Raleigh woman spearheads diversity effort

Oshana Watkins
Oshana Watkins

Ret Boney

RALEIGH, N.C. — In her day job helping find employment for adults with developmental disabilities, diversity issues are front and center for Oshana Watkins.

So chairing the diversity committee for the Triangle Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals was a natural fit.

Last month, her efforts in that volunteer role were recognized by the chapter’s parent entity, AFP International, which awarded Watkins’ local chapter with the Friends of Diversity designation.

The honor caps the two years Watkins served as chair of the diversity committee, a position she used to elevate the understanding of diversity within her chapter.

“My goal was to really make an effort for our chapter to engage in diversity,” says Watkins, the fundraiser and human resources and public relations director for Raleigh-based Wake Enterprises. “I wanted us to delve into diversity and what it means to fundraising professionals and to the surrounding community.”

To do that, she and Clarenda Stanley, major gifts officer for N.C. Central University and a member of Triangle AFP’s diversity committee, conceived and launched “Coffee and Conversations” as an informal way for both members and non-members to come together to discuss and share perspectives on diversity.

The inaugural meeting, held last fall, attracted 25 attendees from a broad range of nonprofits, including universities, environmental groups and health and human-services agencies.

Watkins considers that first meeting a success.

“What came out of that meeting is a sense that AFP is really trying to tackle a topic people want to know about,” she says.

Together, the group formulated a definition of diversity: “The seeking and achieving of a broad representation of experiences, perspectives, opinions and cultures.”

That means not just race, gender and ethnicity, but age, range of experience, background and any other factor that distinguishes one person from the next.

“We wanted to reach out to all types of fundraisers in all types of sectors,” says Watkins. “To the ones who have been in the profession for six months and those who have been in for 25 years.”

Six more meetings are scheduled for this year and will be hosted by Starbucks at various outlets through the Triangle.

By sharing all those different perspectives, Watkins believes fundraisers can better understand all types of donors.

“Our donors are diverse, and we want to know what they’re thinking,” she says.

Seeking that broader understanding not only helps connect with donors, she says, but with all other stakeholders, including clients, their families, and board members.

AFP International likes the approach. It is holding up the Triangle chapter, As a Friends of Diversity designee, as a “model for all chapters to emulate in accomplishing diversity related goals.”

Watkins rotated out of the chairmanship of the diversity committee at the end of 2009, handing the reins to Stanley, who will coordinate Coffee and Conversations going forward.

Watkins now is coordinating the chapter’s premier annual event, National Philanthropy Day, a celebration that honors outstanding local fundraisers and philanthropists and will be held on Nov. 10 at Prestonwood Country Club in Cary.

But diversity will remain a focus for Watkins, who says she will continue to serve as a member of the diversity committee at her AFP chapter and help out when needed.

And her work at Wake Enterprises, which provides jobs for more than 200 adults with developmental disabilities, offers daily opportunities to interact with people different from herself.

“When I’m reaching out to our donors and future donors, I have to be diverse in my thinking and engage donors in a different way,” Watkins says.

That’s important work, she says.

“When we can reach out to different types of people, that helps our entire agency,” she says. “We’re all different, but we come together for a common goal.”

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