Rhea Wong Consulting



What the FOC? Cultivating Fundraisers of Color

In my career, I've mentored many young people, particularly young people of color, who are eager to enter nonprofit work.


They envision all of the wonderful things they will accomplish: sending kids to college, cleaning the ocean, saving puppies! 


Yes, I say.  All of that is wonderful.  But, if you want a career in nonprofit, learn how to raise money or manage it.


But, they insist, once the world sees how life-changing their idea is then the waters will part and the money will just, you know,  appear.


This is the point at which I nod.  Smile.  And then kill their dreams.


#Realtalk: the most amazing mission in the world is only an idea unless you have resources behind it to make it happen.


In my 15+ years in nonprofit, I could probably count the number of professional fundraisers of color on one hand.


More truth bombs: she who can raise the money has the power.  


So, for my POCs who want to truly make a difference and a career in the social sector, here are 3 truths:


1) Money makes you uncomfortable.

  • Maybe you didn't have much of it growing up. Maybe you don't have much of it now. In any case, you have to examine your own emotional and psychological blocks about money because it's holding you back from realizing your own vision. Get real with yourself about what emotional baggage you have about money.


2) It feels like begging.

  • Fundraising is not about begging. It is about asking people to join you in supporting something you (and they) believe in. It is about developing relationships and asking people to bring their resources to the table. Remember the story about stone soup? You're bringing stuff, they're bringing stuff. You are not a beggar.


3) You are in a culture that advantages whiteness, wealth and privilege.

  • Ah. There it is. The elephant has tiptoed into the room and just sat right on down. The unvarnished truth is that you will most likely have to interact with well-meaning, wealthy white people who have not reckoned with their own whiteness and privilege. Many of them are not woke. You will most likely be subjected to unintended microaggressions. You may feel resentful of having to be in the position of being tokenized or having to educate people. You may be tired of the whole thing.

I don't have a great answer here other than reframing this for yourself.  The donor in front of you is, after all, a person.  They have their humanity just as you have yours.  How can you stand in your own power and your truth and build bridges with their desire to make the world a better place?  This doesn't mean letting things slide, but it may mean keeping the long-game in mind.

The world can be a messed up place.  People believe messed up things, can say messed up things, can do messed up things. 

And yet--being able to bring needed resources to righteous causes is one way to start to right this mess.

At the end of the day, your comfort with power and ability to leverage power for the good of your cause will determine your success as a leader.

It's a game --you either learn how to play it or it plays you.