Skip navigation
EAB Logo Navigate to the EAB Homepage Navigate to EAB home

How Advancement Diversity and Technology Intersect at The New School

Episode 195

May 7, 2024 37 minutes


Jonah Nigh and Jenna Bastian from The New School in NYC join EAB’s Paul Gunther for a conversation about the state of university fundraising. The three discuss the critical role of technology, particularly CRM tools, as well as the importance of diversity and inclusion within the field of advancement. They also offer tips to other advancement teams on how to build a stronger, healthier work environment.



0:00:12.6 Paul Gunther: Hello and welcome to Office Hours with EAB. Our guest today talk about the tools they use to define and strengthen the culture within the advancement team at the New School in New York City, they share their thoughts on how the nature of university fundraising is changing and why they’re so committed to building greater diversity and inclusion within the field of advancement. So give these folks a listen and enjoy.


0:00:41.4 PG: Hello and welcome to Office Hours with EAB. My name is Paul Gunther and I’m a managing director of Strategic Advisory Services. One of the best parts of my job is learning from the unique backgrounds and powerful experiences of higher ed leaders with whom I work. I’m joined today by Jonah Nigh, senior Vice President of Development and Alumni Engagement, and Jenna Bastian, assistant Vice President for Advancement operations at the new school. Jonah and Jenna have spent time over the past year building culture through systems. I wouldn’t have thought that a CRM implementation could help define and strengthen a culture, but that has been a key ingredient to success at the new school. Jonah and Jenna, welcome to Office Hours.

0:01:22.7 Jonah Nigh: Thank you for having us.

0:01:26.2 Jenna Bastian: Pleasure to be here.

0:01:26.3 PG: We’re going to talk today about fundraising and about how that function is changing within the university setting. There are many different facets to that work, obviously, but one unifying thread that runs through all of it is the idea of systems. We’ll start with a more concrete information system and then spend time towards the end exploring broader systems of race and culture. I’m getting ahead of myself. Jonah, tell us about your work at the new school. You were hired as the Senior Vice President of Development and alumni engagement roughly three years ago. What was your assessment of the existing advancement operations and what changes did you suggest that you wanted to spearhead when you got the job?

0:02:07.0 JN: Thank you. Well, again, thank you for having us. I’m really delighted to be pairing to what seemed like disparate subjects, but are not. And I hope people will be able to make those connections more fulsomely, after they listen to this. But in terms of the systems for advancement operations, I was given a gift in that, the president at the time, Dwight McBride, told me, that these were things, areas for growth at my interview stage. So this was a unique advantage, and I think it sounds trite to say that leadership is everything, but leadership is everything. And so he laid it on the table and said, the systems need work. This is where they are now. This is what we’re using. I don’t think I’ve ever spoken to a precedent, about a CRM more than I did at that second interview I had with, Dwight McBride.

0:02:55.4 JN: So I knew going in, that this was gonna need a lot of attention, but I also knew that the willpower was there to take it on. I think that, I also probably mentioned probably later interview, [laughter] third interview, that this is not a project that fundraisers fundraise for, that this is a utility. This would be like asking me to raise money for water. Is the board and are you aligned in the fact that this is something will take some capital and this will be a long painful process? So the management of expectations, both on my side and on the university side were laid bare during my interview. So I was very lucky to have that. And then when I started everything, he was true to his word. When I started meeting with my partners on IT and the provost, everyone agreed, on a vague vision and then the path forward.

0:03:49.0 JN: I also had another secret weapon, well, not so secret weapon ’cause she’s on this podcast. I already knew the kind, the person would need to take this work on. So obviously somebody with more technical knowledge than me, but also somebody who’s very good at bringing, disparate groups around a campus together who can translate fundraising and technology to different parties. And so once I had enough sort of social capital and agreement around the university, then I created the role, which I’d already spoken to Jenna about [laughter] And then, of course we did have a competitive interview process. And, but the IT team actually was the one who’s like, no, no, she’s the one. So created the role recruited, and here we are.

0:04:31.8 PG: Wow, that’s incredible. So obviously this wasn’t the first rodeo. You’ve been through this before, but it is relatively rare to tackle a CRM implementation that early in the tenure, even if it’s talked about. Right? When I think about some of the CRM implementations that we’ve seen, they take a ton of collaboration. Oftentimes they take a lot of relationships, kind of managing through change together, and you were building those connections, both of you as, kind of right out of the gate. And so, Jenna, maybe you can talk a little bit about that or Jonah too. But where did you all start to set up the project for success since it’s that big undertaking early in the tenure?

0:05:14.1 JB: Sure, I can dive in right there. As much as I knew, this new system would be a technology project, I really believe that the people involved in anything so vast, and a commitment to the collaboration is what is going to make it successful or not. Obviously Jonah and, president McBride at the time had laid the groundwork and given that, sort of directive to take this on. And the vision is still really to get the entire university, on board and connect across divisions. But starting with advancement is, I think a great way to go. I was new, obviously I had previous experience working with Jonah, which was an asset for me, and I think for him too, just because there’s a trust there. But I was new, so I met with every single team member.

0:06:19.8 JB: I brought my new team members with me. We did a systems and reporting audit with every single member of the team. We discovered more than 20 different systems and technologies just used by advancement. And I think the themes and takeaways of all of these meetings, helped us bond and gain momentum toward change. And I really just, I can’t stress enough that I was lucky to have an incredible team in advancement operations, bringing extensive knowledge, fresh eyes, and also an interest in learning new technology, which really had, a great impact on the enthusiasm across the board. We worked with great partners in IT and our CRM admin was really eager to learn about our business. And he knew nothing about development before. So it was a learning experience. And maybe it’s the setting of higher ed that makes people interested in keeping that open mind toward learning, and collaboration. But that really, I think has put us on the road to success. We’re still on the road. [chuckle]

0:07:33.5 JN: Yes. If I could add to, there’s another body of people that, normally you wouldn’t think of as getting involved in something that can be very granular, but I felt it was necessary to have the boards buy-in. And so my first board presentation in my role was actually about this, which seems odd. Normally you would think that the, I would do sort of a generic, like, this is where you are, here’s some vague horoscope, like things that you can read yourself into that I’m gonna work on. And then that’s it. But I actually made my first presentation about this and this because I think one of the pieces of advice I would give anyone who’s thinking about this, sort of enterprise wide work, is it has to be sort of entertaining. But let’s be honest, board meetings are like, they are one long meeting [laughter], and this in particular, this subject doesn’t usually get put at the front of the docket.

0:08:32.0 JN: And I was very much decidedly at the end of the docket. And also CRM, again, not inherently entertaining to talk about fun…

0:08:41.4 JB: For some.

0:08:42.4 JN: Yeah for some. For none, let’s be honest. So what I did was also because it’s really technical and not everybody’s gonna necessarily understand it. So pictures, I used to brought a lot of pictures at my first presentation. I brought a map, a big map of the current data integration system across the university. And it’s messy. It looks like, a bowl of spaghetti. And I said that, I said, this is our current state, you don’t need to know anything other than that. This is the way data’s being transferred around the university. Just looking at that picture, explain to them why certain kinds of benchmarks, reporting, that kind of thing, were not readily available or they were available, but took a lot of time. And then I said then because I’m a baker, I used a baking analogy and said, if you don’t know anything about this, lemme explain it to you like this. It’s as if, the new school has one unit with the pasta maker, one unit with the juicer, one unit with the ice cream machine, but you forgot to buy the KitchenAid. So every unit has been making their paddle and their attachment work, and then sometimes we slam our paddles against each other and make something happen.

0:09:49.3 JN: But wouldn’t it be great if you had the KitchenAid, where you could keep your attachments, you’re not losing anything, but we are funneling it into one system and that, it made them laugh, but it also kind of got to my point really quickly being like, gimme a KitchenAid, it’s $7 million. Thank you very much. Okay.

0:10:09.1 PG: Thank you very much for your time. Now you’re also not a, you’re not a stranger to entertainment or baking, you have some experience…

0:10:15.1 JN: Yes, I do. And you gotta bring all your party tricks to the board meeting, yes.


0:10:22.2 PG: Well, it sounds like a comfortable milieu for you, but I hear you. Just in that advancement background, right? That same work that you use with donors of painting a picture of how this is going to be meaningful and what that future state is going to look like. It seems like that was a really important ingredient for you, even in that conversation with the board, as it was just for kind of then working internally. And I think…

0:10:42.3 JN: Sure. On a practical sense, I needed the money [laughter] and then but on a psychological and in optics sense, I wanted to be able to say to not just our team, but my partners around the university ’cause this is an enterprise project, that this is the charge from the board and the president and the provost. This is not just because I want the fanciest tool. I don’t care what tool we use, quite honestly. A very good colleague in the field when I was, beginning to assess this work, said, Jonah, they’re all awful. Just pick one. So many processes and this kind of work, just get held up on the, I don’t know, Salesforce, Tessitura, Blackbaud, Bespoke. Maybe we should just make our own. We know what we need. And then that can take years that just that piece alone.

0:11:33.8 PG: And so to have that top down management helps to kind of come through and say, it’s going to be less about the brand or the item that’s really gonna be about the work that we do together. And you had that buy-in from day one. I think that’s rare to have, but I also think there was a lot of intentionality that came out of that. And I wanna go there, man, we talk it, all the time about change management and process improvement, right? These are huge themes in higher ed right now. But they’re also kind of buzzwordy and, here’s this example where all of them were going to come together, and there’s always going to be that moment where you kind of hit an obstacle and you’ve gotta get over that hump to get to that better future state together. And so I’m curious, did that come up in the early stages of this work? Even with all of that alignment that you had built, what was some of those obstacles that kind of came up that you had to overcome? And, were those strategies affected? Tell us a little bit about that part of it.

0:12:28.5 JN: As soon as I was, confronted with any obstacles, then I punted it to Jenna.


0:12:37.6 JB: Ah, thank you. Thank you.

[overlapping conversation]

0:12:41.4 JN: But Jenna actually did, the trench work on, yes, we philosophically have alignment. That’s my job to get the visions aligned, but then someone has to do it.


0:12:54.0 JB: Such a large project is gonna be chock-full of obstacles, obviously. And it’s funny that, Jonah, you already talked about decision making and I think a huge, huge focus for us was simply, identifying priorities for an MVP and for making tough decisions. For example, we did let go of implementing a new ESP alongside the CRM in favor of using an app to integrate our existing tool. But from a technical standpoint, one of the big biggest obstacles was integrating our CRM with our financial system. And we were committed to making this happen to truly improve the existing systems. Our implementation partners spun their wheels for a bit, trying to find a pre-made solution. And in the end, in order to get it done, we approached it as a learning opportunity, built the solution ourselves.

0:14:00.2 JB: We needed commitment from our staff and the implementation developers to get on the same page about the desired outcome. Write the code, test it extensively, even if that meant, setting aside time from holiday breaks and being flexible with our own timeline. And the commitment from everyone involved to get it done right, instead of get it done fast, was what made it possible and what made it work, which it does thankfully. And the most important thing now is really carrying that energy forward into what I think has been the most challenging phase right now. Doing some of the much needed data cleanup that had been put off for decades. Having everyone on the team learn the new system and actually implementing the change and the new processes and being able to share that out so that we can continue the momentum towards the enterprise wide, system.

0:15:05.4 PG: I think one obstacle that’s still, it’s not an obstacle, it’s a conversation, and I’m not just spinning because I’m a fundraiser. It truly is.


0:15:12.9 JN: I think one of the things that gets this project hung up, at many places is governance. And it’s hard because it’s, well, whose job is it really to be the final decision maker on certain aspects? Is it because it touches finance, marketing, communications development alumni, so that IT, so who is going to ultimately say yes or no to adding an app? Yes or no to, we’re gonna change this field or not. So those were some of the early conversations too that again, Jenna managed because I didn’t have a strong opinion. I could see it living with anyone, or any department, but someone has to be the decision maker on this type of thing.

0:15:57.4 JB: Absolutely.

0:16:00.2 PG: So I don’t wanna get too sidetracked, but can you tell me a little bit about how that came together? Because governance is incredibly hard for, kind of at the university level, let alone at a kind of a project specific. Who did you, what were the roles or what were the functions you rattled some of them off that you felt were really important to kind of have that decision making in the governance process to kind of say, Here’s the rules, here are the processes we’re gonna follow. And these are kind of our guidelines we’re setting for ourselves.

0:16:28.8 JN: I think it’s a work in progress still, but certainly from where I sat, I met regularly with my counterparts in IT and marketing since it was sort of the first phase.

0:16:38.4 JB: Yep.

0:16:40.2 JN: To, so it was sort of a shared governance model at first, but we agreed that certain pieces of it we’re always going to live in IT. For example, the budget, when we make the proposals to the board, even though I’m the salesperson, this is a capital project, this is something that should live over there. So I’m not gonna have control of the budget. I’m not seeding that ground because I think it ultimately should be with IT. In terms of the app specific that I’m like, I don’t even wanna weigh in on that. I want Jenna to weigh in.

0:17:15.8 PG: And I think that makes sense. We don’t always see, CRM projects start with advancement. And so I’m curious, take me a little bit inside, and Jenna, maybe you can speak to this a little bit, but take me a little bit inside, how this work on the CRM just within the advancement org started to bring folks together maybe in different ways. I loved the analogy of all the different baking tools earlier, but even just within the advancement shop, make that a little bit real for me. What did that look like?

0:17:42.9 JB: Like I said, just, identifying some of the spaghetti that was out there. Sorry, I can’t pick up the baking analogy, [laughter], but the bowl of spaghetti really stays with me because when we were having these conversations and discovering the workarounds that were taking place, in order to get some truly basic information, I think everybody knew that what they wanted was a tool where everybody was seeing the information, entered across the board. Getting that 360 view, that is so desired of your donor or your constituent. And I think the next step for us is really seeing that whole journey from prospective student to student, to alumni, to donor. And that’s really what everybody wants to see. The idea that everybody has their hands in one system, it’s their home base.

0:18:49.0 JN: I had a great boss once said to me that development and alumni engagement is actually one of the rare units in a university, which are fun and messy, but it is one of the rare units that can bring a campus together. And I firmly believe that. I think of it like a campaign. This process of making this was just as important as the eventual outcome. And I believe that with strategic planning too. Sometimes the thing, actually with strategic planning, I think sometimes the thing at the end is less important than the process. And I don’t love onerous, cumbersome processes, but this is one of those projects that demands it. But the act of it itself brought teams together. And I think that is another outcome that you don’t necessarily think of when you think of a CRM project. And I think it also tests visioning. A great former employee at New School, Melanie Hart, used to say, You can respect tradition and allow for innovation. You can do both at the same time. And inevitably, this kind of project really rankles some of the old guard and the new guard because it’s not moving fast enough for them or it’s not paying deference to the way things are done and it clearly been working. So respecting tradition and allowing for innovation in a project like this is also a really key lesson.

0:20:11.0 PG: And I have to imagine there’s part of it that’s just about sustaining the momentum, right? This is a years long project. So tell me about some of the early outcomes. What are some of the wins that you’ve experienced? What are the examples you’ve been able to hold up to say, look, this is working and that’s gonna fuel our next stage of this work?

0:20:30.5 JB: I want you to know that I logged into our adoption dashboard this morning and every single one of our users has recently logged in.

0:20:40.4 JN: Yeah, that is a win, yes. At the board level, I show them the capabilities. We’re using Salesforce, and it’s slick. I said to them, Look, if it’s good enough for Coca-Cola and those kinds of companies for whom this product was originally built, it’s good enough for us. To Jenna’s point, though, at the staff level, this process now prevents the need for double or triple entry, which is often a case that when you partner with finance, and I believe that all SVPs of development, their best friend should be the CFO, even over anything, because one, they know where the money is, and then two, this kind of project is a really heavy lift on finance. For the, not to get too in the weeds, but for like the accounting subledger and things like that, you really have to have the finance teams buy-in. Because otherwise we’re still all doing what I call the marvelous Mrs. Maisel way of doing accounting, where you print out a report, but the “real numbers are on this spreadsheet over here.” And that was, I think, another benefit. That’s one thing I could tell the board and other colleagues. It’s like, Aren’t you tired of that? Aren’t you tired of having to do double or triple or quadruple entry? Because you’ve got the real numbers on one thing. You have the thing that fits in the machine, but not quite. And then you have the thing that the machine spits out that you have to edit. Aren’t you tired of that?

0:22:08.7 PG: Yeah. And just the time savings. You mentioned avoiding double or triple entry. So a task that you used to have to do three times is now one. And that’s moving from a transactional kind of level of operations to freeing up time to be more strategic or to take on some of those bigger initiatives that you wanted to. All of a sudden, that becomes more possible when you’re not spending that time just simply putting the same information into multiple systems.

0:22:36.0 JN: Right. Because what if the stewardship team doesn’t have to keep writing the same thing down twice, that frees up their mind. And this is another great lesson that I got from Dwight, too, is like we’re not just hired to do stuff. We are hired for our thinking and our strategy. And if you have no time to do that because you’re doing tactical, repetitive, redundant work all the time, you’re not going to start doing the thinking and strategy piece because you just won’t have, there’s not enough hours in the day. So that’s another, I think, benefit of this kind of project.

0:23:11.0 JB: I want to say we do. Oh, I’m sorry. I just wanted to mention that we have to keep that growth mindset going because now we are facing a lot of projects, especially cleanup work and and reevaluation of the way we had divided data in the past. And we want to present it in a more clear holistic view. And so now we have to do it right and continue to set ourselves up and set up the next group of fundraisers in the future for the new school. This is a long-term project.

0:23:54.0 PG: I’m so glad you talked about that. It’s exactly where I wanted to go, which was there’s a, it’s going to start to seem like a stretch. I’m going to make two leaps. I think the first one is systems and culture. And so, Jenna, you talked about earlier some of the project process improvements, some of the change management that goes into this. What impact has that had on the culture within the advancement shop at the New School?

0:24:13.1 JB: I think it’s been a challenge because every single person has had to relearn how to do their job. And I told everybody on the team when we came into work after launch day on launch day pretend this is your first day at work. Take a beat and imagine that you’re just going to have to be patient with yourselves and with each other. As you learn the new system and everybody has been incredibly collaborative as they have learned their way around. And I know they are because obviously they’ve all logged in in the last week. And now in recent weeks, they have begun really digging into their own work, just picking things up where they left off. Obviously, they can’t truly take a break, but they had to just develop new ways to work with our system, request reports, start playing around with making some of their own reports even, and just keep going and learn the new system.

0:25:28.6 JN: At a practical level, the university needed this new system. And on a selfish level, our team needed some type of project to bring us all together. So just historically, and this is, I think, just unique for the new school. It’s like when I started three-ish years ago, just about three-ish years ago, there were 14 people on the team and now there’s 30 something. So there’s a lot of new guard, not a lot of old guard. And I can’t think of another project other than like a retreat or something like that, that can bring together everyone’s input from major gift officers to data entry to gift processing, to stewardship. To Jenna’s point, there’s literally not one person on the team that is not affected by this, and therefore they must participate. It is sort of like a little strategic campaign for ourselves.

0:26:20.5 JB: Yeah. And also make your PowerPoints fun with a lot of pictures.

0:26:24.2 PG: I totally agree. And I want to take a second leap as well. And Jonah, I want to direct this a little bit more towards you both through your work at the New School, but also just as a leader in fundraising as a broader industry. You’ve spent a lot of your time focused on another system as well, and that’s systems of race and diversity and how that shows up with representation. I wonder if you could talk a little bit about kind of beyond as we move beyond an information system and kind of talk about broader ones. How this has shown up in your work and why you’ve chosen to make it a focus for, again, not just your work at the New School, but as a leader in the industry.

0:27:01.2 JN: Yeah, thank you for the question. I think in all of my leadership spaces, so the New School, as you mentioned, but also I’m the president-elect of Association of Fundraising Professionals in New York City, or a forum I co-created with Melissa Manquist, who’s at NYU for BIPOC fundraisers, or what if I’m talking to CASE or Aspen Leadership. I’m very loud about the issues of equity, inclusion, social justice in our field, or DEI. Because it’s all word salad and acronyms now, I’ll just define it the way I was taught to think about this. So diversity is a fact. Equity is a choice. Inclusion is an action. Belonging is a result. Say it one more time. Diversity is a fact. Equity is a choice. Inclusion is an action. And belonging is a result. Because I think what’s happened in the last four years is the boards have all been muddied down and people rushed to the warm and fuzzy word of belonging. And I don’t think you get to do that because that’s a result. You don’t get to claim belonging. Your culture will determine if there’s belonging.

0:28:00.7 JN: And then because we live in New York, diversity is just a fact. So let’s focus on equity and inclusion, the choices and actions we’re going to make in our field. And let’s lay out the facts very starkly 90% of the fundraising field is White. Despite the written commitments, despite all the books and the hyperlinks and the web pages that have been created since 2020, it’s actually getting worse in terms of diversity in our field. And I think there is this notion of learned helplessness in philanthropy in multiple ways. And certainly when it comes to diversifying our field, oh, it’s so hard. Oh, there’s no pipeline. Oh, I don’t know where to look for talent. And I’m sorry to say, I disagree with that wholeheartedly. 60% of our frontliners are BIPOC professionals, and they also happen to be qualified. I think it’s hard, but it’s not complicated. If you want to diversify your development staff, you only have to do two things. One, you need a leader of color somewhere in the ethos. It doesn’t have to even be of development, but people need to be able to see that you are living your values and not just talking about them.

0:29:07.5 JN: And then the second I would say is that you have to not demand in this day of hybrid work that people of color live in communities where they are not safe. So that means you might have to loosen up your ideas of, well, everyone has to be in the office on these days or that kind of thing. I think that’s it. And I hired about 17 people right away when I got to the New School. Every single person in their top three of why they were looking at the New School was because the executive leadership team at the time had people of color in it in a way that is unusual in higher Ed and, well, and frankly, the world.

0:29:45.8 PG: Yeah, that representation is still rare at those senior leadership levels and to be so visible.

0:29:52.0 JN: Oh, I’m a unicorn. Well, I’m a senior unicorn. It’s like, I know there are just not a lot of people I see on the panels. And I will say I used to resent that and someone, again, Melanie Hart got my head on straight about that kind of work. I used to resent the panels. I resented being Asian in May and gay in June and Jewish in the fall and she said, What are you proving by saying no to those panels?

0:30:20.2 PG: And now you’re creating spaces forum, you mentioned one earlier. Can you tell us a little bit about that BIPOC forum that you’ve helped to create?

0:30:28.3 JN: Sure. I think you should only have meetings for a few reasons, either to share information, work through problems or make decisions. And so with that idea in mind, I met up with Melissa Manquist, who was introduced to me by Steven Rodriguez, who’s at the time he was head of, I think, Annual giving and leadership giving at Harvard. And we were doing the usual thing that you do when you meet another fundraiser of color, you’d play the misery Olympics and you do, well, a donor said this to me once. I was like, oh, really? I’ll raise you one. A donor said this to me once. And then after we got that off her chest then the second drink in, we were like, well, then what did you do to get through it? And then the third drink in is like, I bet everyone feels this way.

0:31:13.0 JN: We should create a space where we can all do this together and work through the problems because the problems of a donor wanting to touch your hair, a donor saying something racist to you in mixed company, a donor on and on and on and on are very common for fundraisers of color. So we’re like, let’s make a space and I know the term safe space is overused, but literally a safe space. And let’s do it on Zoom, and let’s do it as a case study or a case conference. I borrowed that model actually from my husband’s work as a bioethicist. Once a month, doctors, lawyers, bioethicists, philosophers get around the hospital, and they just present a case where they don’t know what to do. And so we started doing that and it’s gone international now. We have fundraisers of color from around the world and we meet once a month and we pick a topic and we work through it.

0:32:07.8 PG: That’s incredible.

0:32:09.0 JN: And it’s free. Yeah.

0:32:11.0 PG: That’s really incredible. And it’s one of the reasons why I wanted to have this conversation today. One of the things that strikes me about your work and, Jenna, about your work is you all are taking on big, hard things at a time where I think it could be easy to retreat. And so whether that’s big, hard implementations for connections and collaborations that didn’t exist at an organization whether that is creating topics and creating spaces to tackle some of the biggest issues in society and to create spaces to work through those, not because the answer is defined already going in, but because that’s part of the activity and the exercise is to come to those conclusions together. Those are big, hard things to do. I know we only have a couple of minutes and I want to be respectful of time. And so I guess as you kind of step back and you think about these different types of systems, when you think about these big, hard challenges that you all are addressing, head on, what are some of those concrete steps? What advice would you give to university leaders who are thinking about how to take on these big, hard things at their own campuses, whether that’s growing a diverse leadership team or an advancement team, whether that’s kind of thinking about coming together around these big, hard projects to improve our future state? What advice would you have?

0:33:26.6 JN: One thing I want to mention, this seems tangential, but it’s not. I swear I’ll get to the point and answer your question. I’m not a politician. I will actually answer your question. But to show how invisible systems are and how they’re stacked against us, Dr. Rennie White and I just spoke at CASE in Baltimore about the cost of code switching on fundraisers of color. And one of the pieces of social science that she presents at that talk is about handwashing in bathrooms. So the automatic faucets in bathrooms, the infrared was beta tested on white people. So those faucets are meant to go off, of course, it’s supposed to reflect off of light colored skin. If you do not have light colored skin, the faucets often don’t work or it takes second, third or fourth attempt to make them. Every time she discusses that piece of it, it’s amazing to see people’s eyes widen, particularly people of color who I had one person say to me in Baltimore afterwards, like I thought the faucets were broken. I said, “They are broken. They are broken for you.” And so just the, so if the systems are invisible to you, then there’s no problem.

0:34:36.0 JN: Everything’s fine. If you are not, but if you are not the norm, and in this country, norm is white, then everything, then the problems are very laid bare. But when you talk about them, they’re not visible to the majority. And so it does end up just sounding like this thing. So I use that piece of information just to say, like, systems, whether they’re CRMs, whether it’s racism that’s built into philanthropy, a lot of times they’re invisible and a lot of the work is actually teasing them out and making them visible and letting people sit with it for a second. Again, that handwashing study we use a lot. We also use studies about AI. AI tends to get white male faces correct 99% of the time correct. And then it gets people of color wrong 30% of the time because they were not the ones who were beta tested on it. So again, just another example of how invisible but also how deep these problems are.

0:35:35.0 JN: So in terms, back to your question, I would say stop with the written commitments, the resolutions, the websites, just make some choices. Hire BIPOC leaders. Let remote work work where it can in the functionality. Again, don’t ask communities of color to move to areas where they’re not going to be safe. Three, educate. Bring up those systems that may be invisible to the masses. Four, create forums for change where they don’t exist. And then for on the other end, for people of color, leaders of color, give up the resentment, give up the learned helplessness, exercise the agency that you already have. Stop asking for it.

0:36:17.0 PG: I think that’s a perfect place to wrap up. Jonah and Jenna, thank you so much for your time today. I know these are two big, broad topics, and I can’t imagine kind of putting a better bow on it than, Jonah, what you just summarized. Thank you for your time, and thanks for being with us on EAB Office Hours.

0:36:35.5 JN: Thanks for having us.

0:36:36.7 JB: Thanks.


More Podcasts


How Penn State Fundraisers Shifted Strategy in 2020

PSU’s VP of Development and Alumni Relations describes how his team adapted fundraising strategies and tactics during the…

How CSU Built One of the Most Diverse Cabinets in Higher Ed

CSU President Joyce McConnell shares her journey to creating one of the most diverse cabinets in higher education.

The Evolving Role of the Chief Diversity Officer

Experts discuss ways that the role of Chief Diversity Officer is changing and explore broader DEI initiatives that…