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indigenous protocols in fundraising with Rowena Veylan

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“If you're learning about what indigenous protocols are applicable and relevant to your work? That's a journey. If we're learning how to balance decolonization and philanthropy, that's a journey. And I feel like that's also aligned with what I understand, or the people who I've worked with from the indigenous communities looking at how they've approached just everything. It is a journey.” - Rowena Veylan


In today’s episode, we are joined by Rowena Veylan from New School Of Fundraising to talk about how to meaningfully incorporate indigenous protocols in fundraising through an authentic and impactful approach.


  • What are Indigenous Protocols and why is it important to fundraising

  • Meaningful and authentic land acknowledgments

  • Fundraising, colonization and anti-oppression work




[00:00:00] Cindy: Hey everyone. So, a few years back my company, The Good Partnership, was looking to include a land acknowledgement on our, in our email signatures. And it was really overwhelming. You know, we could look at, you know, the traditional land acknowledgements that were available for other places that operated in, you know, our community, but it felt shallow and it felt like, why are we doing this? Are we, you know, approaching it from a perspective of learning and education and how does this fit within our broader, approach to decolonization and so I was really delighted when I met today's guest who teaches all of this and she's a fundraiser.

[00:00:46] Cindy: And so, we are going to talk about, indigenous protocols in fundraising and how your organization can incorporate them in a way that is also part of our collective journey towards decolonization.

[00:01:10] Cindy: I'm your host, Cindy Wagman, and you are listening to the small nonprofit podcast where we bring you practical down-to-earth advice on how to get more done in your small organization. You are going to change world and we're here to help.

[00:01:27] Cindy: And with that, it is my pleasure to welcome Rowena Veylan to the podcast. Rowena is the founder and lead instructor of the new school of fundraising. We also bonded over our mutual love of fundraising because it's very rare that you'll find someone who just has, has loved doing this work throughout their career. And, my favorite fact about Rowena is that she can juggle three balls, which, I just think is so cool. I feel like all the kids would love you. So, Rowena, welcome to the podcast.

[00:02:01] Rowena: Aw, thanks for having me, Cindy. Great to be here.

[00:02:04] Cindy: It is, it is my pleasure. And I'd love for us to start with a little bit about your personal story. You know, you've indicated to me that that's something you wanna share with our audience. And, I think it's a great place to start.

[00:02:17] Rowena: That sounds great. Something I'm always eager to share and happy to share. I am of mixed heritage myself, which includes Dane-zaa, or beaver Indian and also Ukrainian and Polish on my other side. And I have not grown up close to culture at all. Not connected to my indigenous culture. My grandmother spent 15 years in residential school. I never went back to community. She was there from when she was three till 18. So, I really consider my family fully colonized. And I, as you love, said earlier, I am a professional fundraiser. So, I kind of have these two paths in my life where I am looking to connect or to figure out what it means to be me in the world. And so far from my culture, and I am a professional fundraiser. So, what's been really amazing is that the school has given me opportunities to connect back with culture more than ever before.

[00:03:19] Rowena: And you mentioned the, our indigenous protocols workshop. And so, I kind of joined my two paths and two passions in one workshop. And that has led to a workshop where we hope, I, you know, I loved your, your intro. We hope to help nonprofits that or anyone working in nonprofits or fundraising with indigenous protocols and at least provide a safe place to ask those questions.

[00:03:49] Rowena: So, I've had, I've learned so much myself on the cultural part of that, and kind of stayed in my fundraising lane, which has been [00:04:00] fun as well.

[00:04:01] Cindy: Mm-hmm. So, let's talk about what are indigenous protocols, because I think that that even can be like, you know, as I said, we, we talk about land acknowledgements. I've been at conferences where they have an elder open up and do an opening ceremony. There's so many different ways that those, that indigenous protocols might come into our fundraising world. Can you just share some examples of what you see most commonly.

[00:04:33] Rowena: Yeah, absolutely. I think, you know, what we talk about in the course a lot is that there is no right way to do things and you know, there's different cultures and different protocols and different approaches across the country, you know, even within a province or territory, even within like I'm in north Vancouver, even within north Vancouver, we have a few nations here. Those would all be different. And so, I think as fundraisers, we are incredibly empathetic, and caring and we don't want to offend people. Like that's just not in our nature. That scares us. We're just like, oh, we couldn't do that. And so, what we found was that we think people, well, what we heard from people is they were just not taking the step ‘cause they didn't know how to do it. So, we typically talk in our workshop, we talk about it's very basic land acknowledgements to your point of how, you know, how to find your local territory or nations that you're close to or how, how to find that.

[00:05:40] Rowena: Also, to your point, when would you have an elder come? What would be most appropriate? How would you find that person? We talk through some very basics of working with indigenous people, too.

[00:05:53] Cindy: Yeah. And I mean, I would assume you'd pay someone for their time, but I want to clear and make sure 'cause I've never been in a position where anything that I've done has involved an, an elder, but you know, just my understanding of anti-racism and anti-oppression work. Like we wanna make sure if we're involving, any indigenous representatives from first of all, make sure they're actually from the communities where you are, ‘cause that could also be something that I feel like I've seen people do, which is kind of like, oh, just, you know, anyone like, do the, do the work, do your research and make sure you're paying people for their time and expertise. Fair?

[00:06:34] Rowena: Absolutely fair. And we kind of hammer that at home. In fact, I, I feel proud that we're really kind of walking the talk on that. So our workshops, our two hour workshops are $50. And our indigenous protocols workshop is $60 because we have an elder from my community. Elder Dean comes and joins us by zoom, and we pay him for that. And so, he's also related. So, he's my relation. He, we would say we're cousins 'cause a parent and I'm learning all this. So, everybody's a cousin. In our, in our community. And so, he said, "Oh, cousin, I'll just do this for you", and I insisted. So, I think sometimes it's also for us to insist that this happens.

[00:07:14] Rowena: I, you know, I, I also would not feel comfortable calling on him again and again, every time we have the workshop, if I'm not compensating him for his time. So, yes, to your point, when we have elders, it's so important to offer that honorarium and also to ask them what is appropriate. So, we, you know, maybe it's cash and that's as a nonprofit, you have to figure out how to get cash like we often, you know, maybe a check's not appropriate. We had somebody in a workshop once and an attendee who said they had an experience where cash was a problem, because it would have, they were living on an income assistance and having more cash is a problem. And so, they did a gift card. So, you know, I think it's one of these things that we have to be comfortable asking those questions.

[00:08:03] Cindy: Mm-hmm

[00:08:04] Rowena: And finding-

[00:08:05] Cindy: Yeah. I've actually worked with an organization as well that did that where the, again, having being paid cash or money was not, was more harmful, but there were other ways buying things that that person needed either for themselves or for the community was what they asked for. But to your point, you don't know unless you have those conversations.

[00:08:28] Cindy: I almost wanna sort of like wheel things back because I think a lot of time, well I'll actually, so my husband works with, indigenous communities. And he often says thing, I don't know if I should repeat, he says like, you know, a land acknowledgement is great. No, one's gonna get mad that you're doing it, but that's not, they they'd just give them the funding for their programs, right? And so, I wanted to talk about the land acknowledgement as a symbol, as opposed to the work. Land acknowledgement, having someone open ceremonies, like that's a, a symbolic gesture that I, I believe and I imagine you would agree that is representative of other work that we should be doing. So, I'd love for you to talk about the work that goes on behind the scenes that we can be doing in our, in our fundraising and in our nonprofits that allows us to show up for those land acknowledgements and other protocols in a way that is meaningful and authentic.

[00:09:31] Rowena: Yeah. That is great and so important because I think that we've all been, there's a great skit. I think it's bareness fun. There are two local, there are two Canadian comedians.

[00:09:43] Cindy: I know you're talking about. I can't remember the name. Yeah.

[00:09:45] Rowena: Yeah. And it's, if you Google land acknowledgement skits to Canadian comedians and we play it in our workshop and it is meant to show a, a circumstance where a land acknowledgement is so shallow, right? It's, it's meant to show that and in fact, we find that most people who attend our workshops are allies we don't have in, it's not meant for indigenous fundraisers, but everyone's a little bit uncomfortable. Like, oh, I don't know if I'm supposed to laugh at this. Cause I don't. So, you get, and I kind of give everyone a permission, like, no, it's meant to be funny and it's meant to show the other side of it. They're not meant they're not mocking it. They're, they're wanting you to see that kind of, that what happens when it's not authentic and when you're not doing more than just like, here's your plaque, here's your acknowledge.

[00:10:30] Rowena: To give you an example, we just did a workshop with a university and we worked with this, that workshop. It was a private work, private booking, and we worked with all of their fundraisers and across the whole campus. And they said they had recently done a land acknowledgement workshop. And I also wanna preface it that, that everybody has different approaches and that's totally okay. Ours isn't like, here's how to do it. But they, the workshop they did before it was more structured. It was like, here's your first third, here's your second third. Here's your last third, and this is how you do it. And we tend to approach it to your point of why not think about what it means to you, right? So, when you're doing that research and you're looking at, you know, you're finding sure you find the names of the, the nations, like the territory names, like, but why not read about their culture or if you're connected to the environment, why not find some traditional names of surroundings around you?

[00:11:31] Rowena: Maybe you're an artist and you connect with indigenous artists. And so, we encourage our people, to our attendees, to find out something personal that touches you and then move forward with it because it comes across so authentic, right? It's not like just saying it. So, I, when I do my land acknowledgement for the school, I would say that I am honored to be a guest on the coast Salish territories here on north Vancouver, which is the Squamish, Waututh, and Musqueam nations. And I, so just, if I was doing that today, I'd say today, the sun is shining. It's beautiful. I'm just so grateful for their stewardship of the earth and this community, and this beautiful land that I get to live on. And my daughter and I are pursuing our own journey of finding traditional names and the traditional stories so I can look around my community and I can see, and I can know the stories of the land. And so that might be something that I do just today. If it's a rainy day, I might choose to say, I've asked ancestors to stop the rain or something, right? But it just makes it really personal.

[00:12:41] Cindy: Mm, I wanna ask you about some of the more, some of the bigger conversations that I've certainly been having with people or hearing from people around fundraising, and colonization, and capitalism, and the fact that like most wealth in, in our communities is on the backs of colonialism

[00:13:05] Rowena: Mm-hmm

[00:13:05] Cindy: And as someone who lives in both those worlds, and I know you facilitate, you have facilitated discussions about this as well. How, how can we as fundraisers think about our commitment to deep colonization and creating an anti-oppression? And also, that our jobs are fundraising or that our work is, grounded in fundraising.

[00:13:34] Rowena: It's such a huge topic and I wish that I could have, like-

[00:13:41] Cindy: You don't have a perfect answer in two words?

[00:13:43] Rowena: I know, like here's what we need to do. I can tell you this. I'll, I'll tell you that it's, it's a journey. I think it's a journey. And I think that the beginning of the journey is just that we're all aware and starting it and being in the journey together. Because I don't think that anyone has a like 10-step plan, but I, I did a board workshop a few months ago for an indigenous board and I prefaced it by saying they were very excited that an indigenous fundraiser was coming to do that. I prefaced it by saying, I am taught traditional fundraising, and I realized that. And because of my lack of connection to culture, to be honest, I didn't even realize kind of how opposite of culture it was. And so, I put up my very first slide. I had a whole thing and the first slide lovingly derailed the entire thing and it turned into a conversation which I was completely happy to have. But they looked at me and said, "Rowena, that's so, you know, we find this so sad. Like it's so sad how this is all structured and how we have to do this because in our culture, you know, it's about reciprocity and it's about giving." And, and I said, "It's true". And I, I find it's kind of like, I'm trying to, how do we use this time? And I, you know, I, I don't know how I'll say this, "awakening" within Canada almost, right? Or our country. How do we use this time to, to change our, what we do. And I think, I think what a great time to be a frontline fundraiser, because I think you can start having those conversations and you can think about that.

[00:15:26] Rowena: It, to me, it doesn't change really where the wealth is, unfortunately. So, I said, even to that group, I said to them, ‘cause they were really kind of stuck on the, the thank you and this stewardship and because reciprocity doesn't need as much thinking, right? Like, it's just, it's a given, like you, you get from giving. And I said, oh, in fundraising school, I remember being taught to say, thank you seven times. And they're like, oh no, right? But like, how do we, I said, what an opportunity we have? Like, how do we have an opportunity to kind of start to weave, to learn and to question things in ways we never have before.

[00:16:07] Cindy: Yeah, I, I, and that's like, yeah, I definitely did not expect you to have like an easy answer. But, and I think that what I'm hearing from you and in all of this is like, we're on a journey.

[00:16:20] Rowena: Mm-hmm

[00:16:21] Cindy: Right? If you're learning about, how, like what indigenous protocols are applicable and relevant to your work? That's a journey. If we're learning how to balance decolonization and philanthropy, especially like major in fundraising type philanthropy, that's a journey. And I feel like that's also aligned with, you know, what I understand, or, or, you know, the people who I've worked with from the indigenous communities looking at how they've approached just everything. It is a journey, right? We're all kind of journeying together and we don't have to know everything. So, I really appreciate that.

[00:17:02] Cindy: I wanna ask you, and I think it's really important. Like I too, the point we made earlier, like, I actually don't wanna ask you to sort of give us too much information because I do want people to come and actually enroll in your programs and I'd love for you to share other resources and free or paid. I don't, you know, whatever, whatever you recommend, but I, I, yeah. Places where we can go to continue this journey to continue learning, because I think that this isn't, as we said, it's not, we solved in one conversation. We're not gonna figure everything out.