Samir Savant explores the lack of ethnic diversity in the third sector, asking why is this the case, why do we care, and how can we begin to right this wrong?
Why are there so few non-white faces in fundraising? It is a question I often ask, coming from an ethnic minority background. For many years, gender balance has been the preoccupation. Although the majority of fundraisers are women, this has not been not reflected at senior management level, although at long last we are making some progress. As reported in Fundraising Magazine last month, half of the fundraising directors in the top 100 UK fundraising charities are women. Now it is time to turn our attention to other minority groups. For the purposes of this article I will focus on ethnic diversity (although there is a need to reach out to all under-represented groups).
Not reflective of society
Sadly the proportion of fundraisers from black, Asian or minority ethnic backgrounds (BAME) does not reflect our society as a whole, and in particular the communities our charities serve or in which they operate. Why is this? Why do we care? How can we begin to right this wrong? These are three questions I will try to explore.
I need to talk first about my personal experience in the hope that it will resonate with anyone reading this who, like me, comes from a minority group. I have 17 years experience as a professional fundraiser, mainly in the cultural sector, with the last ten at director level, and so most of my observations are based on my experiences in Arts & Heritage, which I feel is representative of the third sector as a whole. In this time, I have attended many networking events, seminars, training courses and conferences and all too often, mine has been the only non-white face or one of very few.
As I have progressed in my career to senior management, I have felt even more in a minority. Added to this, the people I have interacted with or worked with, be they colleagues, trustees or donors, have been overwhelmingly white. Although I have never faced direct racism in my work, there has often been unconscious bias, such as older donors asking if I was born in this country.
It has been an uphill struggle, but it has been worth it. Quite apart from the huge amount of job satisfaction that comes with fundraising, wanting to make a real difference, connecting donors with causes they care about, and seeing the impact of your work, I was drawn to this career partly because of my family background. My parents are longstanding volunteers for their local Lions Club, and in my formative years I attended fundraising events with them. This is a common trait in fundraisers, as evidenced by Beth Breeze whose research shows that fundraisers often come from families who value volunteering. I feel that this pull is particularly strong among those from BAME backgrounds where, through faith-based groups or community activities, there is often a connection to voluntary fundraising.
Practical and commercial gains
Why is it important for us to have more BAME fundraisers? Most of us are proud to live and work in a multicultural society and therefore having a diverse workforce is a laudable end in itself. But there are also compelling practical and commercial reasons why we should think about investing resource and time in engaging with under-represented groups. Fundraisers need to reflect the communities they are either helping or raising money from, particularly in frontline or face-to-face activity, where empathy is key and donors or beneficiaries would feel much more attuned to a fundraiser who has the same shared cultural heritage as them.
We know that there is a shortage of skilled fundraisers, and so recruiters would be wise to think more proactively about reaching out to BAME communities so that we get the best talent into the profession. According to Voice4Change England, there are some 15,000 BAME voluntary and community organisations, and it is not a big step to encourage those involved to think about professional fundraising as a viable career.
Finally, there is the possibility of better success in fundraising if donors feel the charities they support are working towards better inclusion. The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra last year secured two of its biggest donations to date (totalling £500k) in recognition of its efforts in this area, having appointed Alpesh Chauhan as its first conducting fellow and Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla as the first female music director.
Barriers to success
In tackling this complex issue, we need, first and foremost, to acknowledge that the problem exists and that we want to do something about it, and then to identify and dismantle all the barriers to success, real or perceived. We also need to have an open discussion about our own prejudices. We probably all like to think of ourselves as open-minded liberals, but unconscious bias creeps in and we need to work hard to counter this.
BAME fundraisers often feel a sense of isolation in their place of work, and no support for specific issues they might face. It is a stereotype, but one based in truth, that most Black and Asian staff working in the third sector are in accounts, IT or facilities. A lack of BAME faces in fundraising leads many potential candidates to think this is “not for them”, and the few BAME fundraisers out there tend to work for charities representing a similar religious or ethnic background, which is not surprising given that this is where they feel most welcome and where they feel they could make the most impact.
Secondly, it is worth looking into the attitudes of BAME communities towards fundraising, so that we are aware of the influences on young people from these communities when making their career choices. Fundraising is often not considered a profession, like law or accountancy, where there are specific training opportunities and established career paths. Many people from ethnic minority backgrounds are involved in voluntary fundraising, and therefore would not think of this as viable paid employment. Some of my parents’ friends, when I explain to them what I do, ask: “what’s your day job?”.
The growing professionalisation of our sector, with an increasing range of qualifications and courses, will help counter some of the prejudice. We should bear in mind that many of the smaller charities that have an appeal for BAME fundraisers might not have the resources for specialised training, and therefore there is a specific investment need here.
The way forward
There is a lot of excellent work already being done, but we have a long way to go in terms of recruitment and retention of BAME staff. The third sector could learn a lot from the commercial world with its success stories around diversity based on commitment of resource and thought, and systematic planning and training. If your charity has corporate partners, why not ask them about their approach, and whether their diversity champions could come and speak about their experiences. I also encourage HR professionals and departmental managers to be aware of the need to support existing BAME fundraising staff, and ensure their voices are heard.
We face a particular challenge around unconscious bias, and I would urge anyone involved in recruitment to think about this. Where are you advertising your vacancy, and are you reaching BAME audiences? Do your candidates feel that your charity is the right fit when they come for interview? Having someone from a similar cultural background, perhaps from another department, on the interview panel, will influence a candidate’s decision. Specialist recruitment companies have a particular role to play by extending their net wider to candidates with non-traditional but transferable skills in order to attract the best talent.
Careers advisers in Higher Education institutions with a high proportion of BAME students are also best placed to promote fundraising as a rewarding and lifelong career choice.
The rich lists of ten years ago are very different from today, with a growing body of BAME philanthropists, requiring a nuanced and culturally sensitive approach. Charities would be well advised to put those with a strong affinity to BAME causes, preferably BAME fundraisers themselves, in front of BAME donors. In 2015, Oxford University’s Principal Gifts office recruited its first fluent Mandarin speaker, and other charities have been quick to follow.
Schemes such as Avocado, to support small BAME-led charities in south London and Birmingham, funded by the Tudor Trust and run by the Institute of Fundraising’s Black Fundraisers UK network, are to be applauded and encouraged, but we need to replicate this kind of activity nationally.
Making diversity a priority
Some funders are coming forward to say that diversity is a priority for them. The Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation’s Centre Stage report recognises the lack of diversity in the theatre sector, both on and off stage, and urges other philanthropic bodies to make cultural diversity one of their criteria for funding. We need more funders like this making brave, bold statements.
If you are a BAME fundraiser yourself, I hope that you feel inspired to do something to make a difference. Perhaps you could start your own group within your area of specialism or charity, or become active within the Black Fundraisers UK network, so that you feel supported and can meet people with similar experiences. If you are an experienced fundraiser, I encourage you to offer your skills as a trustee, mentor or speaker, or just to give informal advice, and to make yourself more visible through LinkedIn, Twitter, or in person at events. We need more role models like you.
In conclusion, there is clearly a need for a decisive call to action from the top, from government, from charity leaders, from funders and ultimately, we all need to work together on this. I hope we can move quickly from broad discussions to planning practical steps to achieve real change. I am very willing and open to talk to anyone who wants to meet with me to discuss ideas for how we can make this happen.
At this year’s Association of British Orchestras annual conference, which had diversity as its major theme, the composer Hannah Kendall set all delegates a personal challenge: “what am I going to do to make a difference?”. If you care about this issue, whatever your background, ask yourself that same question.
Samir Savant is festival director of the London Handel Festival. He is an active member of the IoF's Cultural Sector Network, and will be chairing their 2017 national conference. He encourages all arts & heritage fundraisers and those with a cultural interest to attend.