Conversations in Abundance & Wealth: Courageous Moves Towards Authentic Collaboration

by Sophia Kizilbash

This reflection is a call for all of us to live more courageously in our lives and roles as fundraisers.  In my life, the bridge I am walking across to reach this courageous place is the same as my journey to live as a whole person.  Not segmented, not releasing parts of myself to live and lead in certain spaces. 

This next level means the parts of myself that speak my truth and live a full expression of my values will always show up at the same time as my role as a fundraiser.  As I look up to vision, I know these elements of myself showing up at the same time will provide the synergy needed to unleash my creativity in resourcing our movements, and inspire my communities to do the same. 

Art by Shilo Shiv Suleman, part of ‘Fearless’ The Poster Collective series. (

Art by Shilo Shiv Suleman, part of ‘Fearless’ The Poster Collective series. 

Art by Ala Ebtekar

*Art by Ala Ebtekar ( to fundraise in a dominant scarcity culture took its toll on the way I showed up as a leader.  In the past, when I stepped into my role as a fundraiser, my Sophierce side came out.  I put on my battle gear and jumped to the front lines, determined to bring back something to the community that would sustain us.  Over time, I realized it was hard for me to shed the armor and fight-mode when I transitioned back to my community. 


  • How do we let fundraising within existing systems change us? 


  • How does it make us disjointed from our values? 


  • How do we allow it to turn us against each other and isolate us, rather than truly uplifting each other? 


  • How can we stay grounded and visionary as fundraisers in collaborative movements, where our actions uplift us all?


Pam Pompey

To spark inspiration and insight for this next conversation in abundance and wealth, I was blessed to catch up with Pam Pompey, founder of The Ujamaa Institute (TUI). The Ujamaa Institute helps young African Americans & multicultural communities become more thoughtful, skillful and strategic philanthropists, fundraisers and activists. TUI has achieved its original mission and purpose by supporting many powerful young leaders, and is currently in a dormant phase to allow for regeneration                                                    

I met Pam at my first GIFT conference where she so generously supported, advised, and mentored me as I began my journey as a young fundraiser.  She is a gifted teacher who inspires me with her truth, humility, values and principles.

The central question she asked that struck me was:

Are our collaborations and relationships truly elevating each other?

Pam’s stories inspired me to reflect more deeply around what our communities, organizations, and movements could look like if we shed our armor and truly answered this question with each other.

NYLA Co-Founder Johnny Buck taught me some of the core values historically of his Wanapum community, where in his Tribe, 1) everyone has a role 2) each role is equally important and 3) everyone is taken care of.  These principles are at the heart of values-based community and movement building. 

We all have integral needs of belonging, seeing one another, and valuing each other. This system supports everyone bringing their unique gifts and contributions in service of the whole.

What keeps us from truly practicing these principles today? 

Image from ‘The Lakota Way: Native American Wisdom on Ethics and Character’ 2013 calendar by Joseph Marshall III, Art by Jim Yellowhawk

Image from ‘The Lakota Way: Native American Wisdom on Ethics and Character’ 2013 calendar by Joseph Marshall III, Art by Jim Yellowhawk

When I feel ungrounded, I remember underneath it all it is not about the money alone.  Financial resources are a powerful vehicle, but it does not validate or provide the meaning for the work we do.  I feel great wealth in the integrity of our work and the transformation we are bringing forward as a community.  I feel truly wealthy when a person entrusts me with some of the most vulnerable parts of themselves in courageous acts of growth, and also when our elders so generously share their time and experience to raise us up.

As fundraisers, it is important to keep our connection to our broader vision and values so we can be strategic and dynamic about moving resources.  Short-term goals and campaigns are critical, and it is also important to know that our greatest assets in our cultures are our ability to see the wealth in relationships that uplift us all. 

These bold, collaborative relationships will lead us to the abundance we have yet to fully develop into – within ourselves and in our movements.

Questions to Consider and Spark Action:


  • What can you do to honor and appreciate yourself for all you do for your community?


  • What is one healthy risk you can take to be vulnerable and more collaborative with someone?


  • What fears and things out of your control can you let go of, so your energy can be invested in growth?


  • Who are mentors that you can strengthen or create new relationships with?

by Shilo Shiv Suleman

Special thanks to Pam Pompey, Ryan Li Dahlstrom, Neha Mahajan, my Leadership Coach Damon Azali-Rojas, Kevin Killer and all members of the NYLA community for teaching me and supporting my development.  I hope this reflection has sparked something inside you in service of your growth and the deeper collaborations we will bring forward together.

Please share your wealth of insights with us in the comments section below!

sophia kizilbash photo

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Sophia Kizilbash is a Certified Leadership Coach and Co-Founder and Co-Director of the Native Youth Leadership Alliance.  The Native Youth Leadership Alliance invests in young Native American leaders to create culturally based community change.  She is also a proud new member of the GIFT Board!

To work with Sophia as a Leadership Coach, contact her at sophia.kizilbash(at)