By April Walker, nonprofit and foundation consultant
I made the choice to tender my resignation in the fall of 2021, but not for the reasons you may think.
By now we have all endured seemingly endless punditry on the Great Resignation — with economists, employers, and politicians alike all making their case for why Americans need to return to work and what the nature of that work should be. The most recent tally indicates that 75.5 million Americans quit their jobs in 2021. Some are unwilling to return to an office, others are in search of higher wages, and a greater segment is switching industries and taking up new ventures entirely.
As we continue settling into the new year, the atmosphere is heavy with apprehension that the Great Resignation may be here to stay. This reignited focus on recruitment and retention has particularly steep implications for the nonprofit organizations trying to make a case that working to improve society is equitable compensation in lieu of competitive salaries and comprehensive benefits.
Even still, the Great Resignation is too small a narrative to convey the nuanced truths of what it is like navigating this current iteration of the American workforce while Black. Beyond the reprieve that virtual work grants some Black women from microaggressions and bias, there remains a question about Black liberation in a society dependent on our mental, emotional, spiritual, moral, and physical labor.
Resigning was a declaration against the myriad ways I have witnessed nonprofits put revenue before people, as well as an inquiry into how anti-Blackness takes root even at Black-serving organizations.
As for me tendering my resignation in the fall of 2021 — as the only Black leader at a Black-serving nonprofit — the decision was only somewhat fraught. My position as a Chief Development Officer afforded me decision-making power, access to business and civic leaders, and the ability to shape a public narrative around social issues. Even more, it was an arrival at the job security and quality of life my Baby Boomer parents imagined when they sacrificed for my education and future.
And yet, resigning was undoubtedly the best thing and the right thing in equal measure.
There is no hybrid work schedule, title, or acclaim worth the weight of being the only Black voice in leadership advocating for change at a Black-serving nonprofit organization. This nuance is precisely what the larger narratives on the Great Resignation seem to miss, or perhaps outright ignore. Repositioning myself in a workforce of erasure, tokenization, and overwhelm was a necessary evolution, and while the pandemic may have served as a catalyst, it was hardly a deciding factor.
Resignation as revolution
To liberate is to set free, to release limits on thought or behavior.
For those of us who are descendants of the transatlantic slave trade, resignation is revolutionary. This nation exists because of our labor, has amassed wealth on our backs, continues to resist the reparations that are due, and is unmoved by our stress and grief.
Resigning was a declaration against the myriad ways I have witnessed nonprofits put revenue before people, as well as an inquiry into how anti-Blackness takes root even at Black-serving organizations. Collapsing such experiences into a Great Resignation narrative focused predominantly on the recovery and strength of the nation’s economy is the same limited thinking that led millions to accept that they require and deserve more and ultimately hit send on their two-week notice.
Community-centric fundraising invites us to grapple with the root causes of inequity, and to recognize that healing and liberation require a commitment to economic justice. The operative word as we activate our commitment to an equity and justice we have never seen, touched, or experienced is liberation.
To liberate is to set free, to release limits on thought or behavior.
As fundraisers, what does our individual and collective liberation look like, sound like, feel like? How do our thoughts expand and our behaviors shift when we are set free? Where can we release the limits on our approaches, initiatives, and programs?
In the nonprofit sector, such grappling occurs at the unique intersection of social issues, government funding, and individual generosity. I purport that the answers our sector is seeking, as well as the expansive and inviting liberation we all deserve, will be found in close community with the people nonprofits aim to serve.
On the horizon
Wherever you are, whatever size your organization, whatever your mission — the best time to be set free is always right now.
For me, entrepreneurship was its own form of liberation, the ability to work in service to the nonprofit sector at my own pace and on my own terms. And yet, liberation is vast. It can and should show up differently for each of us.
In his acclaimed memoir Heavy, writer and professor Kiese Laymon champions liberation that “has its bedrock in compassion, organization, imagination, and direct action.”
Writer and activist bell hooks shared that “the most basic activism we can have in our lives is to live consciously in a nation living in fantasies. Living consciously is living with a core of healthy self-esteem. You will face reality, you will not delude yourself.”
Let’s learn from Dr. Thema Bryant-Davis, incoming president-elect of the American Psychological Association, who speaks often of liberation psychology as a holistic approach to “disrupt oppression, resist it, and cultivate wellness in the midst of it.”
I have only ever had one consistent battle cry — that Black people would be free to thrive, free to live, free to dream, free to grow old. My liberation is rooted in these truths and others yet to be uncovered. As I author my own manifesto of liberation, I encourage and invite you to do the same. Wherever you are, whatever size your organization, whatever your mission — the best time to be set free is always right now.
May we liberate ourselves from toxic spaces, from environments where learning takes a back seat to being right.
May we cease tolerating the willfully ignorant, the silent, and the uninformed, regardless of how philanthropic or wealthy.
May we no longer build strategies or plans based on what a board of directors will approve.
May we imagine progress beyond what corporations will support and what nonprofits are funded to achieve.
May we build communities that are unapologetic about centering Black joy.
April Walker (she/her) is a nonprofit and foundation consultant, equity champion, and writer. Her ten-year career in philanthropy spans fundraising, consulting, and grantmaking positions at the American Heart Association, Boys & Girls Clubs of Chicago, CCS Fundraising, VNA Foundation, and a Chicago-based philanthropic advisory firm. Born and raised in Baltimore, April’s background in social service administration informs her commitment to advancing philanthropy rooted in racial equity and social justice. In 2021, April founded an equity-centered consulting firm, Philanthropy for the People, to partner with nonprofits, donors, and foundations looking to challenge racial biases, confront power imbalances, and advance philanthropy that centers racial equity. She also serves on the board of Arts Impact and is a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals Greater Cleveland Chapter.