Shout, Sister, Shout!: Empowering The Silenced

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I’m thrilled by the response Neutrality in Fundraising has received, and humbled by the conversations I’ve had with individuals about this issue.

But I want to follow up on this limb I find myself on (thankfully with great company) by going out on yet another limb.

Of all the elephants in the room of our sector, there is one that we aren’t talking about straight on yet.

There have been many conversations recently about the idea of diversity in the fundraising sector. These are incredibly important, and I applaud individuals (like Leah Eustace) who have been instrumental in ensuring not only that these conversations happen, but that they create momentum.

As I was receiving emails and messages from fundraisers about my Neutrality post, a very clear theme emerged.

Most were women. All expressed fear in sharing their opinions. Many used words like “safety” and “silenced” and “shunned.” And many expressed that being a woman with feminist beliefs puts them in a difficult place within their organisations. These women feel silenced, shunned and unsafe.

A while back I wrote an article about feminism and the sector – how much of the work we do, whether we label it this way or not – is inherently feminist.

But riddle me this – how many organisations outwardly use the “f” word? I get it, it’s still a polarizing word. But isn’t it interesting that in a field dominated by women, we still don’t feel safe using this kind of rhetoric?

It makes me think of a conversation I recently had with my hero, Tom Ahern, about how fundraisers aren’t given the freedom they need to do their jobs well. We discussed conferences and speaking, specifically, and the fact that no matter how many amazing ideas fundraisers who attend AFP, the Nonprofit Storytelling Conference, and other great learning experiences, come back to their offices with, many of them will not be allowed to implement.

Why?

Fear. We couldn’t possibly tell stories. We couldn’t possible use emotional language to “manipulate” donors. We shouldn’t take a stand on that issue, heaven forbid we offend people.

Let’s just keep quiet, keep our heads down, and do things the old way.

This lights my brain on fire for many reasons.

But I can’t help but make the connection between

  1. The fear of new ideas
  2. The fact that fundraisers don’t have the autonomy to do their jobs
  3. The fact that a large proportion of fundraisers are women

And it makes me earnestly ask the following questions

  1. Do we actually want change?
  2. Are we willing to allow people to work towards it?
  3. Are we willing to admit that the greatest agents of change ARE women?

We’ve figured this out in our programming. Organisations like War Child know that opportunities for women are opportunities for children, families and communities. READ Saskatoon works alongside women of every stripe in the community to empower individuals with the gift of literacy.

So when are we going to make the connection right inside our organisations? When are we going to give fundraisers the authority they need to do their jobs? And when are we going to realize that by silencing those doing this work, we are effectively telling thousands and thousands of women to “be quiet, smile, and do your job”?

This may not be the intent, but let’s get real here. Placing such low value on fundraisers is making a very uncomfortable statement about the value we place on women as professionals.

Have you heard of Sister Rosetta Tharpe? She is the godmother of rock and roll. She pushed the boundaries between sacred and profane – often shunned by her spiritual community for taking her gospel music into gin joints. She pushed every boundary imaginable – a skilled, passionate Black woman who was a master of her craft, demanding to be heard. If you’ve never heard her music, please take a moment to look her up and listen. Prepare to get goosebumps.

What I love most about Sister Rosetta is her fearlessness – something that not only allowed her to shine, but had her go on to be one of the biggest influences on an entire century worth of music. She would not be silenced or shunned or afraid. And she changed the sonic landscape of generations to come.

Shout, sister, shout! Let us create real change.