WHAT THE FUNDRAISING
64: Overhead Myth, Mission Creep, Scarcity Mindset: A Stuck Sector and What We Can Do About It with Dominique Morgan
“I thought I wasn’t smart enough or maybe I just wasn’t hungry enough, when in fact I just hadn’t been given access to all the options that really exist for a person’s career.”
– Dominique Morgan
In this episode of What the Fundraising Podcast…
Dominique Morgan is a powerhouse executive director – most recently at The Okra Project, a collective addressing the needs of Black Trans people – but hers is a story that could have gone a different way. Growing up in Omaha, Nebraska, Dominique was repeatedly incarcerated. It was a lived experience without dreams or prospects – until she had a few life-changing experiences. A single volunteer gig working at a Pride festival started Dominique on the path to higher education, paid nonprofit work that she loved, and an unstoppable voice in the movement to dismantle broken systems, including violence against LGBT/GNC people in prison, discrimination against individuals living with HIV/AIDS and the self-perpetuating inequity of our prison-industrial complex.
This impressive leader previously took Black & Pink from a modest budget into the multi-millions, leveraging her passion for abolishing violence against LGBTQ people in prison through advocacy, education, direct service, and organizing. While moving through the nonprofit world, Dominique has brought her unique prism to the psychological and practical baggage that too often diverts us from our core missions. She understands what it feels like to be intimidated by the wealth around boardroom tables or be at the overheated center of a hot donor trend – the themes of privilege and power come up over and over again in this conversation.
Dominique knows how to fundraise powerfully for her work through an abundance mindset that also allows her to see where she can redistribute funds or make connections to help move others forward on the path to their shared north star. She embraces both celebration of all that nonprofits accomplish, while also seeing and calling out the shadow work that we must continuously do to stand in our integrity and purpose fully.
You’ll come away from this wide-ranging conversation with a refreshing sense of what can be achieved if we choose to allow vulnerability, share our stories, and support one another. “If we are the space where beautiful work happens for human beings, should we not hold ourselves to a higher standard?” asks Dominique. “Shouldn’t we push ourselves to emulate who we really want to see at the end of the day? That doesn’t happen if we don’t have real conversations.”
Listen now to rethink the way you show up in your nonprofit leadership, fundraising, and in the sector as a whole.
Many thanks to NationBuilder, the software that builds movements, for sponsoring this episode of What the Fundraising. With everything in one integrated system, NationBuilder tools are designed to power nonprofits, movements, and dynamic campaigns.
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- Many thanks to NationBuilder, the software that builds movements, for sponsoring this episode of What the Fundraising. With everything in one integrated system, NationBuilder tools are designed to power nonprofits, movements, and dynamic campaigns.
- Check out my Power Partners Formula and register for a masterclass here to learn more about how you can raise more from the right funders through an alignment-first methodology.
TIPS AND TOOLS TO IMPLEMENT TODAY
Many thanks to NationBuilder, the software that builds movements, for sponsoring this episode of What the Fundraising. With everything in one integrated system, NationBuilder tools are designed to power nonprofits, movements, and dynamic campaigns.
Get to know Dominique:
Dominique is an award-winning artist, activist, and speaker. As the National Director of Black and Pink, they work daily to dismantle the systems that perpetuate violence on LGBTQ/GNC people and individuals living with HIV and AIDS. Partnering her lived experience of incarceration as a youth (which included 18 months in solitary confinement) with a decade of change making artistry, advocacy, and background in public health, Dominique continues to work in spaces of sex education, radical self-care, and youth development with intentions of dismantling the prison industrial complex.
Follow Dominique and :
This week’s guest @thedominiquemorgan spoke a lot about her work at the @theokraproject
Get to know @theokraproject
The Okra Project is a collective that seeks to address the global crisis faced by Black Trans people by bringing home-cooked, healthy, and culturally specific meals and resources to Black Trans People wherever we can reach them.
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I teach nonprofit fundraisers to bring in more gifts from the RIGHT donors… so they can stop hounding people for money. Fundraising doesn’t have to be uncomfortable.
Mallory Erickson: Welcome everyone! I am so thrilled to be here today with Dominique Morgan. Dominique, welcome to What The Fundraising.
Dominique Morgan: Oh, thank you for having me.
Mallory Erickson: I am really excited about this conversation. I have been following your work for a while and then found out that we have a friend in common, Donovan Taylor Hall who I love dearly. And so it’s just such a pleasure to get to talk to you today.
Dominique Morgan: So excited to be here and of course, love Donovan.
Mallory Erickson: So awesome. So why don’t we start with you just sharing with folks your story and journey, which is inspiring and I think will give us a lot of different places to span off and have a bigger conversation about your activism and leadership.
Dominique Morgan: Yeah. My name is Dominique Morgan, pronouns are she and her. By day I am the newest Executive Director of The Okra Project. I just completed almost five years as the Executive Director of Black and Pink, the largest prison abolitionist organization in the world. And I’m really proud to say that I was a part of making that a truth for the organization.
Born and raised in Omaha, Nebraska, midwest through and through. But as a young person, I was navigating many systems, whether it was foster care group homes or detention centers and then experienced homelessness. And at the age of 18 entered the adult prison system here in Nebraska and spent nearly a decade navigating that system.
In February it will be 14 years since my release from incarceration and I came home from prison with an associate’s degree in culinary management, thinking that was like my apex. I wanted to work in a restaurant. I wanted to have a vehicle that got me from point A to point B, one day maybe go on a vacation. And I did not feel like I was settling at the time. I really was thinking of the highest heights of what I believed based on what the world had told me for most of my life. Whether it was based on the decisions I had made or based on what was now gonna be a part of my story forever, which was incarceration and being system impacted. That was a very lofty dream to be gainfully employed, to have a home that felt affirming and have some semblance of a lived experience. I didn’t feel as oppressive as most days had felt in my life up until that point.
Thankfully I volunteered for Pride that summer of 2009 and was too broke to afford a ticket. And so they were like if you volunteer, you will get in, you will get in for free at no cost. Not free, we’re on a fundraising platform. If it doesn’t cost the person, it costs the organization. And I remember seeing a young person who it was clear she was working the event. And it was interesting because I was just signing people in on the list but I was enjoying it. I was enjoying meeting people and I asked her how did she get this job. She told me that she had a degree in public health. And as a very proud Pisces, emotional decisions are our ministry. And I remember I went home that night and signed up for online classes with Southern New Hampshire University in their public health program because I was like for the first time in my life, I was doing work but it didn’t feel like work and it felt like.
I remember being young and having friends in the Midwest and there might be something that happens nationally. There’s like a test that you take in your junior year of high school that tells you what career path you should go down. Now I remember so many of my friends knowing in their sophomore year, freshman year, what do I want to be? I couldn’t answer that question. And I always felt out of sorts because maybe I just wasn’t smart enough or maybe I just wasn’t hungry enough. When in fact I hadn’t been given access to all of the options that really exist when you think about a person’s career.
And so activism for me really began with that volunteer experience. I started my undergrad. I leaned into Pride more and became the first black president of Pride, and vice president of Pride in Nebraska. I created youth pride in Nebraska. And really that was on the ground lived experience from fundraising, trying to afford performers, putting on this big event for my state for free. I was a volunteer working 30, 40 hours still working a job, going to school, but I loved it. There was never a day when I was like oh my God, I don’t want to do this.
And then my life hit that apex of my history being in the system. I started to feel like I would never have a career because I would apply for the job. We think you’re awesome. Oh, we saw you here, and then it’s the background check, or it’s we’ve passed the background check, or I’ve disclosed and then it’s a board member or something. It was so scary for me to believe I could never have a job where I was being paid in this work that I found was my passion.
And so I just continue to volunteer. And I’ll never forget putting on Facebook in maybe 2014, 2015, listen, I will serve the coffee, will someone please just hire me. And in the fall of 2015 I was finishing my undergrad. I was offered a job working for Congressman Brad Ashford, and Congressman Ashford passed away this year. It was a great opportunity because he looked at me and he didn’t see my past as a barrier and that was the first time. That rolled into graduating in May of 2016 with my undergrad. I started as a sexual health educator on July 1st, 2016. I became the ED of Black and Pink in January of 2018. Took on the job at The Okra Project in October of 2021. So when people talk about my career, when people talk about the things that I have accomplished, there are times that I struggle with it not because I’m afraid to see the things that I’ve been able to do. It’s literally been six years of me not being seen for where I came from but being seen from where I am now and where I want to go. That simple change has opened doors and created opportunities that I never thought was possible.
So you look back to 2009 and the most I wanted to do was like, again run kitchens and do these things. And I say that to say that is incredible work. And there are people, the Bobby Flay’s of the world who spend all of their days in the kitchen and that’s their love language. I was doing that because I thought that’s all I was gonna be able to do. Looking back I didn’t think I was settling, but I was settling because I didn’t believe I had the right to ask for more. And so now six years later in 2022 to be the only black trans woman in US history to be the Executive Director of two multimillion-dollar agencies at the same time. To just wrap up being the grand Marshall for New York Pride. I’m the only model that Apple has ever had for their Pride campaigns or for an Apple campaign, period.
The things I’ve been able to do have really been about people, just not people doing me favors but people saying listen these barriers, we’re gonna do our best to help remove them and then we’re gonna let you do your thing. And when someone’s desire for change meets systems and barriers being removed, great things always happen.
Mallory Erickson: Wow. There are so many questions I wanna ask you just hearing more about your story. But I’m curious to go to that piece around the evolution of you recognizing your deservingness to ask and want more. And I’m curious you were fundraising back when you were volunteering with Pride. And we talk a lot on this show about the ways in which conversations around money activate a lot of our inner beliefs about self and value. And I’d be curious to know how your fundraising arc has perhaps followed or mirrored some of this other evolution that you’ve seen in yourself.
Dominique Morgan: I think the nonprofit space is really interesting. We hunger to be seen as special and not like for-profit spaces. And I’m from Omaha, Nebraska, which is the land of family philanthropy, the Buffet family. There’s so many families that have access and they’ve chosen to take that access and invest it in a way to where community can experience change. To think of a city like Omaha that gets to build the things we get to build and have the work we get to have because of the folks who invest in our community. It’s beautiful and powerful.
At the same time, I’m really thankful that my first role as an executive director I brought the office for Black and Pink to Omaha, but we were a national organization. And I would say out of a hundred percent of our funding in the first two or three years, maybe 5% of that money came from Nebraska. And that allowed me to learn about fundraising in real-time from a national perspective. Because I think relationships are important in fundraising, understanding the systems you’re navigating, the pre-work. I’ve spent years attending panels and doing things just so these people can know me so when I get in front of them, or when an application for our organization is in front of them, they’re aware of my work. They’re aware of my character because that’s just what it takes sometimes especially for black people, for a black trans woman and someone who comes from where I come from.
I’m not walking in rooms and people are writing me 10 million dollar checks. Not because I’m not doing 10 million dollar work but because this idea of nonprofit where powerful things happen from nonprofits spaces to be clear, but because we don’t wanna name like our stuff, doing that shadow work of our community. We don’t realize that all the bias and all the things that show up in other places, it’s here. But it’s something we call in Nebraska, we call it Nebraska nice, to where there’s racism in Nebraska but we’re not gonna tell you can’t come in the building. We’re just gonna put you in the really crappy table at the back of the restaurant near the kitchen. It’s never aggressive or in your face. And because we aren’t wanting to name like, oh my goodness, I saw Dominique’s Facebook and I maybe didn’t like something that Dominique said. And I’m not gonna name that when I look at this application for this grant, maybe my own personal opinions are going to affect whether we say yes or no, or going to affect the expectations I have of this money.
And for me, that’s the arc, I’ve done the work to see, I’ve done the work to try to be clear about what the nonprofit industrial complex is. Not to poo on it because I work in nonprofit. I truly believe at this point in my life if I’m working for an organization, if I am being employed somewhere I most likely will be employed by a nonprofit organization. But we still gotta be able to see our stuff. And we have to understand that. And as a black trans woman who, even in the things I just shared, the privilege I have of people do know my name and I’ve been in fellowships and all of these things. I’m able to look at some of my sisters who cannot get $5,000 to do a food pantry.
And so that fundraising experience in the beginning, that was something interesting. And I also think I need to name that it’s really weird to be poor and people talk to you about millions. It’s really interesting to look at, a person could be working on your staff and your development officer. And I know so many places are not lucky enough to have a development officer. The ED is doing all the things. I’ve been blessed that, one, I had a good friend of mine. Shout out to my sister, Ashley. She is in the philanthropy space. And when I became an ED, she put me up on game. She was like, no, this is what it looks like. Dominique, if you have to choose between getting someone to run your programs or getting someone who can help you write grants. Girl, get a grant writer. And I tell that to girls now.
But also if I put a budget in front of somebody for a grant and they’re like, oh, you do programming. Why didn’t you put a program staff on here before a development person? It’s interesting but what I’ve learned is that it’s really difficult to think about all of that money. And then I know organizations where people are running pantries and having to go home with a pantry. So that’s really important for me to think about as well. Not becoming so desensitized to talking about money from a fundraising perspective. I’m a black poor kid from the north side of Omaha, Nebraska, all things I’m truly proud about. And all things that for me, it was right before pride before we headed to New York.
People might drag me for this story but I’m gonna tell the story because I think it’s a word that people need to hear. When we’re talking about money and we’re talking about fundraising. And we’re talking about this scarcity approach we have to how we pay people in nonprofits and how philanthropy and fundraising. How we will drag people because it’s I gave a dollar and you’re making this amount of money. Like this assumption that this dollar I gave to the campaign is going into my salary.
My first year at Charles Drew Health Center, working as an Adolescent Health Educator, the most money I had ever made in my life. I’m talking about there was a time in my life when I was like you’re gonna have to pry me from this desk at Charles Drew. I was making $42,000 a year full benefits and I was on 10. I was like, oh my goodness. If I wake up every day and do my job, I’ll never have to worry about paying my bills. I never have to wonder if I’ll be able to eat again. It was the best thing that had ever happened to me making that money. Again I have eight felonies on my record as a young person, like looking at where I come from. And that moment impossible had happened. Let’s just be clear. It was right before we were heading to New York with my team and I went to go check my account. And I had about $50,000 in my checking, not savings or anything, but it was like $50,000 in there because some things had come down and I gotten payouts and all that stuff. And I remember sitting there and I started crying because I had almost $8,000 more than what my first year salary would’ve been at Charles Drew.
And also recognizing that because I have more, I give more, I get to do more. And I also work in a system that will look at my salary and say why does she make that? Where does this money go? And I remember in that moment thinking I don’t have to work from scarcity anymore. And so I think fundraising and the conversations around philanthropy, especially for folks of color for marginalized folks. Could you imagine being a person who can carry a child possibly working in spaces around reproductive justice at this time in our community? It blows my mind to think that we don’t recognize that the more the people who are doing the work have access, the more they get to do with it. Yes in their work. But historically our work doesn’t stop when we clock out. It’s the girls inboxing me on Instagram sending me their GoFundMe because they need to eat at night. That’s not Okra project sending that money. That’s Dominique Morgan doing it. And I do that because I’m at a point where I have enough access and abundance to pay it forward and not suffer.
And I told that long story to circle back to that’s what philanthropy is in the first place. These systems historically, these families, these white individuals have so much money that they get to take care of themselves, their loved ones and then they get to say we also want to invest in the community. And none of them have to choose whether they eat or whether the community eats. Because they’ve been given that privilege to get to the point where they have enough abundance to choose both.
And so that was a really long response, but my understanding about philanthropy helped me realize that I want to be a philanthropist as well. I want to give funds to people. There is power in that. And also it’s far more powerful when I don’t feel like I have to turn myself into a martyr and I’m like, oh, I fed someone but I went without food tonight. I feel so great about that. If anything, philanthropy has just caught me about the process of raising money, that the ways that folks position themselves to be philanthropists. Some of us need to take on those tactics ourselves. And last but not least we have to really dismantle and own our mess as folks in nonprofit. And that doesn’t mean that we’re bad or good or in between. It just means we just are.
Mallory Erickson: Yeah. One of the things I always appreciate about you is I just feel like you navigate nuance really well. And so I really appreciate everything that you just said. And it’s interesting I just did a podcast interview with this woman, Angela Matthews, who’s an investment coach. And she made this comment on the show about how when we’re advocating for a raise we need to move out of the scarcity mindset that us having that money isn’t taking it directly away from someone else. And I was thinking, I was like in nonprofit that’s actually a little bit complicated. People do feel like they’re looking at that budget. They see their salary line, they see that program line.
But I think your point is so important, which is that nonprofit leaders should not be the ones faced with that either or. They’re the people who deserve more than anything to have access to the resources they need and to not frankly have the nonprofit itself perpetuating the inequities that the nonprofit is set up to solve. Like it’s just a little bit crazy making
Dominique Morgan: It is. And I understand for people who are just like hey, I gave $10 to this campaign and you see again, I drive a Mercedes, right? I also told people I’ve never had one job. My first year as an Executive Director, so my first year at Charles Drew I was making $42,000. My first year as an executive director at Black and Pink running a national organization, my salary was $55,000 a year. I worked both jobs to get close to making 100K. So that hustle mentality was always there. It wasn’t about that. But it blew my mind that once I understood getting on GuideStar and looking at a 990, y’all start doing that more. And you’ll see these EDs that are making half a million dollars.
And for me, it’s not, I’m not mad that you’re making that. I’m saying why doesn’t everyone make that. I’m saying that type of money means that you know what, Dominique doesn’t work five jobs so I get to show up at my day job in a really different way. So very much so, nuance, and also you want to still hear people. You still want to hear because that person, maybe they come from the church life where they tithe. I grew up with an aunt who would skip, who would call in for her phone bill and get an extension on her phone bill to be able to tithe that church. And she would have to catch two or three buses to church but the pastor was walking away in a Benz.
So I use that example to say you never know where someone’s experience, their trauma, their fears come from. But we also don’t have to kowtow to it. We can gently push back. We can say this is what it looks like to take care of people who take care of others. Mother Teresa didn’t have to pay rent. So mama could do a lot of stuff for free, did not have to buy herself food. Didn’t have to buy flights to go on Goodwill missions, all those things. So when you talk to me about someone who’s in those roles, I’m always like, yeah oh, Dominique, you make as much as someone on the Supreme court. Their security is free. Their meals are free. Their rent is free. All those things. I have to not only take care of myself but historically as oppressed people, right, as non male-identified, as non-identified folks in this world, our money is usually taking care of us and two or three generations of other folks around us, whether it’s a parent, a grandparent. When August comes, I don’t have kids but I’m buying school clothes for my nieces and nephews because that’s what you do.
So yes, absolutely. That’s really important to think about for me. And then I think about it for myself but I also think about it for my staff. What do you need? My team at The Okra Project, I wasn’t living in New York. And I had two staff members coming to New York from the Midwest. One was making like 120k and one was making like in the 85k range. And I remember them being like, oh, I can’t really do this. I can’t really do that. And I had to sit them down and say I need you to tell me what you need because I don’t know what it costs to be in New York right now.
So I’ll tell you my desire. My desire is to compensate you at a level, just as you said Mallory, to where we’re not perpetuating and we’re not positioning you to experience the very things that we seek to address at The Okra Project. And I don’t know what it’s like to be a young, black trans person trying to find a home in New York because that’s not where I’m at. So let me know what that looks like. For the EDS or the leaders or the people or the program officers who are over these grants, let’s ask more questions about what do you really need?
And sometimes what that person really needs may exceed what you can do. But the power of asking what they need means that you don’t know what comes. I’ve had so many people who I’ve told them what I’ve needed and maybe in the beginning, they’ve had 50k but they’ll come back and say, hey, this extra money came in and I remember you said you wanted to do this project. I’m gonna circle back to you. So those questions I think set us up to really show up for people. And at the end of the day, I think that’s one of the beautiful things about philanthropy and fundraising is that it positions us all to show up for people, whether it’s the org, whether it’s the person offering the funds, whether it’s the person working in the non-profit to distribute funds, it allows us to show up.
Mallory Erickson: Yeah, I really appreciate that. And it’s bringing up for me something you were talking about a few minutes ago around that sort of shadow work piece and our avoidance of that in the sector. And I’m curious how you think about, because I agree I think this sector could be so much stronger if we did that work. If we were willing to look at ourselves and be really honest about these components.
And part of me wonders if what holds us back is a lot of the performative perfectionism that we feel like we need to do in the sort of show and dance for funding. Part of it also makes me wonder if the work itself, and I’m curious what you think about this, like the work to really look at that shadow stuff is hard and uncomfortable. And I feel like we placate ourselves a lot in the nonprofit system. We’re good people because I work here and that keeps us away. Like in some ways I almost feel like it’s more dangerous when nonprofits are perpetuating these things because they can hide from it in a way that other entities can’t, because they’re like wait, look over here, look at this like really good anti-racist thing we did.
Dominique Morgan: Friend, the number of for-profit organizations or the number of banks who have someone now on staff after 2020, they have someone on staff that’s over philanthropy. It’s not just because they want to give, it’s because there is this guise of goodness in the nonprofit space. And again, shadow work is hard. And I know that if I, for instance, if I have a pimple on my face, I really don’t wanna look in the mirror at that pimple all day. But if I don’t know the pimples there, if I don’t change up my face, wash or whatever, I’m most likely never going to be able to address it. And I think that looking at the pimple doesn’t mean that our entire entity, our body is a pimple. But it does mean that we don’t get to show up the way we want to because we’re not looking ourselves in the face. When you look at the data of who’s writing the grants, the black and brown folks who are on the ground, who are asking for the funds, compared to the people who are either offering the funds or who are in a position to be an intercessor, to decide that you get the funds. That itself is inherently disproportionate and harmful, just on that.
But if we don’t do the work to name, hey, maybe us looking at us having a hundred million dollars and everyone who is distributing this hundred million dollars is a white person. Yes, there may be some white women in here but we do queer work and no one on staff identifies as a queer person. Can we talk about that? Doesn’t mean that tomorrow you have to go out and tokenize queer people and hire a queer person that you are not ready to support. But it does mean let’s talk about the type of folks you would wanna hire. Let’s talk about why you haven’t had those folks apply. If they did apply, why they didn’t make it to a final interview.
Those questions, I don’t have a problem with a person being exactly who they say they are, a person or a system. It’s frustrating when it looks like they know exactly who they are, they’ve doubled down on it. And then when you call ’em out, they’re like we don’t know. It’s hey, just say that we wanna gate keep. But if that’s not your desire, we all know enough at this point to where we could be doing better because we know better. And again, none of this for me is about us talking down to people. None of it is about saying that great things don’t happen. It’s saying that if we are the space where beautiful work happens for human beings, should we not hold ourselves to a higher standard? If we poo on the for-profit girls who look at their bottom line, shouldn’t we push ourselves to really emulate who we want to see in the mirror in the day. And I think that doesn’t happen if we don’t have real conversations.
For the past couple of years, I’ve been able to attend and speak at the Yale philanthropic conference. And those conversations are really powerful. I just finished my time as a Kaplan fellow and Amy and Justin at Kaplan. Amy has just been appointed as the new present of the New York philanthropic trust. She will be overseeing $6 billion, it’s really powerful to hear those folks ask questions and be open. So for me, if those folks who could just shield themselves are like, listen, how do we be better? I don’t have a problem challenging everyone with that. And I can challenge with love. I can challenge with respect. I can challenge with care, but I am going to challenge because this is my life.
Mallory Erickson: I love that. And we’ve had a few conversations on this podcast around how often we don’t even ask donors a simple question back. I have this woman on who talked about the science of influence and how, when there’s perceived power dynamics and we believe someone has more power than us. They will say something offhandedly and we’re like, okay, you definitely wanna do that thing. And we don’t take that moment to be like, talk to me about that. What’s the goal around that?
Dominique Morgan: My first boss, her name was Ann, shout out to Ann. She is the one who hired me at Charles Drew. And talking about story, before Anne hired me, 10 years earlier she was working for an organization that helped with utility assistance. And so I remember my lights were gonna be cut off the summer of 2011 and she helped me with that. And then all those years later, when she became the director of reproductive health at Charles Drew, I was her first hire. And she would constantly talk about mission creep.
This idea of people with the funds will come in and say, hey I would love to see y’all do a program about LA, and I’m gonna give you a million dollars to do it. And then the organization, one, rushes to do it. That’s not something that they really care about. Two, the program is a pet project of that person. They haven’t talked about if there’s sustainability for that work. Are there other systems funding that? Is it a 10 year commitment from this person? No, we don’t ask those questions because we’re chasing the dollar.
And so the mission creep conversation, that conversation we were just having of knowing yourself that also helps you say okay, that’s great. Actually, I know someone who’s doing that. Again abundance positions you not to feel like, oh, I only got $5 for this person offering a hundred dollars. If I tell them to go to this other person, I don’t know what I’m gonna do next. Abundance means that we have so much, we are excited to share among. So I’m like, oh, you know what? If someone calls The Okra Project today and they’re like, oh, we wanna support sex workers. We do support folks who identify as sex workers but you know what, my former employer Black and Pink, they have a sex worker liberation project. You should call Andrew and Andrew’s doing philanthropy there. Andrew’s doing fundraising there. Because it positions me to maintain who I am. You have integrity. I think people respect you. I think donors respect you if you’re just like, listen, that’s not our bag. Thank you though. I would love to tell you about some things that I am dreaming about us doing. If you wanna know about something new or because philanthropy loves to be involved in new and innovative stuff. It’s no shade again, but you can ask the person what’s something, what’s your dream project that you would love to do here and no one has ever funded you to do? Ask better questions.
So that’s mission creep is like a big thing because you will drown in it. In 2020, there are so many organizations that were heavily funded to do work that they never planned to do because that’s where the dollars were coming from. And now in 2022 everybody’s doing restructuring, everybody’s doing new SWOT analysis. Why? Because in the time when you needed to know who you were the most, you weren’t focused on it. And so that’s something that I hold dearly to my heart, being ready to say no. And also having a list of people who I can refer people to because I really never want scarcity to control the way that I do my work.
Mallory Erickson: It’s such good advice. I have a course called the Power Partners Formula and it’s a fundraising course. But the best day of my life in that course was when someone inside said they had turned down a million dollars and I was like, that’s the point. Cuz if you’re focused on alignment and exactly you know who you are. It doesn’t mean everyone has to fit into your box and then having referrals or partner organizations on hand when folks come in who are in those venn diagram circles, but they’re serving an area better. I just love that. I think that’s such good advice. And I think, it begs the question that I’ve been wondering a lot recently, which is what is the role of nonprofit leaders to take care of the system. Sometimes I’ll find myself feeling maybe overly critical around how a leader fundraises for an organization because I think the messaging might be harmful to the sector as a whole. But then I back up and I’m like, maybe that’s not fair. I don’t know what responsibility we can expect of organizational leaders to nurture the system.
Dominique Morgan: I think that’s an important conversation. And also that’s like right next to does the end meet the means. It’s important to name that different leaders have different privileges to do different things. When we, when I look at young black leaders who I know their desire is to help the system be better. But because they maybe don’t do it the way that people want them to, or because they haven’t had enough time around. People will label them as angry, as difficult, as someone they should not engage with, right.
And so I know that I am often faced with, especially as a leader, I had to really sit in myself of, yes Dominique, you can say this but are you ready for Okra Project or Black and Pink to suffer the consequences of you saying that? Not even so much myself, but my work, the people who have positioned me to lead for them. And so sometimes people are making that choice. Now absolutely there could be times when folks are just like, you know what I really don’t care. I’m not invested. I’m here from my stuff and my people. But more times than not there’s too many backroom moments when people are just like, oh, I wouldn’t say that. Oh we all know that’s a problem but we really don’t say anything about that. So this will be the better way to do it. And so I think it’s also interesting that we usually want the most oppressed people to sacrifice themselves to make these systems better. And that’s real.
But for me, I do recognize the amount of privilege I have. I do. I’ve had the experience of sitting on so many committees and making grant decisions, whether it was for the community foundation here in Omaha, or working on the trans justice project where we’re giving out a hundred thousand dollars. I’ve written the grant, I’ve approved grants and I’ve done all this stuff in between. And so I get the system of the beast now. And so I make informed decisions and there are times when I’m like I know I’m gonna hear about this in my email on Monday. And I know it and I’m okay with that. And then there are times when I’m like I really can only talk about this in my group chat because although I could, and although in a perfect world it’d be great to address this on a public level. You know what? We’re trying to build a multimillion dollar housing system in Atlanta right now for the Okra Project. And I really don’t feel like it’s appropriate for me to put my desire to say what I want to say over that opportunity. Is it fair? No, but it’s real. Again, seeing ourselves and knowing what it is.
I think we’ll see more people lean into that work of bettering it when there’s not inherent consequences of you saying something someone doesn’t like, or if your approach isn’t the best. And also I think that there are those of us who have more access and privilege and we need to be better with just maybe it’s not even so much calling stuff out, but how many friends do we have that are in the work that we can be like hey, can I talk to you about this? Hey, I saw the application y’all put out for ARPA funds. I was applying these questions that do not make sense to me. And I’m sure it’s gonna be difficult for someone else. Can I chat with you about that? Because that’s really awesome.
Mallory Erickson: Yeah. I think that’s great advice. So before we have to go, I’d love to just hear a little bit about the work you’re doing with the Okra Project right now. Particularly in managing the relationships between the philanthropists and on the ground staff, and what it looks like to support staff in their relationship with the funders or funding around some of the projects they’re implementing. And how you think about that?
Dominique Morgan: One step, I think to demystifying like these, that’s the funder. Like everyone has been in the office when the funder walks in and right, everybody is just, oh my God, they’re coming today. We have to demystify that and take away that scariness. I think as much as some people in philanthropy are like we’re like everyone else. No girl, if you send me an email do you have time today? I’m gonna make time for you because you write the check.
But having my team know these folks so that way it takes away this hierarchy to who has access and information about the money that’s coming in and that information. There is a new trend of philanthropy and fundraising centering the needs of trans people, specifically black trans people. And I was a part of witnessing and leading an organization when that trend happened five years ago for issues around mass incarceration. And then you saw all these organizers fighting for these dollars, right? You saw people who had never experienced mass incarceration starting organizations. It became the money grab. And I foresee that shift happening.
And so at the Okra Project, we are directly granting funds to black trans women leaders across the country. Yes, I could look at the funds we have and I could be like you know what if I batten down the hatches, I won’t have to write a grant. Okra Project, we wrote our first grant in March of this year. The Okra Project had been funded and mostly by general operating funds from the community. I’m like I could sit on this money and we could probably run this organization for the next decade and I wouldn’t have to write another grant. And at the same time I’m like I understand where I’m sitting. What can I do to dismantle this? So I have moments like this when I talk to someone like you and am able to share this. So I have moments when I get to speak to folks in philanthropy and also we’re going to grant money to ourselves. We will be our own liberators. A part of that is also a changing language. So when you think of a micro grant, people looking at $2,500 to $5,000 maybe. We are calling these micro grants but we are giving people 50 to a hundred thousand dollars. To house someone in a hotel for a month who’s experiencing displacement is like $3,000. These things cost to shift the experience and to manifest equity in our communities for oppressed people. So that’s what we are doing. I am having my team go out. What organizations are you seeing doing great work?
You gotta be able to look at other people. I’m really believing if I ask you, you’re a person in philanthropy. If you can’t tell me your favorite people who do work like you, I am going to side eye you. Because in my opinion if you’re really in the work you have other people you’re really a fan of because you’ve gotten outside of yourself. And because you can be a fan of them, you’re able to know what good work is. So I have my team, hey find two organizations that you think are great. And tell me why they’re great and let’s figure out how we can get some funds to them? How we can be in solidarity?
Right now in DC, I don’t know if you’ve seen this, but you should. And it was a Forbes article on this, Casa Ruby is a huge housing continuum mostly serving black trans women, 4.5 million organizational budget. All the things are in the ruins. The founder has disappeared. The staff has been working since June and they have not been paid. And so a young black trans woman named Aiyi’nah Damons from Baltimore has went into DC and she’s doing incredible work up there. So she is taking where she is and she is showing up for her people to address what are some off puts of the nonprofit industrial complex.
We’re giving funds to Aiyi’nah. I don’t need to go to DC. That’s not my city. I need to infuse funds for those girls. And in the meantime, I hope that money positions Aiyi’nah to where she’s able to do work when she goes to philanthropy. Because oftentimes philanthropy wants to see build it and they will come, Field Of Dreams mentality. You can say, I took this $50,000 from the Okra Project and I did this, and this. If you give me a hundred, if you give me a million, this is what I can make happen. So that’s what we’re trying to do. I’m trying to take my experience in philanthropy and fundraising on the multiple levels I’ve been able to experience it. Black and Pink’s budget, my first year was $225,000. My last year my budget was 3.2 million. And again, I’m a kid where it was like having a savings from the world I come from seems ridiculous. I was able to take the skills I had and be in there. And so that’s what we are trying to do at the Okra Project.
And I want to work with philanthropy and I want to say, listen, we’re gonna make ourselves accessible to support you in thinking about how you do the work. And also, I don’t want that to stop you from getting out of the way. Give us the money. We’ll make sure girls get the money. And yes, I’m a huge believer in meeting people where they are. And that’s something that I really have a goal of, like in the next five years, do you know a black trans woman that’s a philanthropist in this country?
Mallory Erickson: No.
Dominique Morgan: How? Right? And I’m not saying it because people don’t have the desire. I’m saying it because these things feel inaccessible to us. And I know that if there are more women who are in philanthropy, more work that centers women gets funded. That’s just what it is. So if we have more black trans folks who are in philanthropy, or they’ve been able to come up with conduits to get funds to the community. Inherently more black trans led work, black trans centered work will be funded and funded at a capacity that’s really powerful.
So that’s what we are focused on in addition to all the other things at the Okra Project, our housing project in Atlanta and our therapy program. But yeah, let’s name the thing. And also I come from my mother used to be like, whatcha gonna do about it? That used to be her favorite line. Like I heard you, whatcha gonna do about it? And I was just like, ok, mom. My mother has passed on but I hear her often talk to me. And when I looked at the Okra Project, I’m like Dominique, whatcha gonna do about it? So that’s what I leave the listeners with what are y’all gonna do about it?
There’s all of this information available. Yes, we are individuals. Not everyone is a Warren buffet and still whatcha gonna do about it. And as long as we keep asking ourselves that, as long as we keep asking people how do we show up for them? As long as we stay tied to who we are, as long as we keep doing shadow work, I believe great work will come from our communities and will improve as a nonprofit community and as a community, and as a community in general.
Mallory Erickson: I wanna leave everyone with that. Thank you so much. I will make sure everyone has all the ways to get in touch with you. Contact you, fund The Okra Project. Is there any final thing you wanna say before we wrap up?
Dominique Morgan: Don’t let fundraising and philanthropy scare you. Don’t let it, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off was a movie about a kid who probably should have never been anywhere he was but he had the confidence to think that. For me, I always feel like Ferris Bueller walking into those rooms but because I believe I’m supposed to be, I am. These conversations are real, all of us struggle. All of us are learning and just stay focused because this is where powerful work happens.
Mallory Erickson: Thank you.