By Pear Jam, (alias) is a seasoned fundraising professional whose collaborative, results-driven, strategic planning and execution have resulted in millions of philanthropic dollars directed toward racial justice, immigrants’ rights, education, and food justice causes.

In 2024, I am not wasting any energy on converting people who have no intention of seeing me: “See me and my community or not, we are here – poignant, relevant, brilliant and beautiful, rich and resourceful.”

From the moment I arrived at the organization that tokenized and then fired me in 2023, it was clear that I was the cleanup woman. Staff members’ talk about revoking their own planned gifts, donors going unthanked for years, and unwillingness to ask Board members to give annually, should have given me a hint that I might be chewed up and spit out at this place. 

“When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time,” Maya Angelou once said.

Perhaps the previous development director – also answering to the titles of lawyer, marketing director, and compliance officer – didn’t own her boundaries as a fundraiser. I would protect my zone of genius, I insisted.

Living my grandmothers’ wildest dreams, I updated, merged, and purged outdated and duplicate donor records, evaluated donor trends and history, and crafted a stewardship program that included an annual giving campaign and donor engagement touchpoints. As a newly minted certified fundraising executive (CFRE), I hung up my certificate on the wall to remind everyone they were entering the office of a fundraising professional.

“We don’t like the word fundraising around here,” they said, despite their post for “CFRE Preferred” applicants on the job announcement I answered. “We build relationships.”

“To what end?” I reiterated each time they rejected industry standards-based donor solicitation recommendations that they would have fawned over if my expertise were manifested in a white-presenting body. 

I received regular hints that I didn’t “understand the culture” of the organization while overlooking their cancellations of my check-in requests and insistence on my perpetual “drinking out of the fire hose” as appropriate onboarding.

A few weeks in, the white board that hired me appeared disappointed that I had no mystical Black magic theatrics to produce millions of dollars before year-end. They balked at my invitations to collaborate on regular donor records review, gift history storytelling, and identification of new prospects. No effort was made to include me in conversations revealing their “relationship-building” goals. 

“I’m not impressed by you,” the newly-hired, white, well-heeled, highest-paid person in the office (HiPPO) directly addressed me within weeks of her arrival. My new supervisor, as the HiPPO, was deputized to evaluate my performance and freely undermine me in front of other colleagues despite her lack of fundraising experience. Her derisive looks suggested annoyance that I, as a Black woman without equivalent social status, dared to sit at the helm as her equal in deference. 

“You are one of the highest-paid people here,” she grunted, apparently surprised when it slipped out in a meeting where I was requesting, again, to be updated with abrupt pivots and Board decisions that touched my workstream. Perhaps I was not showing enough gratitude for being permitted to sit at the table.

Diversity Hire?

Months prior to hiring both me and the HiPPO, the organization hosted a DEI training led by an external Black consultant. The result was a chuckling, happy, mostly homogenous room of white people agreeing on their favorite foods and shared love for the local NFL team. 

“Remember, we are all more alike than our differences,” the consultant said, reiterating the thesis of the gathering. That archived video’s date stamp indicates that I was interviewed shortly thereafter, as many PWI organizations sought to distinguish themselves as progressive and woke in the wake of the George Floyd murder and subsequent racial reckoning. 

In the only DEI session that happened – of the three that were promised – there was no mention of systemic racism, imbalance of power, and unconscious bias. Neither was the word “belonging” part of the conversation around building a diverse staff. 

It makes sense that key strategic fund development conversations once I was hired happened with me on the other side of closed doors and that significant stakeholder introductions that would have closed the “organization’s fundraising culture” gap never made it to my calendar. 

Expecting and insisting on buying milk at this hardware store made me look ridiculous. Something needed to happen so that I could move on.

Collecting My Stuff and Finding Myself

Six months after receiving the pink slip, I am still smarting at how much more energy my former employer directed toward offloading than onboarding me. Sufficiently degreed with 15 years as a frontline fundraiser, I expected the same deference given the HiPPO when she arrived – introductions, inclusion, and relevant onboarding. It is still hard to accept that no matter what or how I asked, my request was rejected, not because it was unreasonable but because there was never an intention to support me. Whether intended, the harm to my BIPOC fundraiser soul over the past 15 years and as a Black-presenting body for more than 50 years resurfaced.

“You will never belong, but you can make people respect you,” I had told myself for decades of micromanaging my countenance, acculturation, and assimilation.

This core gaslighting belief pushed me into six months of spiritual coaching by a BIPOC woman who resonated with the work of reassembling my shattered identity as a successful people pleaser.

Manifesting Congruence

In the months following the work separation, I heard my inner daughter regularly asking me whether and how I might keep her safe in future relationships. She also asked whether I still loved her, even though she felt like a failure. Sometimes, we just hung out together in bed all day; other times, I showered her with high quantities of sugar and flour. 

My spiritual coach guided me through grief over job loss, my identity crisis as a dismissed women of color fundraiser, and my sense of self-betrayal while staying at a job that continuously harmed me. I used that time of “sabbatical” to admit that I was burned out and that the only entity in the nonprofit world needing me right now was me. I had rallied so many times over the past decade in the face of a slow, painful death by 1,000 microaggressive cuts. 

Consistent meetings with my coach, supportive family and friend network, my Higher Power, and my inner daughter helped me to unearth core personal values that would guide my future decisions about the job I began in January 2024.

Seeing Me

I am in my first 100 days as Development Director of a Black-centered, Black-led organization, where my voice is celebrated as part of the organization’s health and wealth. Coming home to myself, first and foremost, in the fallout of a toxic work breakup, manifested this. 

Community-centric values of collaboration, partnership, gentle patience, intentional planning, and clear communications are among the shared qualities at this BIPOC-centered non-profit that support my path of healing as a nonprofit fundraising professional. 

I name Black leadership in my new assignment, not to suggest that community-centrism is inclusive of all BIPOC organizations or exclusive of all PWIs, but to reaffirm that I needed an organization that mirrors, centers, and resources my identity as a Black woman in leadership. 

In the Rearview Mirror

2023 started with me as a Black-identifying fundraiser with a chip on her shoulder: “See me and the community that raised me, you racist philanthropic system that categorically denies the true experts and primary change agents equal access to financial resources and grantor trust.” 

In 2024, I am not wasting any energy on converting people who have no intention of seeing me: “See me and my community or not, we are here – poignant, relevant, brilliant and beautiful, rich and resourceful.”

Whether others see me, I see myself. I am grateful to choose each day what I am going to accept and what I am going to change about me.

God, may I do or cause no harm. For all of my seasoned experience, I know fundraising spaces are frequently harmful. I will not be perfect, and we will each fail each other in many ways. Higher Power, Whom I call All-Inclusive Spirit, please grant me the serenity to accept the people running the organization that I cannot change, the courage to change the only person I can change, and the wisdom to know that this person is me. May I breathe into new lessons as I invite and deepen new and existing relationships with staff, Board leaders, network members, volunteers, and donors who are in congruence with our organizations’ values and principles. 

In 2024, Less is More

“Don’t go in there doing the most,” my sister-in-law told me when I announced my new job. “I told you that last time. Don’t do more than is expected of everyone else. Go home when everyone else does.”

Spoken like a true non-fundraiser, my sister-in-law is reminding me that  less is more:

  • Less compulsion yields more boundaries.
  • Less proving results in more rest.
  • Less deference supports more honesty.
  • Less overthinking ignites more activation.
  • Less self-protection allows more self-trust.
  • Less individualism provides more community.

Thanks, Sis. I’m for all that. 

In 2024, I commit to cultivating myself more: walking, reading, writing, and gardening.

I’m taking more space for rest and recovery: more intermittent healing so I don’t have to hit the bottom so hard, resulting in depleted sick leave. 

It’s not a question of being selfish, Nonprofit Leader. Self-cultivation helps everyone, ensuring that the safekeeper is first well-kept. In 2024, I’m going to see myself more. How much more of yourself will you see?

Pear Jam

Pear Jam

Pear Jam’s healing journey starts with decolonizing the self of misogynoir sentiments that manifest as self-sabotage and self-hatred. A lifelong learner, PJ’s contemplative writing, walking discipline, land practices ground them.

As a U.S. Gulf South resident, they remain committed to their own personal and professional development, which includes honoring the power of Black love, faith, and family in the face of generations of racialized trauma.

As a children’s book writer, their fondest dream would be to join the ranks of celebrated Black authors whose books help children to love, trust, and hold safe spaces for their own beautiful reflections.

Seeing every day as a new opportunity to learn, they tend to ask a lot of questions that inform effective advocacy and cause selling. Their love of words infiltrates even during play time — when they’re not crafting compelling case statements, they’re arranging Scrabble bingos for a decisive win. On a beautiful day, one might find them briskly walking the neighborhood, tending their home garden, and most recently, working on their Pickleball returns.