Creating a Culture of Inclusivity: AFP-RI’s Anti-Racism Forum with CoreCollaborative International

In partnership with the Association of Fundraising Professionals-Rhode Island (AFP-RI), CoreCollaborative International facilitated a hybrid-model six-week Anti-Racism Forum in Fall 2021. Participants from a variety of professional backgrounds – representing sectors such as healthcare, arts and education, marketing, faith, and social services – explored ways in which they, and the organizations they represent, can better embrace and reflect the diversity of their communities.

AFP-RI is the Rhode Island state chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP). Founded in 1960, AFP’s 31,000 individual and organizational members, in 240 chapters, raise over $100 billion annually – equivalent to one-third of all charitable giving in North America and millions more around the world. AFP boasts an extensive training mission, sponsoring conferences, recordings, courses, micro-learning videos, and webinars. For its part, AFP’s Rhode Island chapter serves more than 130 members with a mission to “empower individuals and organizations to practice ethical fundraising through professional education, networking, research, and advocacy.” AFP-RI sponsors awards and scholarships (including for local youth), networking events, government relations engagement, professional development sessions, and a large-scale celebration in honor of the annual National Philanthropy Day.

At both the national and state levels, AFP claims inclusivity as a foundational principle; its goal is for fundraising professionals to reflect the diversity of the communities they serve, and to work to address the needs of a diverse society. Even well into the 21st century, however, there’s a recognition that fundraising and other types of philanthropic organizations and boards continue to reflect predominantly White membership and leadership. When putting together its 2019 Census of Directors and Chief Executives of Rhode Island’s Non-Profit Organizations, for example, AFP-RI found that while people of color make up 30% of their state’s general population, they represent only 10% membership on the state’s largest boards. 

It’s this recognition that led the AFP-RI Board of Directors, together with its Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Access (IDEA) Committee, to seek out training from CoreCollaborative International (CCI).  AFP-RI wanted to examine its own commitment to guiding an organization representative of the communities it serves, and in particular to addressing the structural implications for its current lack of engagement, membership, and leadership among Black, Brown, and Indigenous constituents. AFP-RI reached out to CCI for guidance and together, they organized the Anti-Racism Forum. 

The forum had these three objectives:

  1. Co-generate a shared sense of purpose and commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) through exercises at the personal, organizational, and broader community context levels.
  2. Engage with the structural consequences of racism and White supremacy, and identify strategies and goals for enhancing the capacity of AFP-RI as an anti-racist organization. 
  3. Collaboratively develop metrics and assessments that will provide evidence that AFP-RI is maintaining fidelity as an anti-racist organization. 

Prior to the meetings, CCI conducted a pre-forum survey of the 18 participants, which helped participants to begin to think about – and CCI to understand – their level of experience,  comfort, and individual sense of priority with regard to issues of race, discrimination, and oppression. Participants were also guided in identifying their individual and collective goals for participating in the training. 

After coming to an agreement on a set of ground rules and expectations for the sessions – including being open to discomfort, honoring confidentiality, and listening without judgment – Forum participants reflected on terms they would encounter in the training, such as dominant culture, colonization, and White supremacy. Through small- and large-group discussions as well as periods of self-reflection, participants next delved deep into their individual identities. Which aspects of themselves do they feel are more or less prominent, and how do these look in comparison with other colleagues in the group, and with the larger community? They discussed what they believe to be the greatest influences on their personal identities, and on their work as fundraisers. 

Next, participants examined their respective organizational mission statements and codes of ethics, mapping structural patterns from their own professional sectors as well as from society at large.  What are the keywords used in these statements? To what extent are Forum participants, as professionals representing their organizations, maintaining fidelity to that rhetoric? To what extent are they knowingly or unknowingly contradicting the rhetoric? To what extent do those contradictions reflect racism in relation to the dominant culture of which they’re a part?

Finally, participants created plans to address anti-racism for themselves, for their respective organizations, and for their larger communities. Exploring the structural relationships in each domain that may need dismantling, participants together generated accountability measures and decided on the next steps both as representatives of their own workplaces and as AFP-RI itself. Throughout the Forum, activities were designed to encourage the group to begin to think of themselves as an active Community of Practice, which would function as a support mechanism for participants whenever they need it, beyond the limited timeframe of the Forum itself.

Immediate outcomes for AFP-RI were overwhelmingly positive. CCI’s clear objective was to spark overdue dialogue: there was tension, and participants didn’t always feel comfortable. But in the words of one participant, “CCI created a time and place where those conversations could happen, and we could begin to strategize around getting intentions, actions, and emotions lined up. CCI was a guiding presence over these difficult conversations.” At the conclusion of the training, AFP-RI issued an anti-racism statement, which it communicated to its membership. It also drafted a large-scale survey which this participant considers a “huge asset” going forward. About six months following the Forum, the Board experienced significant turnover, which unfortunately resulted in some loss of momentum. However, a focus on some of the issues raised, including Black philanthropy, is now picking back up in the organization, and CCI’s deliverables are acting as the guiding light for that continued work of ensuring that diversity and inclusion are incorporated into all aspects of the chapter’s operations.

Many organizations are seeking ways to promote DEI that extend beyond organizational mission statements. Diversity, equity and inclusion measures foster creativity, fresh perspectives, and understanding; and benefit individuals, workplaces, and the larger communities of which they are a part. CoreCollaborative International offers expertise in guiding difficult discussions and coming to a larger understanding of what is needed not only to promote but to enact DEI principles. 

If your organization would like to explore the possibility of offering a DEI-focused workshop, forum, or training, please reach out by contacting the CoreCollaborative International team at