In the Spotlight: Sufina Ahmad, Chair of the Expert Advisory Panel on ED&I, Institute of Fundraising

Joanna Thornton, a Partner in our Not for Profit Practice, interviews Sufina Ahmad, Chair of the Expert Advisory Panel on Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, Institute of Fundraising, as part of our series on pioneering leadership, exploring the changes in leadership style and identifying what factors make an outstanding leader in today’s society.

Why is it so important that fundraising attracts talent from diverse backgrounds?

There are powerful arguments for the need to make the sector more inclusive, from a legal, moral and business case perspective. The charity sector touches every facet of life in the UK and therefore so do the professions within it. Fundraising should be a career of choice for people of all backgrounds. The fundraising profession is less diverse than the charity sector as a whole, with 87% of fundraisers identifying as being from a white background. There is a wealth of evidence to show that diversity and inclusion make good business sense. Diverse organisations are more successful because of diversity of thought and from a fundraising perspective they can attract income from more diverse income streams.

What do you mean by ‘diverse backgrounds’? Is this a wider definition than the protected characteristics?

By diversity, we mean each of the protected characteristics of disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, and sexual orientation and how they intersect. We are also concerned with broader diversity, especially socio-economic diversity and diversity of thought.

Tell me about the IoF’s expert advisory panel and the role its role in helping the Institute of Fundraising to deliver its strategic objectives

The Institute of Fundraising (IoF) is committed to making the fundraising profession more equal, diverse and inclusive. In February 2018, the Board established a new independent Expert Advisory Panel, of which I am the Independent Chair. The panel brings together experts on diversity and inclusion and fundraisers with lived experience of the barriers people face in the profession. In November 2018 the IoF, with significant input from the expert advisory panel, launched its Manifesto for Change and has spent the first few months of 2019 working on a  strategy on how best to achieve its significant ambitions and objectives around EDI, which it will launch at the Fundraising Convention in July 2019. The key areas of focus include entry into the profession, retention and progression, all of which are essential components of a diversity strategy to benefit the profession in the long-term and to build a sustainable pipeline of diverse talent that can progress from entry level through to leadership roles.

How will this benefit the wider charity sector and how will you measure success?

Our role is to advise IoF on the biggest issues, opportunities and challenges with regards to equality, diversity and inclusion and for the IoF and its governance structures to then take action to address them. The panel represents much of the UK and different fundraising disciplines. It includes fundraisers and sole fundraisers from charities large and small as well as consultancies. As Independent Chair, I work outside of the fundraising sector as the Corporate Strategy Manager at City of London. The Independent Expert Advisory Panel is time limited (the deadline is July this year) and then our work will be formally constituted as part of the IoF’s governance. We are now using both qualitative and quantitive data more effectively to underpin each aspect of what we are calling for, so that we can take an evidence-based approach and track success both now and in the future. For example, we have recently undertaken a YouGov survey on the perceptions of the fundraising profession, the results of which will be announced in the coming weeks.

What are the key achievements made since the panel’s inception in January 2018?

The launch of the Change Collective, our The Manifesto for Change and the imminent launch of The EDI strategy are major achievements. We now have much better baseline data having worked with PwC and will be able to benchmark the progress made. There are 15 key activity areas in the manifesto. A major achievement is that we are now in the second round of bursaries allowing greater access to the IoF convention.

You have a corporate strategy background, rather than fundraising as your professional background. What are the advantages of bringing in different expertise to the panel, which consists of a range of professionals including but not confined to senior fundraisers?

I have experience of strategy, policy and learning, coupled with direct delivery experience. I am not living fundraising day in day out in my current job. I have the benefit of independence from the sector and can bring a fresh view point, which when combined with the collective knowledge and experience of the rest of the panel who represent different facets of the fundraising profession is a useful mix.

How can charities build their pipeline of diverse talent at all levels, ensuring talented fundraisers are recruited, developed and retained?

This doesn’t just happen. Organisations need to do the work. We all need to be more thoughtful about the ways in which we recruit. Inclusion will give access to the broadest range of talent and many recruitment practices require more soul searching. For example, unpaid internships which have traditionally been a route in to entry level roles, have real implications for the socio-economic diversity of the profession. We must consider a wide range of factors including which universities are targeted for the recruitment of graduates and how we reach out to local communities. One size does not fit all – organisations must consider the fact that people seek job opportunities in different ways.

Good recruitment practices and thinking more innovatively are key to unlocking the best internal practices and ensuring diversity is at the heart of recruitment and retention policies. We must also be mindful that there should not be an expectation for people to be ambassadors for their own protected characteristics.

How would you like to see Executive Search firms working in partnership with their clients to ensure that diversity is improved at leadership level?

Diversity should be a central consideration for every search undertaken and not just reserved for organisations that appear more diverse, or for whom diversity is an important consideration. It should never be a ‘token’ offering but must be integral to all that search firms do. Diversity in its broadest sense should be considered for every role, rather than prioritising one characteristic over another.

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