Engaging the next generation of BAME supporters: an interview with Fezzan Ahmed

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Engaging the next generation of BAME supporters: an interview with Fezzan Ahmed

Engaging the next generation of BAME supporters: an interview with Fezzan Ahmed

Fezzan is Philanthropy Officer, BAME Communities, at Barnardo’s with over a decade of experience across the private and voluntary sectors. Prior to founding social change consultancy, Jigsaw House, Fezzan managed several multi-million pound change projects for organisations such as HSBC, the University of Westminster and Battersea Arts Centre. With an educational background in science and a career in banking and philanthropy, Fezzan has gained a number of accreditations as well as receiving a Masters in Community Organising. Fezzan is dedicated to social change, sustainability and diversity.

What are your main responsibilities within your current role at Barnardo’s?

80% of my role is as Philanthropy Officer, identifying, researching, cultivating and solicitating high net worth individuals. The other 20% is BAME fundraising, which involves developing an integrated strategy to create a more inclusive way of fundraising that is representative of multicultural Britain.

It's about cultivating and leveraging our internal organisational expertise. Barnardo’s has an incredibly diverse workforce, with staff from all cultures and backgrounds. We can use their personal experience and understanding of culture and how it plays outside of the organisation to empower our fundraising approach.

There is a lack of diversity in the charity sector - why do you think this is?

This can be broken down into three factors. First, is that engagement with charity or philanthropy in the UK has traditionally stemmed from people of well-to-do backgrounds with time to spare to support those in need. If you look at how that's developed, it's become quite racialized in terms of traditionally white, middle class people, who have the time or luxury to enter the charity sector where it’s more voluntary-based, offering less money. Often the beneficiaries of the work they are doing are from more vulnerable parts of society, a higher percentage of which are people from BAME backgrounds.

The processes in the charity sector in terms of diversity often lags behind corporates. This is due to a lack of resource and capacity. If you look at some of the big corporates, their processes around unconscious bias, diversity, inclusion as well as staffing, recruitment etc, are all in place because they've got money and time to put into them. In the charity sector we’re lacking those resources.

The second reason is that BAME communities are often focused on professional jobs in traditional sectors and think that charity is something that you do outside of your profession. Essentially, charity doesn't have the same meaning as it does traditionally in the UK. There is a community vision of what professionalism is and there isn’t necessarily an understanding that charity is a highly professional sector.

The third point is that it’s not as bad as what everyone says. I'd like to highlight that the charity sector is changing. Barnardo’s, for example, has quite a diverse workforce. Our CEO is BAME and it's a huge charity and a big brand. Often BAME people in the charity sector are CEOs of smaller charities, working hard to deliver services in their community or are lower level or frontline delivery staff in larger charities. Often, you’ll find the BAME contingent of a charity working within the finance or IT departments because of that traditional professional hang-up from BAME communities. In my opinion, empowering those people and hearing voices from those already within the sector, is quite important.

What is Barnardo's doing to encourage BAME communities to consider a career in the charity sector?

When I joined, the first thing I did was work with the team to put on a Black History Month event. We had lots of representatives from across Barnardo's, empowering the voices of BAME colleagues already in the sector and the people we serve as well. The message of the day was that BAME communities have a history of being involved in the charity sector. With Barnardo’s, BAME communities had been involved since the beginning – and we need to be more involved.

That’s part of our BAME strategy – developing these cultural events with the premise that we are encouraging those communities to be more involved at Barnardo's and with the charity sector as a whole. This means we can be more representative of the children and young people we serve.

Outside of fundraising, the charity has a strong commitment to improving representation in our workforce and creating an environment where everyone feels respected and safe to bring their whole selves into work – driven through our equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) plans, as EDI forms a huge part of our overall strategy. An example of the changes we’ve started to make is our name-blind recruitment screening, introduced around 18 months ago – and we also actively encourage BAME candidates to apply in all our job adverts that go out. We have a lot further to go, but we’re committed to making changes and encouraging more people from BAME communities to be a part of Barnardo’s.

Why do you think BAME communities tend to lend their support more to international charities?

That's the traditional view, but if you take the BAME part out of it and just look at the UK, there’s a wider issue around narrative, impact and relative deprivation. The view is that we've got so much in the UK, while often the places that BAME communities come from around the world are relatively more deprived. Therefore, because we're a global society, we look at giving back on a global scale. This view applies to the UK more generally, not just BAME communities. If you then consider that BAME communities have experience of coming from, or hearing stories of those places, there’s an understanding that there are relatively more in need and donations will have more impact there.

Increasingly, people are now looking at the kind of emergencies that we have on our doorstep. Whether that's child criminal exploitation, youth violence, poverty and deprivation etc. BAME is an element of it, but really, it’s a wider societal trend, that more are realising we have problems here to deal with.

In what ways are Barnardo's trying to encourage BAME communities to support more UK-based charities?

Most importantly, we’re reaching out to those communities, using both internal and external experts to do research on communities who are often giving away rather than giving here, to understand how to build compelling asks for them.

A step we often talk about, is one in five of the around 300,000 children and young people we deal with a year are from a BAME background. This goes to show very quickly how you will provide impact and how it's relevant to you.

Barnardo himself was a preacher and a great fundraiser. Often, he would use his sermons for fundraising and would quote the Bible to get people to give to the Barnardo's cause. We're doing the same thing now by looking at the communities we want to bring into the fold, whether it's faith, race or ethnicity based. We then refine those communications to be relevant to those people.

What single factor do you think will impact fundraising most in 2020 / 2021?

I would say leveraging technology, but specifically engaging supporters through digital to be more inclusive of all. If you look at the way algorithms work now, they can understand an audience and their nuances with lightning speed without any assumptions. We often make assumptions about our audiences, particularly about BAME and faith audiences, without considering all the intersectionality around that – be it age, gender, sexuality etc. AI can pick up on those beautiful nuances so easily and tailor those messages - whoever cracks that in the next year or two, I hope they share it!

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