By Debbie Swanson, CFRE
IDEA Committee Chair
I’ve written for this newsletter for about a year now on the value of IDEA. This year, I have vowed to do something differently. Now is the time to simply start practicing it.
You all have heard the statistics – how people of color are undervalued and experience racism, how different gender and sexuality expressions receive less support, how donors who are different than us are often overlooked for giving opportunities based on our assumptions, etc. I’ve done a lot of research and it’s pretty clear what the problem is. So what do we do with this knowledge?
Setting up corporate awareness learning experiences are only a tiny movement forward. Nothing will happen until each of us individually firmly decides – even without knowing exactly how – to operate differently.
For me, that means I vow to be my authentic self and recognize I cannot experience what people different from me experience. I will acknowledge that to them, and will let their experiences be a catalyst for all manner of different ways to do work – good work! What I will seek is what I do as a fundraiser – to be an authentic friend – to know each person well, to be a vulnerable and yet a safe person, especially when others are vulnerable.
As I gain their friendship, I recognize that I will make people who are different from me cringe as I ask dumb questions and get schooled. I offer my apologies in advance, but more importantly, will offer them in person as well, as it sucks for them to be put in that position. I will not deny that I am a white privileged person that simply has chosen to ignore the pain of others for a very long time. My humility is not a salve to others’ pain and honestly I deserve whatever anger and frustration comes at me when I try to learn about others. (Anger and frustration, yes – but it’ll be a hard no on hostility.)
Companies and organizations that have programs to “fix” inclusivity, diversity, equity and accessibility issues will not see much change if individuals don’t want to learn. It’s probably not smart to take those programs away, but we don’t want to fool ourselves easier.
So all I can do is to challenge you, individually, to consider what it really means to embrace and bring people different than you into your inner circle and your friendship. Are you willing to sacrifice? To listen to pain and recognize and acknowledge your part in it? Are you willing to be a force to get others to do the same?
This year, I want to change myself so that people who are different than me are willing take me on as a friend and a colleague and together we can change the world to be a better place. I don’t want to just encourage someone to “try this program” or say “you’d fit doing this.” Instead, I want to walk alongside someone as we both explore how to improve ourselves to be positive world change agents. Only then will the concepts of I.D.E.A. actually gain traction.