Forging a DEIJ Partnership

For many years, VISIONALITY has faced a major hiring challenge: attracting talent from our local Latinx community. To exacerbate the problem, the more specified our job descriptions are to fundraising, the less likely we are to bring Latinx candidates to final-round interviews.

This problem must be overcome. As nonprofit consultants who serve counties that are almost 50% Latinx, we simply cannot do our jobs well unless the Latinx community has a driving voice on our team.

As we looked around for solutions, we discovered the situation isn’t unique to VISIONALITY. In a 2021 study by the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), less than 5% of American fundraisers who were polled identified as Hispanic or Latinx.

This probably won’t surprise you. Think about the nonprofits you know that are serving people of color. Now call to mind their staff pages – quite often it is the Development positions that remain staffed by white fundraisers, even when the rest of the organization is more likely to be representative of the population that organization is serving.

When faced with such a daunting, industry-wide problem, there’s a powerful inclination to sadly shake our heads and reluctantly move on to other things. After all, there are countless other worthy challenges to tackle, so why not go for the ones within our sphere of influence, right?

But we couldn’t allow ourselves to do that. With our commitment to DEIJ (diversity, equity, inclusion & justice) work in mind, we chose to – somehow! – build a larger pool of Latinx candidates. Dreams of paid internships through our local colleges dazzled us. We would show Latinx undergrads the beauty of a career in fundraising and build a pipeline of local talent.

Except, who had time to run it? How would we structure it? Months passed, and it was going nowhere.

And then I went to an AFP webinar on DEIJ and discovered Armando Zumaya. Armando is building a program called La Vanguardia.  A cohort of Latinx college to mid-career professionals  will learn the ropes of fundraising while striving towards a larger goal: Latinx empowerment in nonprofits. Recreating the wheel in nonprofit-land isn’t foolish, it’s downright harmful. Instead of spreading ourselves thin, we chose to build others up.

Fastforward several months and La Vanguardia is now fully enrolled and ready to launch! We’ve been able to support by doing enrollment outreach and becoming the program’s first financial supporter. But most crucially important to VISIONALITY, we’ve formed a beautiful, budding DEIJ partnership.

Why do I share this? I dread the spotlight and am usually too superstitious to celebrate an early success. But I’m willing to step out of my comfort zone when it comes to DEIJ work. (As our friend James Joyce says, “Get comfortable feeling uncomfortable”.)

So I share our story because partnerships are a powerful and accessible tool in DEIJ work, and I encourage you to build your own partnerships, hopefully with a leg-up from some of the lessons I’ve recently learned:

10 Lessons Learned from Building a DEI Partnership:

  1. Get out there: This partnership happened because I discovered Armando Zumaya at an AFP webinar on DEIJ. Let me be clear, I don’t have time for webinars. But when the topic is right, I make time.
  2. Connect: Follow up was key… after the webinar I researched Armando’s organization, Somos el Poder, and signed up for a webinar they were hosting. There I participated in the Q&A and afterwards messaged Armando on LinkedIn with gratitude for the presentation. The seed was planted, and we were no longer online strangers.
  3. Dive In: We scheduled a first meeting with Armando without any idea of what could come of our time together.
  4. Don’t Be Deterred: The first meeting became a second and third, but when Armando was sometimes hard to reach, I wanted to read into it. ‘He thinks I’m a phony,’ I worried to myself. But I kept reaching out. I connected with his other staff members. We kept moving. Turns out he was not at all thinking every insecurity I felt about myself in this new role. Surprise, surprise, he was just busy.
  5. Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is: We have a budget for our DEIJ work but our proposed contribution didn’t meet Vanguardia’s minimum sponsorship level. Undeterred, we came in as a more informal supporter. No matter what, we wanted to make sure they had a financial boost from us. How we’re listed on their website is not the ultimate goal.
  6. Get Your Team on Board: At meetings with my team, I shared updates on our new partnership. When it became clear we could contribute to their efforts by doing outreach, we made it as easy as possible for my team to participate by drafting email outreach language for them.
  7. Be Patient: When I asked my team how outreach was going, I heard crickets. It was tempting to feel personally let down. Instead, I set up one-on-one meetings, and we brainstormed who team members could contact. The truth is, I’m not sure that everyone participated… and that’s okay! When it comes to DEIJ work – and finding your own place in it – everyone is on their own timeline. I want to make space for that very individual process.
  8. Track Your Work: Because we track our time, we were able to tell Armando we’d done over 15 hours of outreach for Vanguardia. That data is a powerful tool in showing partners how much you’ve given them, even when your “gift” isn’t straight-up dollars.
  9. Celebrate Successes When They Come: We can’t say it enough: DEIJ work isn’t about the finish line. So when a success comes along, take a moment to celebrate. Catalina Solis, an amazing staff member for one of our incredible clients, Community Action of Ventura County, became the first La Vanguardia member from the 805! We are thrilled and incredibly proud to have made the connection. Our team chat was ablaze when we got the great news!
  10. BE REAL: The lessons listed here are not intended to be followed as step-by-step instructions. It worked for us this time, but no doubt our next journey – and your own – will take a different path. What’s important is to be authentic. As James Joyce explained in our recent Building Forward webinar on avoiding performative DEIJ work, being authentic is the difference between performance and permanence. Be driven by your authentic voice as you set out. People can see it in you, and they can see when it’s not there.

If you’ve made it this far into this post, there’s little more I can add, then perhaps to say, ‘Be brave!’ DEIJ work is certainly hard, but never, ever impossible. Find a way. Don’t give up. Think outside the box. Do new things. Meet new people. And consider a DEIJ partnership that will make us all stronger.

For a deeper dive into Armando Zumaya’s work through La Vanguardia, check out our recent Building Forward webinar where he joined us to discuss the program and the importance of Latinx empowerment in nonprofits.