Hayley Gullen: We need prompt action on diversity in fundraising

Diversity has not been explored in any meaningful way by the Commission on the Donor Experience, writes the senior trusts fundraising manager

Hayley Gullen
Hayley Gullen

The Commission on the Donor Experience has said from the outset that it’s about changing the culture of fundraising. It is impossible to change a culture without understanding the people who define it, yet the CDE does not address the challenges facing our fundraising workforce. The project’s summary report mentions diversity only in passing, and it is not explored in any meaningful way in Project 14: Getting the Right People as Fundraisers.

This is despite the fact that concerns were raised with the CDE about diversity, my own among them.

In the wider world, many people have spoken out on the subject, including Samir Savant, festival director of the London Handel Festival and Carol Akiwumi, chair of the Institute of Fundraising’s Black Fundraisers UK network.

Talent supply is also a challenge for fundraising teams, which means that widening our pool of candidates is vital. After all, techniques for improving the donor experience are moot if we cannot find the right people to fill the roles.

But what are the deeper challenges that prevent people from entering our workforce?

An acquaintance, Victoria Yuan, the daughter of Chinese immigrants, is a Cambridge graduate who has been working as a solicitor in the City since graduating in 2006. She explains that she has an interest in the charity sector and explored the possibility of a non-profit career, but ultimately chose a different path.

"The concept of charity simply does not exist in China in the same way," she says. "All attention is given to supporting the family. If I were to volunteer for a charity, I would be asked why I was not giving that time to assisting, for example, an elderly relative. The idea of a professional charity job is also relatively unknown in China, and it is simply not seen as having the same level of prestige as professions such as law."

Gurvinder Gregson, an experienced events fundraiser and first generation British-Asian, has similar insights. "The word ‘charity’ can have negative connotations," she says. "When I’m among my own community and I mention that I work for a charity, they often assume I’m either shaking tins or I’m a volunteer and probably have another job."

Although she was passionate about charities from a young age, these attitudes initially prevented her from entering the charity sector. She finally made the move after a decade in a different career.

How can we help others like Gregson and Yuan use their skills to benefit charities? There is no simple answer, but these conversations reflect a real enthusiasm to discuss and address these issues.

So why, if these challenges are acknowledged and people are willing to talk about them, have we seen a lack of joined-up action and interest from bodies such as the CDE?

Savant suggests it might be that people feel disempowered because the problem is so vast. But he says we are starting to see an improvement in terms of women’s career progression within the sector, and the same level of scrutiny needs to be applied to other areas.

He points out that many universities have diverse student bodies and "the IoF could lead a programme of seminars that present fundraising as an attractive, professional career choice, and an enlightened trust could subsidise paid internships for under-represented groups such as BAME groups and people with disabilities".

The IoF is taking forward the CDE’s recommendations, and rightly so: a good donor experience is vital for the future of fundraising. I hope the IoF will also prioritise talent and diversity challenges and take the lead to ensure we have the workforce we need for the future.

Hayley Gullen is a senior trusts fundraising manager

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