Tag Archives: Anti-Racism

Navigating subtle meaning of words and feelings

Sitting around the table discussing the meaning of words, their power and how important it was to analyze the context of when and where such words were used was a favourite of my bonding times with my mother when I was growing up. She would share the content of her classes with me, while she was a university professor in my hometown in Ecuador.

Growing up with an acute awareness of the power and meaning of words turned me into a conscious communicator and from an early age, an assertive person. I also learned early on the real meaning of the words chosen by people when they were trying to assert power.

At the same time, that awareness made me shy to share what I really thought in many circumstances, fearing to hurt someone else’s feelings.

I remember being brought into the midst of a conflict between my high school friends to solve their misunderstandings; nothing that a little bit of context, word review and meaning, and acknowledgment of feelings would not solve.

Fast forward to my first newcomer/migrant experience and such knowledge had to be quickly put to use. When I would hear an offensive word directed to me or other racialized persons, I repeated to myself “Isabel, remember the context, and you are new to this context. Keep learning, keep calm, continue to be assertive and move on”; resilience was the end game.

It was not only about the words, but it was also the feeling of uneasiness to which I could not attach a word or meaning. I still had to learn so much about bias and discrimination, and in a different language; English.

Bringing that experience to the fundraising profession is another story. As a street fundraiser, while I studied in Madrid in the early 2000s, I thought I had rejection and bias figured out. When you do street fundraising, you know that rejection can be blunt, but add the layers of your skin, your accent and the context of sub-urban Madrid in my case. Hitting my targets was hard, but I did it! What other proof was needed that I could handle rejection?

That proof was not enough when in England after getting down to the final two candidates for that amazing entry-level position at the high-tech company or the management fundraising position at my dream NFP; over and over and over again, the feeling of uneasiness brought me back to square one and made me feel as though I did not belong.

Or the time when in a major donor steering meeting, as tasks and responsibilities were distributed to deploy the major giving strategy, the director lists them all including that I will be limited to clearing tables and washing dishes in a joking manner.

How about the awkward time spent in a networking event where I actively engaged with people, when I aimed to present myself as a strategic leader, accomplished professional and was looking to identify opportunities for collaboration, but instead could not get past explaining to others about my ‘background.’

It felt like there was little I could do to change those situations I would come across in those exchanges, but internally I was changing, and I was burning out.

It has taken many years for me to attach meaning to the words and feelings that bias and discrimination use to present themselves. And mostly it has been possible because I have opened up and found allies and spaces like the AFP Inclusion and Diversity fellowship where I have engaged with people open to discuss and embrace those uncomfortable feelings.

This fellowship has not only been a catalyst to further attach meaning to feelings and words, but an opportunity to also assess my moving and relative privilege, an exercise all of us should undertake as we navigate diverse communities and societies.

As a fundraising professional, I write and speak to build connections and empathy that call for action towards the causes I serve, but most importantly I communicate to move us closer to transformative change.

With this piece I hope as a newcomer to the fundraising profession or as a veteran in it, you felt connected, especially if you have gone through similar life experiences. Please speak up and share them safely; your story can change others’ stories and help them avoid burn-out.

If my experience seems ‘alien’ to you, but still you believe you are and can be an ally for inclusion, I invite you to exercise respectful curiosity and to step into the uncomfortable zone to explore the relativity of privilege.

I cannot promise you will find all the answers to your curiosity, but you will move out of fear towards a sacred space of acknowledgement of your own and others’ dignity. And along the way, you will make the fundraising profession a safer space where all of us who journey through it can belong.

Respectful Curiosity

One of the most beautiful approaches to conflict resolution that I have heard recently came from a podcast that I listened to, where the host, Whitney Johnson, interviewed Dr. Donna Hicks on the topic of disruption. (https://whitneyjohnson.com/donna-hicks/).

In this exchange, Dr. Hicks shared stories of her experience exploring the concept of how at the core of major conflicts lay a deep sense of lost dignity. Dr. Hicks is a Harvard professor and has studied and led mediation initiatives for some of the most relevant modern strife and wars around the world in the past decades and uses these experiences particularly around recognition and protection of all parties’ dignity to build cultures of trust in organizations today.

This expert talked about the acknowledgment of lost dignity as a first step to build trust towards peace and reconciliation and how ‘we are all guardians of dignity, and we owe it to ourselves, others, and the greater good to educate ourselves in the inherent value and worth of everyone around us in order to flourish.’

During my reflection on the idea of lost dignity, I was also reading and exploring the concept of ‘respectful curiosity’, a phrase that I coined in a conversation with a colleague around the topic of how diverse communities bear a high burden when speaking out to discrimination and injustice. How they seem to be penalized and how important it was that people sitting on the fence of understanding these issues – including me on many occasions – should exercise the practice of ‘respectful curiosity.’

I am still developing this concept but as I listened to that podcast, the idea of honouring my own dignity and that of others, the fullness of what I feel ‘respectful’ meant finally came into place.

In the social profit sector, we all seek to redress injustices, undo systemic wrongs and ultimately honour the dignity of those who we serve.

My journey to understanding the deep-rooted displays of racial, gender and socioeconomic injustices in the Canadian context has just started, and the only way I felt I could begin to learn has been through curiosity.

Yes, reading, listening to podcasts and lectures can help but, how can you feel moved to act and speak up and stand up to injustice when you witness it if you have not connected with people with those lived experiences?

And how can we connect with others when our structures seem so homogenous that the systems we are immersed in, are not conducive to connect with others with diverse lived experiences. There is so much that individuals can, and would do, for example setting up collaborative teams that reflect the diversity of participants to tackle organizational challenges, if this is an individual driving change in one department without structural support and acknowledgement in the ample sphere of the organization this practice will not be permanent. Therefore it is paramount that structures shift to build spaces for diverse connections.

Diversity, inclusion and access to power in our sector will require individual actions and systemic transformation. So as an individual I call you to move to a space of no fear through respectful curiosity and to step up your actions for inclusion because you have the power to change the system.

So be curious and ask the tough questions. What can we do to make our team diverse?. How can we bring in our beneficiaries into our decision-making process and truly represent them?. Do managers/leaders have the skills to manage talent that is unlike them? Why is this person not at this table? How can we all learn about addressing and including other’s life experiences without judgement? What did we learn from a diversity and inclusion initiative that died out?

Through this questioning, you will be bearing the burden with your colleagues from small minorities and as you do this, you will not only be guarding their dignity but yours too.

The Many Layers of Storytelling in International Development

Growing up, the only time I would see kids who looked like me was in charity ad campaigns. Same skin tone and dark hair, but their reality was very different from my own. They were orphaned, malnourished, and the best way to help them was through a donation to [Insert Charity Name Here]. At least, that was the story that the narrator was presenting on screen.

Those ads, along with images I saw in National Geographic or the news, were my first exposure to “where I was from”. As new immigrants settling in Halifax at the time, my parents had to focus on making enough to house and feed me and my two older sisters, so passing on our culture and language couldn’t be their top priority.

But when I was 8, my parents saved enough for what was my first trip to Sri Lanka. It was nothing like what I had seen on TV. It was a world of contradictions. My extended family were living in what seemed like luxury to me, especially in comparison to our small family apartment. And yet, there were also many families or children with nowhere to live. The huge gap between the rich and the poor was apparent on every street corner.

My parents could have had a pretty good life in Sri Lanka, but they left at a time when there was a lot of civil unrest because they were worried for our safety and wanted us to have the freedom to live our lives the way we wanted. Like many immigrants, they sacrificed and left everything they knew behind, for their children. That act of love, and all the privileges that it’s given us, taught me how important it is for everyone to have access to the same rights and privileges, no matter where they live.

On that trip, I learnt that every story has many layers. The real power lies with the narrator or writer of the story, and how they choose to tell it.

As a fundraiser for an international non-profit, my passion to tell the stories of people from around the world has been my driving force. The women and men who have to fight for their rights every day, who are building up their communities and giving their children access to health and education are my personal heroes. And I see it as my mission to introduce and connect Canadian donors to these often hidden heroes.

Storytelling is all about creating that personal connection. And in fundraising, it’s about communicating in a language that the average Canadian will understand, focusing on the need, and making sure the donor understands the impact that their dollars are making.

But because of my own story, I can see that extra layer to our storytelling that often gets overlooked. The stories we choose to share with our donors in international development not only represent the people we work with, but they can also unintentionally represent the immigrants from those countries who have built their lives in Canada.

With repeated exposure to our fundraising content, and a lack of other content in the media, our stories come to define the Canadian understanding of immigrants who have come from the countries where we work. By simplifying the message so that our donors will understand the need, we are also simplifying the life stories and experiences of these immigrants.

At a time when the “other” is so often discarded and misunderstood, we can be unknowingly perpetuating stereotypes that so many of us are constantly fighting against. In addition, we are also turning away potential donors. A study by Statistics Canada in 2010 shows that immigrant (and diaspora) communities are more likely to give than those born in Canada. But if they find that the stories told in international development don’t fully represent the realities of their countries of birth, they may choose to find other organizations to engage with or other ways to give back.

Fundraising is all about testing, and the final decision usually lies with what our donors respond to. But should we always play to the majority in order to raise the most funds? Or as leaders in improving our societies, can we also find opportunities to educate, and help our donors better understand the complex issues facing people around the world?

I believe that as storytellers, we need to take the time to consider the larger effect of the stories we tell. Our sector is changing, and as our donor base continues to become more and more diverse, there is going to be a need to not only have these conversations, but to reconsider how we frame our stories.

How to Create a Diversity and Inclusion Strategy at Your Small Non-Profit – Part 2

In my previous post, I talked about how to plan a diversity and inclusion (D&I) strategy at your non-profit. In Part 2, I’ll continue with the next step: implementation. My goal is to share what I learnt when I organized a day of training for the staff at my organization.

7. Choosing a facilitator

D&I facilitators can be an invaluable resource, bringing expertise and an objective voice to the process. A facilitator can help to address recruitment policies or conduct staff training on concepts like unconscious bias and allyship, and any number of D&I initiatives (see Part 1). For a small organization, finding the right facilitator is a critical step that deserves time and attention.

Over a four-week period, I interviewed four facilitators; each had a different approach to the topic and the fees ranged widely. You’ll want to choose someone who can customize their approach for small organizations. Organizational culture has vastly different dynamics whether you have a staff of 200 or a staff of 20. In a small non-profit, the hierarchal structure is more flat, so interpersonal dynamics have the ability to affect more individuals.

Seek a facilitator who is curious about your organization’s specific issues, rather than one with a boilerplate presentation more suitable for corporate clients. Find someone who will spend time learning about your organization’s culture and recent practices to unearth where conversation is needed.

8. Practicing good listening

During the process of interviewing colleagues or conducting training, you may hear of experiences in the workplace that caused discomfort. It’s important to listen with intent and care, and to validate what you’re hearing. Think of how best to reflect this feedback and ask your colleague what they would be comfortable sharing. Just in case it’s needed, become familiar with existing whistleblower or harassment policies as well. You don’t want to circumvent an existing process, and should be able to direct your colleague to the appropriate supportive channels, if it’s appropriate to do so.

9. Rooting out white privilege and colonialism

The path to an inclusive and equitable workplace takes a great deal of care and attentiveness. What aspects of your culture might need to change, in order to become truly inclusive? How do you run meetings and who gets to set agendas or take up space? Does the organization reflect an authoritative or participatory decision-making model? Because systemic bias is hidden, it is expressed in the workplace in surprising ways.

Try to identify the ways in which the organization is unintentionally replicating the legacies of white privilege and colonialism. The following are some examples of how people can be excluded from the conversation:

  • Implementing projects in a top-down way
  • Allowing only certain people to voice opinions
  • Being intolerant of the different ways people respond, and of the different opinions they express
  • Diminishing the emotions of those who may be sharing difficult stories that make others uncomfortable
  • Placing the burden on marginalized people to edit or censor their views in order not to upset non-marginalized folks

These types of exclusion can increase tension and conflict by encouraging “us vs. them” thinking. You can help by reminding your colleagues that creating an inclusive workplace, where individual voices are respected and heard, is something everyone will benefit from.

10. How not to go public

D&I work can lead to visible changes in your organization, and you may consider how to communicate these changes to your constituents and stakeholders. It’s a good idea to think carefully before making public announcements about your work to promote equity. If the changes are meant to address an organizational imbalance (and many efforts to increase diversity are), then you could be taking credit where it is not due—and replicating colonial behaviour in the process.

Take the recent example of Starbucks, which was thrust into the spotlight last year when two Black customers were arrested while waiting for a friend at a Philadelphia store. It was a clear example of racial profiling, and the company responded by announcing that all 175,000 employees would undergo unconscious bias training, closing more than 8,000 stores across the US. As far as publicity stunts go, it was a singular and sweeping act. But many people questioned just how much lasting change could occur in just four hours of training. In the end, the costly campaign was interpreted as a symbolic gesture at best, empty of the meaningful change that would lead to more a genuinely equitable space for both employees and customers.

This case raises the question of why organizations release public statements about equity initiatives. They may anticipate a positive shift in public opinion or the benefits of a brand lift. But should they take credit for creating a more diverse or inclusive organization if this change replaces a policy that marginalized others? This kind of PR strategy is less common in the non-profit sector, where publicizing diversity initiatives could be seen as self-congratulatory, but all organizations must nonetheless take care to avoid promoting diversity initiatives in a way that ultimately undercuts the effort itself.

All this to say, there is no easy answer to the question of how best to communicate or publicize equity work. For my organization, it wouldn’t be beneficial, but for others, it might be.

This nuance is inherent to D&I work and is what makes it challenging. As with any potentially ambitious project, we narrowed it down to smaller, bite-sized ideas that made it feel more achievable, and gave ourselves a generous time frame, which allowed for slow and deliberate consideration of the issues.

To be honest, I was not always able to clearly distinguish what we wanted from what we could realistically do—there were many possible directions to pursue. In the end, it was through a collaborative process of listening to and folding in others’ ideas that drove the process forward.

I believe that those of us in smaller organizations have the opportunity to lead the way to social justice through diversity, equity and inclusion. We already have many of the skills required to navigate the challenges.

Small non-profits are already accustomed to change as a part of our internal culture. We’re nimble, entrepreneurial, collaborative and receptive to a more inclusive workplace that respects everyone’s roles and opinions. All these reasons make change not only possible, but palpable.

Caroline Chan
Sr. Development Manager, Canadian Art
2019 Fellow, AFP Fellowship in Inclusion & Philanthropy

Questions/comments: [email protected]

To learn more, I recommend reading Deep Diversity: Overcoming Us vs. Them by Shakil Choudhury.

Allyship and Solidarity Work in the Not-for-Profit Sector

Acts of charity can be degrading, racist and harmful, but they don’t have to be. Using my own experience as a point of reference, in this piece, I discuss allyship, solidarity work, and the importance of listening (really listening) to those who we seek to help and to serve in the not-for-profit sector.

I first learned about the concepts of allyship and solidarity work as a graduate student at the University of Ottawa. This was back in 2013, a year after the murder of Trayvon Martin and a year before images of a smiling, confident Michael Brown, clad in a green graduation gown and cap, filled our screens and shook our conscience. Black men’s lives were being stolen as a result of on-going systemic anti-black racism. Cities were ablaze. Movements were being born. And Professor Shoshana spoke about white allyship in anti-racist struggle.

It was an evening class, 6:30 pm to 9:30 pm, as most of my gender studies classes at the University of Ottawa tended to be. The topic of discussion was allyship and feminist work in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement. During the lesson, Professor Shoshana spoke about what it meant to be an ally and how to be an ally. She explained that allyship is a key part of solidarity work, and as with most things in life, there is a right way, and a wrong way to be an ally. This is what I learned.

What it Means to be an Ally

To be an ally means to step back, and to stand back and to listen. It means understanding that marginalized groups are in the best place to determine their own needs. It means creating space for groups who have traditionally been silenced and left out of the conversation. It means standing besides, or better yet, standing behind those who are marginalized. It means knowing the difference between speaking up against oppression and injustice and speaking for those who face oppression and injustice. The former is encouraged; the latter is not.

Allyship means learning, unlearning, and re-learning. Learning about the struggle, pain and oppression of others. Unlearning oppressive beliefs, practices and behavior. Re-learning history, politics, and culture from the point of view of the oppressed. I once read a British history book about Kenya. In the book, they referred to the Mau Mau as terrorists, and because they were terrorists, the violence exerted on their black bodies was justified. The Mau Mau were not terrorists. They weren’t saints (there are no saints in war). But they weren’t terrorists. They were freedom fighters. If you only read one history book in school, and it happened to be the one written by the colonialists, the victors of war or the power-wielders, your learning would have been incomplete – if not flawed.

At the heart of solidarity work, is allyship. That’s what Shoshana was getting at. And true allyship requires one to listen.

Charity and well- meaning acts can be degrading and harmful

There was a time during the Black Lives Matter marches in the US when white allies wanted to lead the peaceful protests as an act of solidarity. They asked if they could lead and they were told by the black BLM leaders not to lead because their place was not at the front. It was not their voice that needed to be heard the most. It was not their faces that needed to be seen. What did the white allies do? they listened.

I have worked in the charity sector for several years, and I have been a recipient of charity at least once.

Charity as an act (the act of voluntarily helping those in need) in and of itself is wholesome. Divorced from solidarity work, however, acts of charity can be insulting and even harmful.

When we first moved to Canada, my family joined a local club as a way to meet new people and connect with the community. One lazy Sunday afternoon as we sat at home doing nothing in particular, the doorbell rung and I answered it. Standing on the other end was a woman we had come to know at the club. She spoke fast and looked embarrassed as she stretched her arms out to hand me a bag. “Please don’t be ashamed” she said. “We know you could use these winter coats, the people from the club put them together for you”. As though they were fire and we were fuel, she quickly placed the bag in my hands, dashed back to her car and drove away. We didn’t need winter jackets. We hadn’t asked for them. We didn’t mind them but we didn’t need them. We were grateful. We were confused. I was ashamed. What made them think we needed their winter coats? Why couldn’t she look me in the eyes as she dropped them off? We stayed with the club for five more years and then moved towns and moved on. We still visit with the group when we are in town. They are good people, and they mean well.

There are a lot of good people in the not-for-profit charity sector who mean well. I’ve heard oppressive narratives delivered with sincerity. I’ve heard money making narratives that rob the dignity of others but that get people crying and people giving. I’ve also seen shame on both sides. And guilt. And this is the antithesis of solidarity work. But charity doesn’t have to be.

At least that’s what I got out of Shoshana’s class.

Jonea Agwa is a Fundraising and Communications Coordinator by profession and a proud African woman by heart.

Truth and Reconciliation and Philanthropy, AFP Inclusive Giving Fellow perspective

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada over a six year period heard testimony from over 6,000 Residential School Survivors from across Canada. In 2015, the Commission released their final reports and 94 calls to action. It is estimated that 150,000 Indigenous children attended the 80 residential schools in Canada. My mother as a young child was forcibly removed from her community and placed in residential school until she was 16. She passed at the age of 49 and I know that she had never fully recovered from her experiences of residential school. Although my family has been directly impacted by the legacy of residential school, we are still strong and resilient. I see this strength and resiliency in Indigenous communities all across Canada.


Left to right: Ry Moran, NCTR Director, Sharon Redsky, AFP Inclusive Giving Fellow, Joan Blight, Strategic Philanthropy and Laver Simard, NCTR Project Manager.


I do believe that the truth about Canada’s history with Indigenous people is important to share and we all have a role in reconciliation, including the philanthropic sector. As stated in the Honouring the Truth Final report, that reconciliation must inspire Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples to transform Canadian society so that our children and grandchildren can live together in dignity, peace, and prosperity on these lands we now share.

As an AFP Inclusive Giving Fellow, my goal is to encourage the philanthropic sector to support Truth and Reconciliation calls to action and build a better future for the generations to come. I am encouraged by other AFP fellow members, who have shared with me what their organizations are doing to respond to the TRC’s calls to action.

Wondering what you can do, here are a few suggestions. Be an ally with Indigenous people in addressing inequalities and create spaces for voices to be heard, provide resources or help fundraise for Indigenous led initiatives, and promote the work of Indigenous agencies. Another other way to support the Truth and Reconciliation is to financially support the National Truth and Reconciliation Centre, which was created to preserve the memory of Canada’s Residential School system and legacy. Not just for a few years, but forever.

I had the pleasure to visit the NTRC, along with my AFP mentor Joan Blight. We met with Ry Moran, Director and Laver Simard, Project Manager. I learned so much about rich history, the sacred reasonability to hold onto the truth and their vision the future. As I travel this journey, I will continue to learn and be inspired by spirit and intent of the Truth and Reconciliation.

Sharon Redsky is AFP Inclusive Giving Fellow and development coordinator with Dakota Ojibway Child and Family Services.


How to Create a Diversity and Inclusion Strategy at Your Small Non-Profit – Part 1

Photo: Toronto’s Don Valley, November 2018

If you’re like me, you work for a small non-profit organization where the lean realities of funding mean that there are limited resources to devote to diversity and inclusion (D&I) work.

It’s not the easiest kind of work but I believe that diversity and inclusion work is some of the most rewarding work an organization can invest in. Not only are there numerous studies and reports that prove diversity in staff leads to more productivity, but organizations that live the values of inclusion, and do the work to redistribute power and privilege to more people, become better equipped in every way. One recent study suggests that inclusive organizations make better decisions as much as 87% of the time, and at twice the speed.

Most meaningful, to me, is that inclusivity is a practice that aims to encompass the full and expansive range of human diversity in the workplace, including ability, language, culture, gender, sexuality, age and class. It moves away from the traditional, corporate model that is based on a top-down model of authority, as well as on a socially conservative mindset that tends to favour binary thinking (e.g. white/not white, male/female).

In this three-part series, I’d like to share insights I’ve gained from developing a D&I initiative which will result in a customized training session for staff conducted by a local facilitator. As I lead my organization through the process, I hope to share what I’ve learned.

In this part of the series, Part 1, we’ll review the planning stages of a D&I strategy.

1. Is there organizational readiness?

Having great ideas only gets you halfway there. Before you make that pitch, take stock of where the organization is. Are there signs that leaders and colleagues would be open to D&I and already know why it’s needed? Have efforts already been made to address issues of inclusion in your programs? You need to know that others already get the basic concept of systemic and organizational bias and are ready to take the next step.

2. What kind of initiative is most needed in your organization?

Diversity and inclusion can be, at first, an abstract concept that can seem difficult to translate into concrete action. Here is a list of the types of practices that larger organizations with formalized programs have adopted:

  • Recruitment techniques for diversifying staff
  • Anti-harassment and anti-bullying policies
  • Accommodation policies to support health or other needs
  • Unconscious bias and allyship training
  • Pay equity audit
  • Mentoring programs for diversity groups
  • Disability access initiatives
  • Respect for religious observances

3. One size does not fit all, a.k.a. try not to Google it.

When I started this process, I reached out to an established gender equity consultant for her advice. She convinced me that the delicate nature of the work means that you cannot simply apply a “best practice” model. Changing workplace culture means examining the specific legacy of your organization and then considering the unique mix of people who each bring lived experiences to bear (also see #5). What works for one organization shouldn’t necessarily be replicated in another.

4. You’re in the business of changing culture, which means changing minds.

It’s not going to happen overnight or with one day of training. It’s a process. Approach it with patience, perseverance, lots of optimism and compassion for people (even yourself!) who may find the process challenging.

5. Be collaborative.

You need buy-in from colleagues as well as folks in leadership positions. It also seems obvious to mention, but yes, you need to have an inclusive process as you work towards inclusion! Seek input from staff at every level in order to design a program that, most importantly, involves the people who will essentially be doing the work, and isn’t following a cookie-cutter approach—or worse, is seen as a top-down, make-work project. Ground yourself and others by asking the question: why this group of people, now? And tie it to the organization’s vision or priorities to maintain clarity around the outcomes.

6. Consider how best to seek input.

Another D&I consultant I spoke with advised me that staff may withhold certain feedback if it’s a colleague that they are sharing the information with—even if they have a great relationship with that person. This withholding may result from the assumption that the feedback is being shared with leadership.

You might consider sending an online survey that guarantees anonymity, for instance, and allow individuals to have the option of following up in person with you—or have a D&I facilitator handle this stage for you if it is prior to a course of training. Ask open-ended questions, such as “What would make this a more inclusive workplace for you?” and piece together common themes that emerge from the answers.

In Part 2 of this article series, I will list five more steps to a successful D&I strategy. These include how to navigate difficult conversations; how not to publicize your D&I program; and more.

Thanks for reading.

Caroline Chan
Senior Development Manager, Canadian Art
2019 Fellow, AFP Fellowship In Inclusion & Philanthropy

Exotica: Sex and race in face-to-face fundraising

Cover Photo by Drop the Label Movement on Unsplash.

“But really, where are you from?” – that dreaded question I often received when meeting donors in my first fundraising job. I had begun in the role feeling like I had finally found my path, like I could do anything.

I lost that confidence quickly when I learned that many of my donor meetings would start with this inquiry or versions of it, like “have you lived in Canada all your life?” or “where is your home?”. “Toronto” would never suffice. Sooner or later I would give in and tell a story, expecting my counterpart to be satisfied, allowing us to move on. I waited for my chance to ask about their passions, their connections to our cause–like a good fundraiser should.

Instead, my responses almost always led to a larger conversation about the donor’s trips to Asia, with more questions about my origins, which languages I speak, and even more whys and hows and whens. I often left confused, wondering where I went wrong and how I could have changed the narrative. Over time, I got better at redirecting these comments and questions, but they remained ever-present.

I soon learned that interactions like this would be just a part of the picture. They would become coloured by the universal and often unspoken language of sex.

I’ve met several donors who have sexualized or romanticized my experience with them. One who only took after-hours meetings with me, as though they were dates. Another who sent me emails praising my beauty, and asking for personal meet ups and favours unrelated to my job. Another who repeatedly called me, asking if I was married and what religion and ethnicity I held.

My worry about these moments today is not that I sometimes experience them, but that they are plentiful. A rite of passage for many female or racialized fundraisers. So many of us have anecdotes and stories–one in four according to the research. Yet we remain quiet; we think they are too small or that it’s all in our head. We don’t want to seem like complainers.

In the age of #MeToo, our sector is leveling up to speak more about unwanted attention and sexual harassment, as we have witnessed so recently at AFP Congress 2018. Female fundraisers often bear the brunt of these interactions; the power dynamic between donor and fundraiser looming over our heads. When you are trying to make goal, the question of how many unwanted flirtations you are willing to endure is a moving target.

It’s not my place to prescribe what is the best way to react in these situations–there are too many contextual factors at play; your sense of safety and willingness to deal with confrontation among them.

However, I do call upon my fellow fundraisers to bring these conversations into the limelight, without fear of reprisal. We must share our experiences with one another, to help each other understand and respond. Team leaders need to remind staff that it is safe to disclose such interactions. Because sometimes we need to give voice to what is inside to realize it’s not just in our heads.

This article has been co-published with Hilborn Charity eNews.

“Did he just say that?” – surviving racist comments in the workplace

The sad truth is that when someone in the workplace throws a racist comment at you, all the brochures and flyers and seminars on racial harassment fall to the side.

All those words of encouragement and hope, the very self that you’ve built to handle the barrage of abuse that waits for you on the streets and in the mouths of politicians, crumbles.

On the streets, you’d scream something back …depending on whether you’re outnumbered or outgunned.

But within a workplace, you’re neutered under the all-seeing eye of the employer.

Like an object, you stand there, unmoving, wondering if your ears have deceived you, or whether you’re just not getting it – the joke, the reference, the playfulness. There is no room for error, and your fight or flight response is in overdrive leading to something much worse – freezing.

And you start to think, and wonder.

“This can’t be real. This can’t be happening to me.”

And the mind starts to spin.

“What do I say? What should I say?”

And as the seconds pass, the situation demands a response, a response that more often than not, isn’t what we wish to say.

A mumbled apology.

A fake attempt at being non-threatening.

Or maybe even laughing at your own kind.

We curse the day. Curse having gotten out of bed. Working at some charity where a board member or lead volunteer or staff member or donor can go about unpunished and unscolded for hurting us. Because while we save the cause, while we put our lives on hold for the charity, no one is coming to save us.

You might say: “racial is different than racist. Shouldn’t we have a space for humor, and perhaps even laugh at our differences?”

Agreed. But we have to laugh together.

The reality is that there still exists both explicit and subtle forms of racism that exclude and discriminate. They can often be hard to identify and define, and often difficult to prove.

This text isn’t about defining racism.

Racism is felt.

Racism is experienced.

Racism freezes some of us till we want the earth to swallow us up.

And when you feel that in your gut, go with it, because that’s real.

You might say: “but my employer has grievance procedures, that’s where everything will be resolved. Why did you even write this guide?”

  1. Because grievance procedures are a liability issue for the company – rarely for fairness;
  2. Because grievance procedures back down in the face of the millions of $$$ represented by a lead volunteer or donor;
  3. Because grievance procedures, sometimes, were authored by the very person they need to be used on.

You might say: “this is an education issue. Have more seminars or on-site training, that’ll solve it.”

Harassment education focuses on the aggressor, the perpetrator. The belief is that if education reaches a saturation point, all harassers will “get with the program.” While commendable, it’s also a bit naïve and idealist, given the reality that harassment hasn’t disappeared.

You might say: “but you’re being thin-skinned about this, needlessly sensitive even. Life is about having people throw stuff your way, and your duty is not to allow them to lessen you.”


What I’m focusing on is how we can prepare to protect ourselves in the moments we need to most.

Without losing your job.

Without fearing repercussion.

Without losing your self respect.

Without being called difficult or threatening.

Without letting your self crack.

To hit the ball back and see how the other person reacts.

I wish this article were longer, I wish I had more to say.

But article after article, book after book, focus on only the aftermath of the incident, as if the completion of a grievance procedure, another signed declaration will emancipate us from the pain we carry with us.

There are 2 very different approaches, each tailored to the personality of the deliverer, as they face down their aggressor:

  1. Look them straight in the eyes, don’t smile, don’t blink, and say: “I hope you’re making a joke (PAUSE), but it isn’t funny at all”. STOP SPEAKING. Based on the reaction of the other person, either they’ll own up to it, or double-down. This is the heavier approach.
  2. Throw the widest smile you can on your face, grin from cheek to cheek, look them in the eyes and say: “That’s funny (PAUSE) why would you say something like that?” In most cases, the other person stumbles for their words. This is the lighter approach.

I’d love to add to this list…Please email me at [email protected] to share your thoughts so we can continue the conversation and improve our collective resilience. I promise to update this article with any incoming suggestions.

More about me: https://www.linkedin.com/in/khalilguliwala

Highlights from my Interview with Tanya De Mello, Equity and Diversity Officer, University of Toronto Scarborough

Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking with Tanya (Toni) De Mello, Equity and Diversity Officer, University of Toronto Scarborough on her role at the university and her insights on how an organization could become more inclusive.

Tanya De Mello works closely with the Tri-campus Equity Officers to promote inclusion and accessibility within the learning, living and working environments for faculty, staff, and students. On a day-to-day basis, she identifies and fields diversity and equity concerns, delivers training and educational events, and makes recommendations on organization-level strategies / policies / processes to create a more inclusive environment.

Highlighted below are some of the D&I initiatives at the university over the past several years:

Int’l Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

This campus-wide event boasted the highest engagement of faculty and staff with students in conversations around race on campus. Over 150 people actively participated, Dr. Thembela Kepe gave a keynote speech on his story of surviving apartheid, and several international and local artists from the diaspora and indigenous communities performed theatre, dance and poetry. The dialogue opened up a conversation where university administrators were able to hear ideas from students about ways in which to tackle questions of race and representation at the university. In the last few months, the University of Toronto has announced a Diversity Internship Program to recruit more racialized candidates, the creation of affinity groups for racialized staff, and the collection of demographic race-based data to get a better sense of representation by race.

Washroom Inclusivity Project

In these two projects, Tanya worked as the lead on her campus to engage faculty and staff (including unionized custodial staff) to identify accessibility features of washrooms and change rooms on campus that would enable diverse communities to have better access to washrooms. For example, disabled communities, parents with children, people that wash before and after prayer and many LGBTQ community members who may struggle with the way washrooms are currently equipped. The Washroom Project sought to understand these needs and gaps better and begin the process of building more inclusive washrooms. For this work, she was awarded the Excellence Through Innovation Award in 2016. Within months of the project, the University of Toronto Scarborough Campus installed change tables in the bathrooms of the two most used building. The university is currently examining the slow conversion of several bathrooms in order to make them gender neutral washrooms.

Outburst! Young Muslim Women’s Project

The Outburst! Young Muslim Women’s Project is a community-centred response to the increased focus on violence against women in Muslim communities. People often speak about the women in Muslim communities, but not with the women themselves. Formed in 2011, the project is a movement of young Muslin women in Toronto to break the silence and to speak out about the violence. The group came together to shape the conversations about violence in the communities and to define safety needs within institutions, such as mosques, school, housing, child welfare. As a result of the project, staff and interested faculty at the university will be provided with culturally sensitive training while peer leaders were created to provide resource-information and support. More information on this project can be found at http://outburstmovement.com/

The following were some insights that Tanya shared on how to become an inclusive organization:

  • D&I has become a trendy topic and everyone wants to do it because it is the “thing to do”. It is important that there is real commitment to long-term organizational culture change, and not just an exercise in tokenism.
  • D&I is an intangible topic. Many organizations are focusing on using numerical metrics to measure their progress (e.g. the number of women on the senior leadership team). However, to make real progress, we need to look at both quantitative and qualitative data such as “sense of belonging” that could be garnered through satisfaction surveys.
  • Strategies that an organization can employ to become truly inclusive include:
    • Embedding D&I goals within the organization and each staff member’s performance plan.
    • Creating D&I champions in each department instead of having one representative across the entire organization. Oftentimes D&I issues are not considered if the individual is not at the table.
    • For universities in particular, ensure that faculty and staff are reflective of the student population. This is not generally the case in universities across Canada.

More information on the D&I work at the university can be found at http://equity.hrandequity.utoronto.ca/