Building and growing a strong membership community during a pandemic can be challenging. If we can't get together in person, how can we foster strong connections? In the digital and virtual age, how can we effectively engage our members and encourage them to participate?
Enter Yolanda F. Johnson. With more than two decades of experience in the non-profit sector, she has had an outstanding career as a performing artist, as a composer, as an producer, as an educator, and she has used her background as a performer to become a sought-after fundraising expert.
Yolanda founded two membership communities for non-profit professionals— Women of Color in Fundraising and Philanthropy (WOC)® and Allies in Action Membership Network.™
In this episode, we’ll talk about what it takes to build a vibrant membership community and why diversity is the key to a true “philanthropic lifestyle”.
Here are some of the topics we discussed:
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About Julia Campbell, the host of the Nonprofit Nation podcast:
Named as a top thought leader by Forbes and BizTech Magazine, Julia Campbell (she/hers) is an author, coach, and speaker on a mission to make the digital world a better place.
She wrote her book, Storytelling in the Digital Age: A Guide for Nonprofits, as a roadmap for social change agents who want to build movements using engaging digital storytelling techniques. Her second book, How to Build and Mobilize a Social Media Community for Your Nonprofit, was published in 2020 as a call-to-arms for mission-driven organizations to use the power of social media to build movements.
Julia’s online courses, webinars, and talks have helped hundreds of nonprofits make the shift to digital thinking and raise more money online.
Julia's happy clients include Mastercard, GoFundMe, Facebook, Meals on Wheels America, the Make-A-Wish Foundation, and the Boys & Girls Clubs of America.
Hello, and welcome to nonprofit Nation. I'm your host, Julia Campbell. And I'm going to sit down with nonprofit industry experts, fundraisers, marketers, and everyone in between to get real and discuss what it takes to build that movement that you've been dreaming of. I created the nonprofit nation podcast to share practical wisdom and strategies to help you confidently Find Your Voice. Definitively grow your audience and effectively build your movement. If you're a nonprofit newbie, or an experienced professional, who's looking to get more visibility, reach more people and create even more impact than you're in the right place. Let's get started. Hello, everyone, welcome back to nonprofit Nation. I'm so thrilled that you decided to join me today. I'm your host, Julia Campbell. And today I have a really extra special guest we've been trying to coordinate and schedule and I'm so thrilled to say that Yolanda F. Johnson is on the podcast today. Welcome, Yolanda.Yolanda Johnson:
Thank you so much. It's wonderful to be here.Julia Campbell:
So with more than two decades of experience in the nonprofit sector, Yolanda has had an outstanding career as a performing artist, which we're going to talk about all of this as a composer, as a producer as an educator, and she has used her background as a performer to become a sought after fundraising expert. In addition to leading why FJ consulting LLC, Yolanda is the president of women and development wi de New York, the New York City area's premier professional organization for women in fundraising, and philanthropy. She also has an outstanding career as a performing artist and has used her background in all of these areas to create two membership communities for Nonprofit Professionals, women of color in fundraising, and philanthropy, also known as woke WLC, and allies in action membership network. In your spare time, Yolanda, you also launched philanthropy to use a t shirt and Home Goods brand dedicated to building the philanthropic lifestyle with a portion of the proceeds going toward nonprofit organizations. How do you manage all of this? And how did you get started in all of this work? Well, I do sleep I promise. Yes, sleep is so important. People ask me how I sleep. And I say sleep is like my number one.Yolanda Johnson:
Yeah, you can't get all the work done, right. And I would be remiss, if I did not think my team, I have an incredible team that if you surround yourself with talented, lovely people, like minded people, then you may have the absolute fortune and gift of seeing your dreams come through to fruition. So I'm really grateful for that. Wonderful. How did you get started? Gosh, truly, I got started many years ago as a college senior with the University of Tulsa, where I was a music major vocal performance of a bachelor's degree in performance. And then I went to get my master's degree in arts administration with a focus on development and fundraising. So there were a bunch of orchestras closing. And I had a professor who said, you know, when an orchestra closes, it started to really bring it home if the lifeblood of an arts community of a music community, because while you know, dance, you might be able to do to pre recorded music, but opera, it's just a deal breaker. Like, I'm not going to have a company to sing out. And my professor said, Well, what are you going to do about it, and there were these several different orchestras where you have like, chellis moonlighting as executive directors who didn't have the fundraising or business administrative acumen to keep things going. And so I said, you know, I'm gonna make sure that I do something in my masters to keep the other side of the arts going strong so that I have places to sing. And, you know, let's keep, you know, the nonprofit arts sector going strong and music sector performing arts so that we can move it forward and not collapse like what was happening. And then I fell in love with it. So you know, even my senior year I threw our first school music Gala, just from scratch, because I love you loved events and I was like six years old. But yeah, and just fell in love with it from there did a bunch of internships with Arts and Humanities Council at the Philharmonic in town, just really went after it full force headed out to Ohio for my masters and the rest is history because there it was just complete immersion. This pragmatic approach to keeping all of that good work going, and I learned so much about fundraising and about the nonprofit sector in that program and then came back and that was my life is always finding this balance of getting all of that done.Julia Campbell:
How do you feel that your background as a performer has influenced your fundraising career?Yolanda Johnson:
Very much so. So I have a workshop called all the worlds of stage, there's a version called all the worlds of virtual stage as well. very apropos, but I realized when I was sitting in a major financial banking institutions private dining room about to me a huge ask a formidable asked to a donor, that I was at a distinct advantage because I was getting into character. And I actually was enjoying the challenge. And I was like, huh, that was a total performance. That dining room was my stage. And I was on it. And I wanted to get that gift. And I sold it, and had a great conversation. And because of my performance background, it was fun, actually, the challenge. And I said, there's something to this to even the inflection of your voice, by your getting into your authentic best self, your character there. You know what I call it, your treasure trove of fabulousness. What am I going to pull out of there? I need to be right now as my authentic best self, to make sure that I close this gift. And it was a fun challenge. And I was like, yeah, there's something to this. So I've always used that right down to breathing and everything else, you know, that comes with performance practice. It's definitely been a great skill to have in my back pocket as I've gone through my philanthropic career.Julia Campbell:
Wow. Also, the treasure trove of fabulousness one amazing term. So do you teach people how to find their own treasure trove of fabulousness?Yolanda Johnson:
I do actually that's so funny that you asked me that. I recently did that for with for women in development. We did a program called delve into your treasure trove of fabulousness.Julia Campbell:
I was gonna say, No, I'm just so good. That's very good. Well, I try to I try to help people, you know, delve into their treasure troves of thought as often as they possibly can, I absolutely love that I think there is so much about fundraising and development, that is not performance in a way that people are gonna think, oh, it's not authentic. It's not real, it's acting, but in a way that you have to prepare, you can't just go in blind, you probably have some kind of a script, but you can't sound like you're reading from a script. And you just have to do your homework. And you have to know your stage and know who you're talking to. So I think that's all incredibly relevant for a lot of Fundraising Professionals. So today, what I want to focus on because you've done this so successfully, and I know that so many people, whether they be consultants, or nonprofits or membership organizations, you founded these two membership communities. So woke, which is a women of color in fundraising in philanthropy and allies and action membership network. So I want to first of all offer congratulations on the at this time of you know, when we're going to publish this, the almost two year anniversary of both of your communities. That's a huge, huge accomplishment. And I want to ask you, what inspired you to create both of these groups?Yolanda Johnson:
Well, thank you so much for that it's been a really exciting time. It all started with the fact that I happen to be the first black president of wood. And it's more than 40 year history, which was really a head scratcher for a lot of people for New York City, Premier fundraising organization, but wasn't because we know that we need a more diverse leadership pipeline and pipeline in general in the sector. So that was a big diversity milestone. At that same time, I launched a diversity and inclusion Task Force. That was a two year endeavor. And it happened to culminate right around the time of Virsh, Floyd. But before that, I've been working with women for over a decade, like that's just been my heart in the philanthropic sector. So I had been doing roundtables with women of color career roundtables. Even when the pandemic was happening. We were doing these roundtables and bringing people together, I'd always wanted to make sure that we were creating that pipeline through the work that I was doing with width. So I've been in the space for many, many years. And what I started to recognize with the start of the racial justice movement, the current movement is that the voices of the women of color had reached fever pitch to wanting a very particular space for the unique experience of being us in the philanthropic space and so I created woke I sat on my couch, I thought of it I thought Every one I was hearing from all of my experiences for so many years with WID, and I decided that, you know, I learned from that taskforce that change takes time, and while you continue to move that work forward, and so, you know, when I started a standing committee on what we call ie D, that's in my work, the theory of change in its inclusion first set of Dei, there's so many acronyms to that, though, possible is IED.Julia Campbell:
Just talk about that acronym and what it means.Yolanda Johnson:
Well, for my work in the space that one of the four pillars of my consultancy also, and also with winds reflected, you can have all the diversity in the world, you can have the metrics, and you can have the numbers, you can have a bunch of unhappy people who do not feel they're included or they belong. And so while it's important to have the pipeline and have the numbers, you really have to start with making people feel included first. And so we start there. And then the Focus starts there, and then on equity and then on diversity. And it happens a lot with organizations. Now you have to make sure you have an inclusive environment before you can even attract professionals of color. So there you have changes that the individual informs the change to the whole and people change systems are things you hear me say a lot. But it all starts with that I so did all that work with with been working in the space with women for so long. And then decided to continue the work that had been doing with the roundtables everything else. And I said, you know, we need well, and so I went ahead and did I didn't know exactly what would happen. And suddenly it just really took off, it was very much a needed thing at the time for the particular benefits that we were bringing into the sector and the structure that we have with the professional development. Our job board is second to none right now. We've got so many different things we have the radiant leadership institute that we launched. A wonderful is that underneath the woke brand? Yes, yes, all of this as well. The seed was planted because of my role in my workplace, but then woke became its own entirely separate thing that I did to my own consultancy. So yeah, radiant is through welke. And we're culminating at the Bush School down in DC this year, and really excited about that we had an amazing inaugural cohort and with radiant, we always say, don't fit in, stand out and shine. And so I'm doing this beautiful disruption of the space and one of the coolest things about radiant is that we know about the just abhorrent inequity with nonprofit board leadership. And so what we do is literally place each of the cohort members into a leadership position, and a board fellowship or another leadership position for a one year fellowship, to learn the ropes to hopefully be invited onto those boards. So we're literally diversifying boards through radiant.Julia Campbell:
So that's amazing. I was going to ask you about your events and your activities. Is that sort of one of your signature activities.Yolanda Johnson:
Right it Yeah, we have a mentor program, mentor match, we have an executive accountability program called check in Chico's. There's something called books the word which is a an Ask the Expert sort of format, we have lots of other different programming that happens throughout the year or connections, weeks where we bring people together. Yeah, it's an exciting space to be in and a lot of wonderful work being done.Julia Campbell:
So what advice would you give to other people that are trying to build and grow their own membership communities?Yolanda Johnson:
I would say that you have to know that unique value proposition like what is the need, you have to think a bit you know, like an entrepreneur in the sense of an entrepreneur with heart, understanding what need there is, and why you're the person to bring it to the fore, and what you can provide to people to really help them, it has to honestly be about helping people and my heart, like I said, in space has always been for equity for women and to move women forward from all the people who helped me, I wanted to pay that forward. And that came from my heart. And so I had a certain amount of enthusiasm and momentum to be able to do that. And also, I would be remiss, you know, not to acknowledge the fact that the wonderful network that I had been able to build in my career up to that point, and it's those people that I called upon and said, hey, you know, some of them that were sponsors, I call them now, do you remember when I was sitting on my couch, like telling you I have this wild idea to create this thing called woke? And they got behind it? And you know, the rest is history right now and with allies in action, you know, that happened organically because with the work I was doing with woke and I started hearing from all these white allies who were literally asking me, Yolanda, what do I do? And I couldn't create individual plans for everyone. And so I got together with a friend of mine, who's part of the Obama administration. She's a racial sensitivity expert now, and we throw around some ideas came up with the four pillars of education legislation inclusion and action. Wow. That's actually it sounds wonderful. Yeah. Yeah, thank you. It's really proud of the work and action includes philanthropy. So, you know, at the end of last year, we actually did philanthropic portfolio, where we ranked and did all the vetting for organizations that support communities of color, we gave out three different $1,000 awards to the top three organizations and try to just promote them and move them forward within the Allies community in the community at large within welke. So that's been really rewarding work, because it's so important. And with the pandemic, we were in such a situation of checking boxes, or, you know, we don't want to be performative with us, we wanted to create a space where real lifestyle change. And so that's what we're doing with both work and allies.Julia Campbell:
I love that you call it allies in action, because as an ally, myself, I feel like a lot of the work is performative, unfortunately, like you said, I think we are ticking boxes, we're hiring consultants, were saying, oh, we need more people of color on our boards, we need to hire more diverse people, we have no idea what that means. And nor do necessarily, a lot of us really want to understand what that means and what the real change and systemic change involved means. So I appreciate that you call it allies and action. And I love that one of your pillars is action. Because I do believe in learning, I believe in edification, and I completely believe in gaining new experiences, and reading and all of that. But at the end of the day, you got to put your money where your mouth is right, you've got to donate to causes, call legislators, you really have to create that systemic change. So I think that's, that's fantastic. I agree with that pillar. So how do you continually engage and connect with your members, especially in this virtual environment? Are we are you back to sort of in person hybrid? How are you doing the connection and engagement?Yolanda Johnson:
Well, started out virtually. And what we're planning to do throughout 2022, is something called walk around the world. And so that also includes allies. And so we're having events in about 12 or 13 cities across the country. We'll also be over in the UK later on this year. And it's really exciting to bring people together and to establish those sort of in person chapters, slowly but surely going to take advantage of the spring in the summer months, as you know, things are continue to evolve in the way that we live now. But really looking forward to transitioning to in person throughout this year. So we'll be everywhere from a lead to the Bay Area to Chicago and Atlanta, of course, in New York City around the anniversary date be in Boston? Yes, Boston will be in Boston. I'll let you know that for sure. A date, just a real world tour. Yes, it's really a tour. And we're super excited about it. The DC event we know will happen on the evening of May 6 because that is when we culminate the radiant Institute, we figured out we might as well just celebrate invite everybody over. So yeah, it'll be an exciting time for that. And we'll definitely keep you posted.Julia Campbell:
That's wonderful. So who is your target audience current members, prospective members areYolanda Johnson:
woke around the world. Yes, it's everybody. We want to see the people that we've already connected with virtually in person and celebrate. And I know it's gonna be such a celebration just to be like I've emailed you a million times you've come I've seen you in zoom. And now we're in the same room together. And it's great to see you and to be able to connect that way. So for the current community, it's bringing us together for new friends and people we may not know already, we certainly welcome them. So it's really pretty broad. It's our our foray into the in person. We're just bringing everyone together who cares about our work.Julia Campbell:
That's amazing. So on the woke website, it says that women of color and fundraising and philanthropy strives to dismantle the typical archetype of a philanthropist, which I love. We want to redefine philanthropy to truly mean generosity and people being generous to other people. So tell me more about what you call the philanthropic lifestyle.Yolanda Johnson:
The philanthropic lifestyle is a lifestyle brand that I've created around all of this work. And it's thinking really intentionally out the way that we live and how can we give back in ways that you may not have thought of before so it's living philanthropically? You know, from a pair of earrings, a beautiful pair of earrings that I got from the starfish project that goes to stopping and supporting women who have been victims of human trafficking, and stopping human trafficking and supporting those women. And so I was like, you know, if I can buy a pair of earrings and be really intentional about that, I'm gonna do that. And then when I'm spending my money, I'm gonna, you know, not let that imposter syndrome come over me, especially as a woman of color, I'm gonna remember that I stand on the shoulders of giants who have come before me and that philanthropy may look different in different ways. If you pay your tithes to church, you know, any other way that you're you're giving back right down to I think I saw some potato chips the other day that give back to charity. So you know, when you can take the time to give back to local businesses and to women of color on business, people of color on businesses, women on businesses, and just try to get the good work done through the way that you live your life I, I have a big tea party, a Christmas tea party every year, and digging deeper as far as that's concerned, and how can we give back when we all come together to celebrate this feels better? So you know, just thinking very intentionally about living philanthropically, and being generous in ways that you may or may not immediately come to mind. But you have to sit down and think about it.Julia Campbell:
Exactly. I think that too. And I know that, you know, as fundraising leaders, people often come to us and say, Oh, does my donation make a difference? Does $5 make a difference? Doesn't it all just go to overhead, you know, whatever the misconceptions and myths that people have heard. So anyway, that I can encourage giving into everyday life, and normalize giving and democratize giving and make it accessible and available to everyone, no matter how much they have, or what you say, here, you know, redefine philanthropy to truly mean generosity, I think that spirit needs to be taken further. So I appreciate that. So while I have you here, just because you are an expert in in what you call I EDI, I would love for you to give everyone listening, you know, some steps or some tips that nonprofits can actually take to expand opportunities for women of color and fundraising?Yolanda Johnson:
Well, I think that the first would be to do an organizational assessment and meet yourself where you are. Now over the past year or so. Everybody came out with a statement? Oh, right. And, you know, in the thick of things, and then after the statements came the establishment of many internal entities and public promises that were made. So we're still in this period of not shaming people, but just a little accountability, what's actually being done, because I can guarantee you that your donors of color care about that, and we'll be asking about that. But, you know, are you fostering an inclusive environment? I actually recently, well, not so recently, but a few months ago, wrote an article for salesforce.com, about D nine fundraising, and I give five top tips there. And so, you know, you want to make sure you're creating an inclusive environment that you have plans in place to steward your donors of color, that you're starting at the very top with board leadership and executive leadership and making sure that people see people that look like them, and that it becomes the norm that you're not always the exception as a woman of color. Just that supportive environment. So start at the top, who's on the board? Is the board reflect the constituency? Does the senior staff reflect it? And then how are you bringing people together to make sure those perspectives and voices are heard? And that's what a lot of the internal entities and mechanisms, you know, were created for? The follow up? Did you keep it going? Was it performance? Or is it something that's really being transformative? And so I think those are some of the top things you can do, of course, professional development, and just providing that support, and not ever making assumptions, but creating a space where, you know, you really can be an ally to women of color to create that pipeline and to maintain it.Julia Campbell:
So you manage these two communities, I can imagine that sometimes there are very uncomfortable conversations, sometimes heated conversations. People may be skeptical, hesitant, they might even be defensive. So with such a charged topic and emotional topic, how do you sort of how do you manage these conversations? And how do you keep the community on track sort of towards the end to the end goal?Yolanda Johnson:
Well, again, I think creating those brave spaces where you can have the dialogue and understanding again, our theory of change. My theory of change is that the individual informs the whole you can't hit people on the work. It has to be an individual journey where their understanding, you know, it's like throughout their daily life, understanding how it fits into that. And so I think just making those spaces, and nobody wants to talk anymore, you know about a lot of different issues in our country. People scream and shout, and they want to be right. And nobody, like the dialogue has been lost so many. Exactly, exactly. They want to just yell and be proven right. And yeah, I agree. Now, when it comes to racial and gender equity, I tend for my own lived experience and what I believe, you know, there is a right, but it's like, you have to sometimes just create that space. Because then we're going back as far as to unconscious bias, and all different things that inform how people have come to where they are. Now, if you go to the Allies, website and web page coverpage homepage, rather, you'll see our statement that is not a black person's responsibility to teach white people about racism, and we believe that very fervently. But seeing what's at stake in our country, I was game to try to help people and help guide them and plant those seeds to get people where they needed to be to understand, because one of the best quotes about this has been really an attributed but to those accustomed to privilege, equity can seem like oppression.Julia Campbell:
Yes, say that, again.Yolanda Johnson:
To those accustomed to privilege, equity can seem like oppression, yes. So when you are in the privileged group, when things are starting to be equitable, and you have to give up some of that privilege, that can be a hard pill to swallow. It's why we have issues, like what I call white fatigue right now, like, we have issues like white resentment, which is more of an economic sort of issue, but divided we fall. So opening up those spaces for dialogue, but a dialogue that is safe for the people of color, because there's already been enough that's been endorsed. And we do need to feel safe enough to have conversations and have our voices be heard in an environment where it's receptive, and not just holding the dialogue for the sake of saying that the dialogue has been held, but holding the dialogue, for the sake of transformational change, and really listening to people and finding those entry points. I believe it is a fundamental best practice for everyone in this sector, to bring up issues of IED and of equity, for women of gender and racial equity. You don't have to be an expert. But wherever you are, everybody has a role to play, wherever you are, whatever tables at which you have a seat, to bring it up and to spark that dialogue so that we can keep heading in the right direction.Julia Campbell:
Absolutely. It's like people that say, Oh, I'm not political. I don't talk politics. Okay. Yeah. Brene, Brown says one of my favorite quotes to not have the conversation, because of discomfort is the definition of privilege. And I've always thought that and that really stuck with me when I read that. And when she said that, and I saw her speak. And I thought, that's absolutely right, just to say I don't want to talk about it. Well, that means that your life, your body, your very existence is not actually on the line. So you can afford to put your head in the sand and not talk about it. And it's not going to affect your daily life. So I think that's absolutely, that's absolutely right. So I really oh my gosh, I really appreciate you being here. I was going to ask you to sing, but I'm not going to ask you to sing because we can go find it on YouTube. But what people might not know is that you are an accomplished soprano, you're getting back to the stage. So tell me what you're working on.Yolanda Johnson:
Ah, yes. COVID was a really tricky time for you know, live performances and being on stage again. So I'm super excited to get back especially here during Black History Month, I did my first last month, bringing to life some African American art in the 20th century and doing some music around there. And now for Black History Month, I'll be presenting my spiritual experience. It's a concert lecture we've had which has a few special things added to this version, just you know, thinking about all the hidden meanings behind the spirituals. It's a it's a real wonderful time to come together and dig through and delve through the oral history of African Americans and all of that. And then for Women's History Month next month, have some wonderful things with women composers, and just looking ahead at a year full of performance with music and a lot of meaningful things in philanthropy as well. Where can people find that performance on your website? Yes, on Yolanda F. Johnson, calm, okay. Yolanda F Johnson calm. And then how else can people find you in get in touch with you? You can find me on LinkedIn you can find me on why FJ high end consulting.com has links to get to well into allies and action as well. All the different projects and yeah, check me out on why FJ team or Yolanda Johnson.Julia Campbell:
Great. And I will put all of those links into the show notes. And I really appreciate you being here, especially for Black History Month. And especially like you said, Women's History Month being next month. And I think there's a lot to celebrate, and obviously still a lot to do a lot of work to do. So I will put all those links in the show notes. And everyone. definitely connect with Yolanda F. Johnson, connect with one of the communities and continue just changing the world doing such great work. Thanks, Yolanda. Thank you so much, Julia. Thanks for having me. Well, hey there, I wanted to say thank you for tuning into my show, and for listening all the way to the end. If you really enjoyed today's conversation, make sure to subscribe to the show in your favorite podcast app, and you'll get new episodes downloaded as soon as they come out. I would love if you left me a rating or review because this tells other people that my podcast is worth listening to. And then me and my guests can reach even more earbuds and create even more impact. So that's pretty much it. I'll be back soon with a brand new episode. But until then, you can find me on Instagram at Julia Campbell seven seven. Keep changing the world. Nonprofit unicorn