Diverse group of people sitting in a line.

Courageous, Safe, and Necessary Conversations: Advancing Inclusive Philanthropy

  • Published November 29, 2023

By Leslie Turnbull, Strategist/Writer, Foster Avenue

Reflecting on recent achievements in the burgeoning realm of inclusive philanthropy, Marts&Lundy Consulting Partner Maia McGill sees tremendous potential for growth in the field … and reminds philanthropy professionals to practice that most basic of fundraising skills: listening.

To have a conversation Maia McGill, Marts&Lundy Consulting Partner and notable authority on Inclusive Philanthropy, is to sit with someone at once analytical and passionate, sharp and engaging, clear-eyed about the way things are and full of hope for the way they could be.

“Systemic change is essential to the creation of a more inclusive, more diverse, and more impactful fundraising model,” Maia asserts. “At the same time, you can’t just ‘create’ that change; you have to meet people where they are.”

“We need to equip advancement professionals with the knowledge, skills and tools necessary in order to effect meaningful change.”

Visitors to the Marts&Lundy Focus Forward Wisdom series might already be acquainted with Maia’s insightful ways of engaging individuals in the work of inclusive philanthropy. Last year, she sat down with Of Counsel Richard Ammons for a podcast interview that was both informative and delightful, addressing challenging issues with humor and skill. This past winter, Associate Consultant Bree Muehlbauer, CFRE wrote an enthusiastic review of the“Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) in Fundraising: Inclusive Philanthropy” program, created by Maia.

The program provided participants who completed it with a micro-credential in DEI that recognizes fundamental knowledge in understanding the distinctive work related to inclusive philanthropy, equity action and advancing transformative solutions. Maia and her Marts&Lundy colleagues have begun planning an expansive 2024 micro-credentialing program covering various topics centered on transformative solutions in philanthropy and fundraising.

It is a change Maia has labored long and purposefully to achieve. Her own multicultural background sparked an early interest in inclusivity. Maia served as the Director of Community & Multicultural Affairs at the University of Rochester Medical Center. In that role, she facilitated and guided proposals and white papers for diversity research grants and initiatives; and directed several community-based programs and screenings serving underserved and vulnerable populations — impacting thousands of residents. She was also successful in cultivating and maintaining relationships with key leaders in both public and private sectors. 

Making the transition to professional fundraising, Maia recognized two things: a strong desire on the part of both nonprofit institutions and funders to “do better” in the DEI space, and the need to address an inherently biased system of raising and allocating philanthropic funds. 

It was then Maia embarked on a mission to bridge the gap and create a more equitable and inclusive philanthropic ecosystem … but she wasn’t going to go about it by attempting to completely break down existing systems and the individuals who operated within them. That is not Maia’s way of thinking, and she doesn’t see adversarial disruption as being particularly effective. This is also where her inherent kindness and humor kick in:

“I’ve had conversations with individuals from predominantly white institutions who want to completely skip over the opportunity to look at philanthropy and fundraising through a race-based lens. Others are very intentional and thoughtful. Some who just don’t know what they don’t know.”

“The big question is: How do you have all those conversations? You can’t change entire systems by only speaking to those of like mind; you must engage with everyone involved. I think particularly in the world of fundraising, we tend to be very focused on end goals and hitting metrics. And these are important. But we often don’t walk outside the box and listen to understand.”

Words like “non-confrontational” and “nonjudgmental” pepper Maia’s speech on the subject of individual conversations.

“Say, for example, an institution doing this work may have a dean who is having a difficult time understanding DEI, because they only see the subject through their own experience. They say, ‘We have to raise funds, and I’m just not sure how the scope of DEI impacts us.’”

“So you listen to their perspective and hit them with something they do understand: research! You say, ‘Funders want to know how your work affects different communities, Dean. Do you realize there are millions of dollars of funding for you to do research in this space?’”

“Listening to extend help has to be a priority,” Maia concludes. “Meeting people where they are is figuring out what is most important to them, and how they can make an impact in ways they haven’t considered before …allowing the individual to grow at their own pace, and shedding light and education about work that can be done collaboratively.”

“These are courageous, safe, and necessary conversations.”

She also admits it’s not always easy. That’s when the very human, compassionate, and warm Maia comes to the fore. The self-described preacher’s daughter and proud mother to her daughter who is part of the LGBTQIA+ community readily shares how she maintains a positive mindset in the face of sometimes difficult conversations.

“Love! I was raised to believe in the power of love. Spirituality keeps me going. Prayer has guided me through some of the toughest times. Sometimes, you just have to sit back, and say, OK, when I think about the healing work I want to do – healing in the sense that there are people out there who want to do better, make a difference in the world, and expand their thought processes, I ask myself if I can contribute to that healing? And everything settles into place.”

Maia believes that her work will not only empower individuals to navigate the complexities of inclusive philanthropy but also foster a mindset shift within the broader community. She hopes it will inspire a new generation of philanthropic leaders who recognize the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion in shaping a more just and equitable society.

Interested in earning your micro-credential in Inclusive Philanthropy?

Email us at sheffer@martsandlundy.com, and we will send an email directly to you with the details as they become available.