From the desk of Aimée A. Laramore
My life is surrounded by visionaries of faith. Throughout my career I have watched brilliant people launch innovative ideas, an experience that can be both exhilarating and exhausting. I have come to learn that the investment required to bring these ideas to fruition is extensive, often leveraging the skills, talents and abilities of a full team of individuals that are behind the scenes giving life to the vision. As a member of these fabulous teams, for the last 15 years I have worked first hand to shape the conversation about the fundraising, philanthropy and necessary resources to fulfill vision. Hello, my name is Aimée, I am an African-American woman, a proud Generation X rebel and I am a fundraiser of faith.
Admittedly, I’m not certain why the launch of a new visionary idea should illuminate so many new lessons and concepts at this season of life. When I joined the team of individuals dedicated to exploring fundraisers in communities of color and fundraising practices that celebrate the differences across denominations and demographics, I expected the experience to mirror my affiliations with the visionaries of faith that have shaped my career. Extensive face-to-face conversations about faith, fundraising and communities of color produces something much different. What I now realize is that we are entering new territory and I have never been more excited.
Without the embedded framework of a specific institution, the launch of the Collective Foundation has the energy of a start-up church and the work ethic of a Silicon Valley tech company. Years of conversation, exploration and inquiry led us to design a research project that would shine the light on faith-based fundraising in communities of color, largely by fundraisers of color. Unlike my previous assignments, I entered into the role of facilitator with a blank slate of expectation and more butterflies than I ever expected. When I entered into the sacred space of our first gathering, I realized that the individuals gathered around several tables were willing to trust us with their stories, their experiences, their questions and their hopes for the future. Within minutes of the opening prayer I watched the cautious inquiry and responses give way to a brand-new comradery of fundraisers who had not had the benefit of conversation partners who could both relate to their experiences and have the capacity to challenge the ideas and practices put forth.
From New York to Texas the lessons have been distinct for each community. Prayers in multiple languages were representative of diversity in experience and origin. I realized in the midst of our first gathering that I had never been in any setting with that number of fundraisers of color and faith in my entire career. How was that possible? How was it even conceivable that I had not had a specific lens of culture or a community of fundraisers of color in the many trainings, workshops, conferences and seminars that I had been a part of over the last fifteen years? What opportunities would exist for bringing these individuals together at the end of our six gatherings became my almost immediate concern. A self-described rebel, participant after participant identified themselves as religious fundraising rebels of sorts, happy to encounter others that could easily relate. I had been given the opportunity to witness giving birth to an entirely new community and I left New York, and later Texas, recognizing that no two experiences would be the same. I also recognized, in these complex communities of faith, there was no reason for fundraisers to continue to feel alone.
One night, after a long day of conversation, questions and reflections, I sat at the dinner table with a handful of participants. Regardless of fatigue, people chose to stay in conversation long after the day had ended. Although we could have talked about anything that night, our conversations returned to joy, celebration and the dynamic energy that had come from offering and giving practices within our home institutions. With the recorders off and no furry of notes, person after person talked about the renewal of their faith in trying and difficult times, where one donor, one family, one leader, or even one stranger had been a living testimony to God’s love and grace. While there was no shortage of challenges and frustrations, there had been a natural return to the power of giving, generosity, grace, sacrifice and laughter. Around the table of a shared meal a community elder reflected on personal contributions to the field, a tapestry of seminary and ordination experiences emerged as both what to and what not to do, and a passing of the torch was witnessed as seasoned professionals offered encouragement and reinforcement for the fundraising leaders that would follow. A new fundraising society had been formed and forged around the dinner table, at a picturesque picnic table, around a lower level pop machine, while leveraging shared parenting tips and over a shared love of caffeine, chips and salsa and assorted chocolate too.
In the course of 4 days, it became abundantly clear that the pursuit of denominational support had been central to many of our participants. More than seeking financial resources, the stories were peppered with individual pursuits of training, reading materials, certifications, continuing education and conversation partners for their distinct journeys. Individuals wanted to truly be heard. Well beyond differences in language, my mind rested in the realization that my rich history of cultural nuances in fundraising were void of layered insights about immigrant communities. As reflections were offered about the skills, talents and resources that had been encountered as an offering to God and a labor of love for the worship communities that were represented, I wanted to singlehandedly bring witness to the powerful stories than unfolded. Yet, the most powerful lesson was that of collective fundraising power and witness. If the research continued to unfold as it started, there would never be a need to do anything singlehandedly. The power was in community. Our power as fundraisers of color, is in community.