The Only Wrong Action Is To Do Nothing

  • Published March 1, 2023
  • / By Bree Muehlbauer, CFRE

At the end of last year, Florida International University Foundation Office of Inclusive Philanthropy launched their “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) in Fundraising: Inclusive Philanthropy” webinar series. The series shares best practices to create transparency and discipline around DEI work and to guide other institutions in establishing their own offices of inclusive philanthropy. The series results in a micro-credential from FIU in DEI in fundraising. Maia McGill, Senior Executive Director, Foundation Relations, and Founding Executive Director, FIU Foundation Office of Inclusive Philanthropy is a frequent collaborator and partner to Marts&Lundy, and she is the phenomenal instructor for this course. As an admirer of Maia—as a fundraiser and leader and the work FIU is doing in the DEI space—I was beyond excited to sign up for the inaugural series. The second cohort began in February.

While this series may seem targeted towards higher education institutions, the work of Systems Change is universal. The course walks through a strategic step-by-step process to examine assets and identify initiative gaps, encourage reflective collaboration within organizations, and consider how racial inequities are built into our institutions’ norms. With our political and economic climate as it is and the shifts in social movements these past years, this work is more critical than ever.

As consultants, Marts&Lundy has and always will be walking alongside our clients across philanthropic industries as we evolve the conversations and work around DEI. Our aim is to move in the direction of good, toward a more inclusive, diverse, equitable, and accessible philanthropic landscape. This course helped me develop more tools I can use to help clients drive the change they want to see in their institutions.

I was excited to see so many fundraising and institutional leaders participate in the initial cohort and to learn how many more have joined the second. We need more critical thinking about how to move beyond our early DEI statements and about how to live our values and promises through actionable initiatives. Systems Change work must be collaborative, and it’s critical to engage and gain buy-in from institutional leadership. A few key things to remember as you develop your course of action:

  • Think carefully about data. In our data-forward world, having data to back up your work can be very powerful, but what is that data saying—and what is it not saying? Sometimes this means looking at how you are collecting data focused by what kinds of questions you are seeking to answer. Is your data one-dimensional?
  • Be intentional when developing your fundraising initiatives. Which constituencies are you seeking to impact? How are representatives from those groups involved in developing your initiatives (or are they)? Who is seated at the table?
  • Ensure appropriate assets are aligned and invested for success. An unfunded initiative is unlikely to succeed, so it’s important to make the case for resource investments, human and financial. Examine what already exists and what may need to be realigned or reinvigorated. Budget reveals where your priorities lie.
  • Put a plan in place. You’ve done the research, carefully thought out your initiatives and ensured appropriate resources have been allocated. Set a timeline and incremental goals so you can measure your progress towards your overarching goal of Systems Change and truly integrated DEI work. A goal without a plan is just a wish.

After this course, I can confidently say that Systems Change work is continuous and requires diligence and perseverance. And it does not happen in a vacuum. Be sure to bring your leadership along as you are building your plan, involve them and others throughout the process. And finally, remember that this is challenging, incremental work. Each step, though, is a step towards a more equitable and inclusive philanthropic world.

Listen to our interview with Maia, A Roadmap to Systematic Change.

Registration for the third cohort beginning in May opens in mid-March. Learn more here: