Recently AFP put out an article on international women’s day, which said, “Where are all of the men?”

Vanessa Chase of The Storytelling Nonprofit wrote back and said, “Fundraising is Female.” This little snafu is more than an isolated issue. This is indicative of a much larger issue.

Some people, male and female, have come down on the side of, “Well, if we have fewer men in fundraising, if men are 25% of fundraisers, then we have reverse sexism in the industry.”

That’s. Just. Not. True.

If you simply look at numbers of people of one gender in a profession, it doesn’t give you the full picture.

For example, according to my interview with Linda Lysakowski, who has been fundraising for over 30 years, fundraising used to be primarily male. And now the gender balance has swung towards women, with between 60-75% of the profession being female. According to Gail Picco’s article on the AFP fail, quoting a leadership study conducted by the University of Denver,

“..Women constitute only 21 percent of leadership roles among nonprofits with budgets in excess of $25 million, even though they make up 75 percent of the workforce.

That means if you are one of seven women in a group of 10 people, one of three men standing with you is four times more likely to become CEO than you. Or that the existing 25% of men working in the sector could transform into 75% of its leadership.”

I have been blogging about gender in the nonprofit fundraising workplace since 2009. I also majored in gender studies. And I’ve written a book about fundraising career empowerment, which has helped hundreds of people all over the world. This book was rated 5 stars on Nonprofit.About.com.

I tell you who I am to give you some context into what I’m about to say next.

Based on this research, REVERSE SEXISM DOES NOT EXIST. Just like REVERSE RACISM DOES NOT EXIST, according to Aamer Rahman, an Australian of Bangladeshi descent. Look at this.

Transcribed, Aamer Rhaman says,

“I could be a reverse racist! If I wanted to. All I would need would be a time machine, right? And what I’d do is I would get in my time machine and I’d go back in time to before Europe colonised the world, right? And I’d convince the leaders of Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Central and South America to invade and colonise Europe, right?

Just occupy them… steal their land and resources. Set up some kind of like, I don’t know… “Trans-Asian slave trade,“ where we exported White people to work on giant rice-plantations in China. …just ruin Europe over the course of a couple centuries, so all their descendants would wanna migrate out and live in the places where black and brown people come from.

Of course in that time, I’d make sure I set up systems that privilege Black and Brown people at every conceivable social, political, and economic opportunity. And White people will never have any hope of real self-determination. …every couple of decades make up some fake war as an excuse to go bomb them back to the Stone Age and say it’s for their own good because their culture’s inferior.

And just for kicks, subject White people to Coloured people’s standards of beauty, so they end up hating the colour of their own skin, eyes, and hair. If after hundreds…and hundreds…and hundreds of years of that… I got on stage at a comedy show and said, “Hey, what’s the deal with White people? Why can’t they dance? That would be reverse racism.”

The same concept is true for “reverse sexism”.

For hundreds of years, we have had stereotypes of women that are just NOT TRUE. That make women subjugated in a variety of ways all over the world, including lower salaries, less opportunity for advancement, etc. Don’t believe me?

Look at the yearly Forward Jewish Salary survey, showing that for the vast majority of women in executive positions at nonprofits, they make less than men in similar positions, and the men hold the highest executive level positions at the biggest nonprofits. This is backed up here on the National Council of Nonprofits.

So, if reverse sexism were to exist, that would mean we would need a time machine, to go back in time, to, say, 1300, and start a matriarchy where women became the supreme rulers of the world, telling men that they were hysterical, not leaders, dumb, and only good for impregnating women.

Then we would have women at the head of all of the major religions, systems of government, major corporations, for the next 700 years or so. Of course in that time, you’d set up systems that privilege women at every conceivable social, political, and economic opportunity.

Women would get higher salaries automatically because  they had children, and people just ASSUME that they are smarter and more capable of leadership. Men would have to “act more like women to get ahead.”

And then, after all that, we could say, “What’s up with those men? Maybe they’re just not smart enough to be a CEO?” And THAT would be reverse sexism.

Do you see my point?

You can’t have reverse racism because you can’t have reverse sexism, because in order to do that, you have to make an entire history that does not exist.

As a professional organization, AFP needs to care about the majority of its members. But it also needs to care about fundraising effectiveness. Focusing on gender equity supports both goals. I’ll explain.

We are the microcosm of the macrocosm in the world. We need to model the world we want to live in. Who wouldn’t want to live in a more just, more equitable world for women?

Not being equitable hurts nonprofits. Each time a fundraiser leaves, a nonprofit loses at minimum, according to Penelope Burk’s Donor Centered Leadership Research, almost $200,000.

Why do they leave?

For a higher salary elsewhere, or because they don’t get along with their boss.

That means if we REALLY want to talk about fundraising effectiveness, we have to talk about how we are treating our fundraisers, how much we pay them, mentoring them, supporting them, and help them to stay. Otherwise we are wasting our donors money and our own time, and not serving as many people as we could.

So, when you think that the topic of how we treat female fundraisers, their salaries, their happiness, and gender equity in the sector is beside the point, let me assure you, according to 30 years of research, it is NOT beside the point, it IS the point.

The vast majority of fundraisers are women. Most of the members of AFP are women. AFP should care if their members are being groomed for leadership, getting a decent wage, and are generally not a victim of internalized or external sexism or racism.

AFP’s diversity statement says, “AFP believes that diversity and inclusion create a strong, vital and unified force for the effective pursuit of an organization’s mission and achieving philanthropic success.”

Are these just empty words? If AFP truly wants to create an equitable and just world, that means starting at home.

How is AFP grooming women of color to be nonprofit leaders?

THIS IS THE BLINDNESS that so many nonprofits fall into. We say we want to make a better world, but we think we have to look outside our own front door to start.


We need to start at home, otherwise we’re hypocrites.

If we’re not making a better world for our employees, our staff, our volunteers, by offering them decent work, chances for advancement, higher salaries, and a more certain future, then we’re failing in our mission.

Don’t you see?

If you’re only here for the small percentage of fundraisers who like their salary, who have risen as high as they want to, probably University and Healthcare fundraisers, probably men, then you’re not serving the profession. You’re only serving the elite. Just like Donald Trump. That’s right. I said it.

Look at an organization who understands this. Ontario Nonprofit Network’s DecentWork movement is helping Ontario nonprofits offer less precarious work, higher salaries, pensions, and a better quality of life for people who work at nonprofits. Last year I interviewed their Executive director to ask them how they’re doing it.

Why aren’t we doing more of this stateside? Why can’t we make a more equitable society for EVERY fundraiser, not just the elites?

If one in ten people works at a nonprofit, then in the US, we are the nation’s largest industry.

That means that if we want to address fixing the economy, trickle up economics, raising the wage, then there’s no more important issue than to help nonprofit workers get more just and equitable treatment at work.

I am not just here to complain.


How are we trying to solve this problem?

We are a community! Over the last 2 years, over 900 people have attended the Fundraising Career Conference, and had real results.

With the help of Marc Pitman of the Concord Leadership Group, Vanessa Chase of the Storytelling Nonprofit, Kishshana Palmer of Kishshana Co, Meghan Godorov of Godorov Consulting, Linda Lysakowski of Lysakowski Consulting, Phil Gerard of Phil’s Careers blog, Sheena Greer of Colludo, Claire Axelrad of Clairification, Charity Village, Bloomerang, and others, we are coming together to build a fundraising career movement about empowerment, that we can be proud of.

I am trying to draw this to the attention of larger associations. We would be happy to partner more with AFP, YNPN and the National Council of Nonprofits to work on this issue,  as well as media outlets like the Chronicle of Philanthropy, Nonprofit Pro, the Nonprofit Times, and others, because it will take all of us together to make this change.

If you want 65 more fundraising career resources, just go here.

If you want 99 more nonprofit leadership resources, click on over here.