ADRP is pleased to welcome Desiree Adaway to the 2021 Conference. One of the nation’s most dynamic consultants and facilitators, Desiree has more than 25 years of experience managing multicultural teams through major organizational change. In her previous role as Senior Director of Mobilization for Habitat for Humanity, Desiree was responsible for the overall strategy and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) plan for 1,600 U.S. affiliates and over one million volunteers worldwide. Known as an open facilitator, Desiree educates with straightforward, thought-provoking content that allows participants to confront their own biases and find new paths forward.

Desiree, the conference theme is “Big World, Big Ideas.” What is one “big idea” that you’d like to share with ADRP Conference attendees?

One big idea that I’d like to share is the concept that you don’t have to have a safe space to do this work. You need a brave space. I think there are a couple things folks get scared about when they think about doing racial equity work and that is somehow that shame, blame, and guilt have a place in this work. Shame and blame and guilt have no place in this work. The fear of being called a racist is not nearly as bad as letting racist systems continue to flourish. So, if I were to share a big idea it would be that we have to be brave if we’re going to get free. We have to be brave if we’re going to push back against the status quo. We have to be brave for us to make deep meaningful change.

What do you say to nonprofit professionals who feel that DEI is outside of their fundraising mission, and maybe even detrimental to it?

I get asked questions like this all the time—like, you know, it’s not my job to do DEI work, my job is X or Y or Z—and I say that is actually not true. One, it’s important for us to do DEI work, if not externally but internally, because we care about our colleagues. I care not only what happens to them in our workplaces but what happens to them as they’re navigating the world outside of our workplaces. I think it also points to the fallacy that only a certain type of person has money or resources and gets to be called a donor. I always explain that the reality is, if there’s a community that’s over-resourced that y’all are leveraging networks with and tapping for money, that means that there are communities that are under-resourced, and this didn’t happen by accident. This is by design. If I care enough about the problems that a lot of y’all are raising money for, I should care about the people connected to the problems. I don’t see how I can separate creating a world that is more equitable and just from how I show up and build relationships with my colleagues and with my donors and the communities we serve.

You’ve said, “You get the culture you create.” How does equity and inclusion keep our organizations vital and relevant to funders and to constituents?

We do get the cultures we create and the reality is this country is getting browner and younger. And we’re going to have to understand what that means in terms of how our institutions are run and the people who will be our future leaders. Who do y’all see as leaders in fundraising physically? What do they look like? What is their background? What is the avatar for that perfect, most successful fundraiser? Whatever image came to mind, that’s not the future. The future of who fundraises, why they fund-raise and who gets asked to donate, why they’re asked to donate and how they’re asked to donate—all of that will constantly be changing and if you want to be vital and relevant to this sector then you have to change with it.

If you want to hire the best talent moving forward and you want to retain them, then DEI is essential, not optional.

How do we meet and address resistance to DEI in our nonprofits and within ourselves?

We can meet resistance a couple ways. Instead of resistance, we can see it as building accountability, and accountability doesn’t have to be punitive. Accountability is a deep love and connection in kinship, so I only hold people accountable who I care about because I know that what determines my health and safety is deeply connected to others. I hope people hold me accountable because they care about me, because they want to see my growth and evolution. We can also meet this resistance head-on. We call it what it is and we create brave spaces for people to grow. We hold people accountable and we hold them with care and we ask them to come along with us and if they don’t, we let them go because the nonprofit sector is meant to be better than what it has been and what it is now.

It is meant to be a sector where everyone is seen and supported, where our donors see themselves reflected in who speaks to them and who is supported by their donations. The world is changing and we need to change with it or we will get left behind.

This work has to be trust-based if it’s to be done right. I cannot trust people I do not know, and I cannot know folks if I do not understand the history they bring and the complexity of their identities.