It’s often said that success in fundraising is “All about relationships.”
I say it’s time we stop saying that. Among other things, it’s exclusionary. Your network is a product, by and large, of who you have access to. And networking that fosters success in fundraising is conducted in rooms that can be prohibitively hard to access—you know, because they’re guarded by gatekeepers who, abated by a lack of transparency, tend to open doors only for people who look like them or went to the same schools. How do those who can’t get inside those rooms succeed?
Often, they don’t, because they give up—the challenge before them so paradoxical and opaque as to seem insurmountable.
This sucks for a number of reasons. It holds BIPOC back. But more broadly, it holds back the entire industry, ensuring it doesn’t diversify, innovate, or evolve. The status quo maintains.
So, what is to be done? Well, first, we need to change the way we contextualize “success” in fundraising; to change the status quo starts with changing the conversation.
But that’s really only the start. From there, BIPOC fundraisers should more aggressively insist upon our agency and begin building our own communities—our own rooms in which we can network and begin galvanizing the energy and resources required of accomplishing what we want to accomplish.
We have models to guide us. This is what Arlan Hamilton, who runs Backstage Capital—a firm that invests specifically in women, BIPOC, and folks who identify as LGBTQ—is doing. She’s creating her own avenues for investment and opportunity creation. And she’s killing it. On Republic, the personal investment platform, she just recently made history when, in a matter of weeks, she raised the most amount of money one can raise on that platform—$1 million in equity—not from traditional sources, mind you, but from an incredible 1,619 micro-investors.
It’s what 4.0 Schools is doing, too by way of its Angel Syndicate, “a six-month program and giving circle for Black leaders looking to build our skills, relationships, identities, and collective power as education philanthropists,” as CEO, Hassan Hassan, wrote in a post on LinkedIn.
It’s what creators have been doing for years now on Patreon—building their own communities of fans, then tapping them for support.
These are folks opening their own doors, rather than knocking endlessly on doors likely to remain closed.
As I wrote last year for Fast Company, these kinds of efforts serve to “help Black leaders—who may otherwise be unlikely philanthropists—flip oppressive philanthropic conventions on their face and not only obtain a seat at the table, but learn how to navigate the conversations that take place there.” These are the examples we should emulate in our own efforts to create our own lanes.
There’s another benefit to networking in this way. It ensures the community you build is genuinely supportive—invested in you precisely as you are. As Kevin Kelly once wrote, relationships—be they with fans, philanthropists, or contemporaries—shouldn’t be founded upon “faddish infatuation,” but rather “true appreciation” for one’s abilities and mission.
As BIPOC in a traditionally white space, there are certain obstacles to success and growth that will never totally disappear. Sometimes, you need to fight against those until they fall down. Sometimes, though, it’s smarter to find a way around them. There are ways we can do that together.