says the charity values diversity and endeavours to recruit and retain a diverse workforce. She adds: "The charity is committed to challenging both covert and overt discrimination, wherever it takes place."

Krishna Sarda, chief executive of the Council for Ethnic Minority Voluntary Sector Organisations, asserts that there is a tacit belief within the fundraising sector that there is a prevalence of white middle-class fundraisers because donors are thought to respond better to them. But he asks: "Where is the evidence for that?"

Divisions

Sarda is concerned that the discussions about diversity in fundraising might further embed divisions. Change from the inside is what is needed, he says, and he echoes Burne's wish to see bigger organisations making a concerted effort to recruit people from BME backgrounds. "We want to see people employing and promoting through the organisations," he says.

"That is the best way to bring about change."

Akerewusi adds: "The voluntary sector needs to wake up to the fact that it operates in diverse communities and must be more reflective of the society we are supporting."

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