Behind the DiD Project: One Story About Secrecy, Silence, and Stigma at Work in Fundraising and Philanthropy

Underwater photo view of iceberg with beautiful transparent sea on background

Those of us who can tell our stories openly about disability, chronic illness, and aging in philanthropy and fundraising are the tip of the iceberg. Our numbers are small compared to those who feel compelled to keep that aspect of who they are hidden under the water-line. Photo credit: Ales Utovko

I’m not sure when I started to notice the pattern.

I’d raise some disability access issue at work and, not long after, a colleague would tell me privately that they had a disability and/or a chronic illness. They didn’t feel safe disclosing it and, therefore, couldn’t ask for any accommodations for it.

These kind of workplace stories are a big part of what’s behind the Disabled in Development Project and how, when viewed collectively, they add up to system failures and structural ableism that is well beyond any individual’s ability to “overcome.” While DiD’s also about sharing stories of the significant progress toward inclusion being made in philanthropy and fundraising, giving space to testify openly about ableism in our own sector is essential for context. 


The situation would be making doing their job harder and they appreciated being able to vent to me. Would I please keep it a secret? Of course I would. And I did. Even when having more numbers on my side would have helped me argue that this-or-that barrier solution should be a priority, despite time and money limitations.
I remember this happening as far back as the late 90s and the confiding confessions continue to this day, socially and at meetings and conferences, though not in my current workplace, DREDF.

I’ll describe one particular situation but keep identifying details out as best I can. This whole episode still bothers me:


Multi-colored hexagonsI worked with a fundraising teammate who had a different but complementary skill-set from mine. They were very good at what they did, from the outset.
We had a superior, also newish, who was a toucher. As in, a touch on your arm for emphasis, that kind of thing. My teammate told them early on that they did not like to be touched and please don’t ever do it, it was very upsetting to them. (I witnessed this.)
Our superior kept right on touchin’.

Part of any system is access to the system. If access is blocked by stigma, that is itself a system problem.


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The DiD Project Includes Disability, Chronic Illness, and Aging

Disabled, Chronically Ill, and Aging People’s Representation Matters in Philanthropy and Fundraising

Our expertise and our stories can transform philanthropy and fundraising 
Disabled people, chronically ill people, and aging people can be a powerful coalition in philanthropy. But stigma is also a powerful force that keeps us silent, invisible, and isolated from each other – some of us, for decades. I’ve been an openly disabled fundraiser in the Bay Area for 25 years and I want things to be better for the people coming up.
I want the many people who have quietly persisted in philanthropy and fundraising for years and decades to be included in the equity work happening now.
Telling the truth about work and life by telling our stories is how we connect, belong, and succeed in philanthropy and fundraising.

Do you work/volunteer in philanthropy, work as a development non-profit professional, or hold fundraising responsibilities in your non-profit senior-level position on the staff or board?

Do you also live with one or more disabilities, chronic illnesses, and/or aging-related issues? (The term “disability” need not be used by you but here is used as a catch-all word that includes learning differences, neuro-divergencies, addiction/recovery, and mental health issues.)

If so, philanthropy needs you! Your knowledge is an inside track for how to put disability inclusion principles into practice in the philanthropic sector, as a workplace and social justice force for ending ableism.

Connect. Belong. Succeed.


Contact me to become a DiD Storyteller: Ingrid@talesfomthecrip.org