6.16 Greetings from GIFT’s new executive director

Hello GIFT Family,

I am honored and humbled to be writing to you as the new executive director of GIFT. I look forward to beginning dialogues with those of you I haven’t met, and continuing already established relationships.

I’d like to take this opportunity to tell you a bit more about myself and to speak my vision for GIFT as I move into my tenure as executive director. First and foremost, I would like to thank GIFT’s staff and board of directors for their confidence in my ability to lead this dynamic organization into the future. I promise to work with all of them – and all of you – to continue to bring grassroots fundraising and its role in movement building to the forefront of organizing for social justice.

My background in social justice is a varied one, and I have served on the front lines of many movements helping to push for a more just world for us all. I was the director of development and communications at the New York City AIDS Housing Network (now known as VOCAL-NY); the development associate and Northeast US organizer at Housing Works in New York; and the technical assistance coordinator at the Howard Brown Health Center in Chicago, among other positions. I have also been a board member of the Community HIV/AIDS Mobilization Project (CHAMP), and a member of the Community Funding Committee of the North Star Fund.

I first engaged with GIFT in at their 2008 social justice fundraising conference. At that time I had just begun my position with VOCAL-NY, and my experience at the conference was exhilarating. From the amazing colleagues and peers that I had the honor of meeting, to the game-changing ideas I heard from conference presenters, my life—both professionally and personally—was changed for the better. I gained knowledge about changing “organizational culture” into “fundraising culture” and saw how GIFT prioritized the voices of people of color as stakeholders in our movements. It amazes me that things have come full-circle, and that I now have the privilege of being able to further this work with all of you in my new role as GIFT’s executive director.

Like so many of you I have held positions where I was the sole person dedicated to raising money for an organization. Though I did this with this energizing support of my coworkers, I spent many nights unable sleep because of fears about making payroll, looming grant deadlines, and the related organizational worries we all experience. I have memories of stepping into my office feeling like any misstep or forgotten email might bring our entire operation to a screeching halt. This is the life of a fundraiser, as so many of you are well aware. Yet what GIFT taught me is that we must change systems that are structured this way. Fundraising must be acknowledged as an integral strand of our work: it is no longer feasible to separate how we secure support from the work we do.

These are precarious times we live in when it comes to finances and our abilities to sustain the valuable work that we’re doing. Not only must we organize to create movements that honor and respect our communities, but we’re doing so in a moment when resources seem to be ever more scant. Today social justice organizations find themselves pitted against their colleagues for resources. As GIFT’s ED, I will work to ensure that we spotlight our collective knowledge, institute systems of support and reflection, and work collaboratively towards a more equitable future.

GIFT’s vision for movements that are funded by and reflect the will of the people is the wave of the future. In the same way that we analyze the root causes of racism, homophobia and economic inequality and link them back to our organizing and program work, so must we strive to incorporate visions of financial independence. We have known for years that the myth that foundations, corporations or governments are the sole funders of our work is simply that—a myth. Rather, it is our constituents who are both our biggest pool of potential donors, and who will benefit most from our input of resources.

We have a long way to go to achieve this goal, but we have to be ambitious about the future. As I begin my chapter with GIFT, I am strengthened and fortified by the new realities of social justice work. I’m inspired by knowing that in the years to come I, along with the staff and board of GIFT, will help to expand networks for social justice fundraisers, and that we will continue to empower communities of color and their allies to disrupt the status quo. As a queer man of color who has dedicated more than a decade of my life to social justice work, I can reflect that a metamorphosis has occurred within me—one which foregrounds fundraising and access to resources as the primary goal in instituting concrete, long-term change.

I hope that you will join me on this walk, and that together we can share and realize visions of the world we imagine. It will not come easily, but I will press forward alongside all of you in the creation of movements that are truly responsive to, and funded by our communities.

I also hope that you will reach out to me to provide your feedback, opinions and reflections. For my part, I will be transparent about GIFT’s work and will encourage an ongoing dialogue. I am tremendously excited about the future we are laying the groundwork for today.

Yours in the struggle,

Charles Ryan Long
Executive Director, GIFT