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Friday, September 28, 2018

Lessons from an Extraordinary (Donor) Journey

The #DonorJourney Crew, clockwise from top left:
Guy Mallabone, Sue McMaster, Jenny Mitchell, Stephen Pidgeon
"Do you have time for a quick call? I have a time-sensitive item to discuss with you."

This short message from Guy Mallabone was the start of an adventure that brought me to Halifax, Ottawa, Toronto, Winnipeg and Saskatoon. All in five days.

The Extraordinary Donor Journey, presented by Global Philanthropic Canada, brought together Guy Mallabone and Sue McMaster from Calgary, Jenny Mitchell from Ottawa, Stephen Pidgeon from the UK, and me, the token American, for a curated conference for non-profit organizations across Canada. When we convened in Halifax, it was like being at the start of a school trip--you don't know most of your group well, and you certainly haven't traveled with them!

The pattern began: present the program all day, pack up the stuff as quickly as you can, take transportation to the airport, grab dinner, fly to the next city, slog on to the hotel, rinse, repeat.

Five days. Five cities. What could possibly go wrong?

Everything did not go perfectly. But thanks to the adaptability and team spirit of our mighty band, we thrived and, I think, came to truly care about one another in a short period of time.

While I learned many things from the program content of my fellow presenters, my strongest takeaways are from behind the scenes....
  • How you think about money affects everything. I am grateful that Jenny shared the Sacred Money Archetypes model in her session. Jenny's explanation was, "If money were someone standing alongside you, what kind of person would it be?" Would it be supportive? Judgmental? Petulant? Rebellious? What the conference participants didn't know was that Jenny had all of us do the quiz at the start of the journey. Initially, our call backs to our archetypes were opportunities to tease Guy, but as the week evolved, I found that the context of money mindset was useful in understanding each other and our values.
  • Trust begets trust. In reality, we didn't know each other well at the start of the week. It would have been easy, and expected, to be guarded until we got to know each other. Guy set the tone early, however, because of an unexpected family situation. He had to let down his guard and trust us. His ability to persevere under difficult circumstances led us to not only to deepen our connection with Guy, but with each other. This led to open and fulfilling conversations that I had with each of my colleagues, and I am better for it already.
  • If at first you do succeed, try, try again. Halifax was the first time any of us saw the others' presentations. While the core parts of each of our presentations was the same in each city, we thrived off of drawing from each others' content and making small improvements from city to city. In many respects, we were accepting Stephen's call to focus on "the concept"--how can you think sideways to get at the core message? The chance to refine the same presentation every day for a week was a great way to challenge myself.
  • It can be rewarding to be a sherpa. There's a lot of stuff involved in presenting a conference! At first, Guy carried all the banners and Sue carried all the other materials, but those barriers broke down relatively quickly. Pitching in and helping where needed felt far more rewarding than just watching others do the heavy lifting. By the end of the week, we were "Global Philanthropic sherpas," and proud of it!
As I write this, I'm still in Saskatoon; most every one else has gone home. I am exhausted, but grateful, for the opportunity to spend time with some amazing people. I've learned so much in five days, and hope to have a chance to do this all over again. To Sue, Guy, Stephen, Jenny, James, Steve and Jeff, thank you for an experience I won't forget.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Who "Owns" the Right to Talk about Diversity?

Girl Scouts: I'm the one with the excessive number of badges
I was born in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, to immigrants from Taipei, Taiwan. (How my parents ended up in Beaver Dam, "Home of 16,000 Busy Beavers" according to the sign that was unfortunately taken down in the 90's, is a story for another time.) When Jim bought me an Ancestry.com DNA test as a Christmas gift, my report said that I was 93% East Asian (Chinese) and 7% Pacific Islander, tracing to Taiwan. Needless to say, I am definitely Asian.

While I am genetically very Asian, however, I grew up "ABC"--American Born Chinese. I am basically a girl from the Midwest who grew up and continues to live in communities without much of an Asian population. To paraphrase John Maeda from his 99U interview, I'm a Type O minority. I can go anywhere.

Yet over the years, I've been the one who is supposed to understand "all things diversity."

I've been the token person on a committee or board who is supposed to represent "minorities." I have been asked to speak on diversity issues, specifically, Asian American giving, even though I don't know much about Asian American giving. I've been disqualified for a role because they already have a person from a diverse community and they don't need another.

Since I live in Northern Arizona, where there are far more Hopi and Navajo people than Asians, I've had the privilege of working with several Native American led nonprofits. In many respects, I've come to learn more about Native American philanthropy than Asian American giving. But if I speak about my experiences with my Hopi and Navajo colleagues, does that mean I'm "co-opting" their culture? Or if I speak about Hopi and Navajo culture as an Asian, it's okay, but if my white male colleague does, it's not?

I am incredibly bothered by some people's militant approach to important issues around race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and other diversity factors. I worry that in our zeal to affect change, we are far too quick to disqualify people who can and want to raise up others.

I'm guilty of this sometimes too. Case in point, I was one of the members that was skeptical when nearly one year ago, Mike Geiger was announced as the new President and CEO of the Association of Fundraising Professionals. Like some others, I thought, "Great. We talk about diversity, but we hired a white male?"

But then I had the chance to meet him, and talk with him, and listen to his ideas about addressing diversity, inclusion, equity and access. In less than a year, he has demonstrated a commitment to productive conversations about diversity, and has been a true champion.

Celeste Headlee, author of We Need to Talk: How to Have Conversations that Matter, wrote, "Imagine how presumptuous it is to enter a conversation...to educate someone else about their biases when you are unaware of your own." Assuming that someone has to be a person of color, or LGBTQ, or female, or some other factor to "qualify" to talk about his or her personal experiences with a diverse culture is flawed. We want to have conversations, not cut them off.

Posted on my computer is a quote from Daniel Pink: "Assume positive intent." And I do believe that some people who frustrate me do have a positive intent to enact much needed change. Through LGBTQ advocacy, the Women's March, #MeToo, Black Lives Matter, and many other grassroots movements, we are gradually, finally, giving voice to people for whom it is overdue. But vilifying people when you haven't listened to their story, or just because they are not visibly "diverse," is counterproductive. What's important is to listen and respect each other. We must have conversations that matter to get change to stick.


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