Have you asked yourself what reconciliation means to you? What does it mean to your organization? Your family? For many, reconciliation has a deeply personal meaning, borne from our own history and knowledge.
I am a professional fundraiser and, in the fall of 2021, I opened a virtual fundraising school called The New School of Fundraising. It was very important to me to consider how my school could participate in the reconciliation movement that is happening within Canada but my drive for that came from a deeply personal connection.
My Grandmother attended residential school from the age of three until she was eighteen. She did not leave at all during that time. I once read an excerpt from an interview where she spoke about watching the birds outside and wishing that she had wings so that she could fly away. The only thing is that even if she had wings, she had nowhere to fly to, nowhere to go. She spoke very little of those years and our family always respected her privacy and wishes.
As a result of the extended time that my Grandmother spent in residential school my family had absolutely no connection to our culture, everything had been lost. It has taken me a long time to realize and fully appreciate what has been lost to myself and my family. I have spoken a lot about my own journey of “finding my way home” and as such, created a workshop for the school, titled Indigenous Protocols for Fundraisers, that would help myself and others on the journey.
I share here some of the things we hope to achieve with this workshop. My hope is that I can inspire other nonprofit professionals to think about what their organizations can do to participate in the reconciliation movement.
Create a safe place for dialogue
We wanted to create a place for dialogue where attendees can feel safe asking anything at all. We view questions to be good, because at least they are being asked! Our workshop has a maximum of ten attendees so that there is ample time to share and discuss, not only with their instructor but also with each other.
Encouraging everyone to “just try” has been a rewarding experience. For example, many workshop attendees have told us that they do not feel comfortable with land/territory acknowledgements for fear of making a mistake. We talk through some helpful hints on how to find their territories, how to confirm pronunciation and then have told them to try out the acknowledgements in their team meetings to get comfortable. Let a different team member do the acknowledgement each meeting until you feel comfortable and confident in it. Make it personal to you and ensure that it doesn’t feel scripted. Create that safe space for learning for yourself!
Invite an Elder to start us off in a good way
I am very proud to have an Elder from my family join this workshop, and feel fortunate to have made a new connection to further my own journey. Our registration fee for this workshop is slightly higher so that we are able to pay our Elder for their very valuable time. In doing so, our aim is to lead by example and we also spend quite a bit of time talking about how to respectfully work with Elders who may be invited to fundraising events.
It really comes down to building relationships, which we already do in fundraising. We emphasize that a lot in our workshop! Relationship building is so much more than an invitation to attend.
We are the first to admit that we do not know everything, but our goal is to give attendees some foundational knowledge. As such, one of our focuses is on clarity of terminology, for instance the difference between a land acknowledgement and a traditional welcome. While attendees joining from across Canada will have their own geographical and regional terminology and protocol, the base knowledge gained in this workshop will help them to confidently and respectfully navigate future questions and learning.
This workshop is really just the beginning of our commitment to reconciliation and I will continue to push forward with what the school can offer and how I may be able to help others on this important journey. I am not sure what the future holds but feel like we are on the right track and feel immense gratitude when I get a heart-felt thank you messages from participants after the workshop.
I share my story and actions with the hope that it will help inspire others to do the same. To remind us all to continue to learn, to be in relationship, to ask questions, and to take actions to create a new path.
The Indigenous Protocols for Fundraising workshop is open to those living in Canada. The next session will be held on January 27, 2022. Click here for more information and for additional workshop dates.
Rowena Veylan is the Founder and Lead Instructor of the New School of Fundraising, a school that she created to support anyone who wants to raise money. The New School of Fundraising runs courses and workshops throughout the year, offers private training and hosts special events. Rowena lives in Vancouver, British Columbia with her husband, daughter and two cats. When she is not teaching she can be found spending time with friends and enjoying the beautiful outdoors.