Fundraising and Advancement: the DEI Dilemma

by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer

“People have been doing this work for years and didn’t call it DEI [Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion],” said Dr. Sybil Hampton speaking on the topic “Undoing Racism in Fundraising and Advancement” in Guerry Auditorium on Jan. 11. The convening of Jessie Ball duPont Fund higher education recipients brought together funding awardees from institutions across the nation to tackle the challenge of “Catalyzing Change: Frameworks for Repairing Histories of Racial Inequity.”

As a high school student, Hampton followed on the heels of the Little Rock Nine, enrolling as a sophomore in the second class to integrate Central High School following the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision. For three years not one student spoke to her. Hampton endured isolation and being spat on to return to Little Rock, Ark., 30 years later to serve as the president of Little Rock’s largest private philanthropic institution, the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation. For her work in higher education and philanthropy, she was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame and several times named one of Arkansas Top 100 Women. Hampton’s personal journey and career experiences read like a playbook for those engaged in the difficult task of finding funders, whether they be students, community project leaders, or members of a university fundraising and advancement team.

“There is a limited amount of money,” Hampton stressed. “Fit is everything.” She insisted on the importance of doing research to find the “fit where the magic happens” and on personal interaction with potential funders who may offer guidance rather than money. “[As a funder] the more I know about you, and the better you make me feel, the easier it is to talk,” Hampton pointed out.

She offered a unique brand of encouragement, coupling hope and perseverance — “Because people don’t value your work doesn’t mean you can give up.” Citing personal experience where she was always in a role where she was either “the only woman or only brown person,” Hampton said, “I knew what they said about me wasn’t true, and I produced what they needed. That didn’t mean I didn’t have my own agenda, but it was embedded in the institution.”

“You need to get clear how you want to talk about your work so people don’t feel like they’re investing in the ‘other,”’ Hampton said, “to find words to describe what you’re doing that’s not DEI.”

Hampton’s formula: “People invest in things they feel they have ownership of.” She gave several examples. A project that wanted to tell the story of Japanese Americans in Arkansas during WWII engaged high school computer and technology students and received funding from a local business. A project hoping to aid the more than 5,000 Arkansas children with parents in prison seized on the idea of producing a documentary of women in prison shackled to their beds when giving birth; notably, most of the women featured in the film were not people of color. A university with a high percentage of economically disadvantaged students garnered alumni financial support when an article in the alumni magazine focused on the six-week summer orientation program for these students.

“You need to show the outside what’s going on, to be able to tell the story,” Hampton said, “to make them part of what people own in an institution … [to show them] the mirror.” Seventy-nine-year-old Hampton attributed her success to not “giving up” and being able “to forgive.”

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