Meet the Experts: Jessica Elmore
Growing up in California, I lived in a diverse community. During my formative years, I connected with people from a variety of cultures: Hmong, Hispanic, Filipino, Guamanian, and others. A cross-cultural upbringing normalized diverse values, different religions, the realities of socioeconomic class, and an appreciation of celebrating all cultures.
Although I grew up actively engaged within Black culture, my limited understanding of the culture was shattered when I moved to Louisiana. I discovered diversity in thought, language, and cultural expressions within the collective community. Living in a highly concentrated Black community started my journey of removing assumptions and creating space for individuals to show up genuinely.
I attended a historically Black college, which was one of the best decisions of my life! I was privileged to attend a university centered on the development of Black students. I saw signals letting me know I belonged, like Black citizens working in wide-ranging professions, varied food selections, exposure to silenced narratives, and consistent messages of success. The self-efficacy and a sense of belonging I felt there have informed my expertise as a professional working in higher education.
Eventually, I moved to the U.S. Midwest for graduate study. In Kansas, I attended a predominately white institution and, for the first time, I felt out of place. I saw signals that told me I did not belong, like diverse citizens working in limited professions, lack of culture reflected in food options, unrelatable narratives, and limited messages of success for diverse students. I tried to draw on my life lessons and embrace the new space, but once I finished my first advanced degree, I got on the first plane out. Now, no one was mean to me and I made a few connections, but the mental toll of feeling like I did not belong was just too much. Plus, it snowed, and I’m a California girl.
A few years later, I found myself back in Kansas to begin an advancement career. As a graduate of an HBCU and a predominately white institution, I recognized differences in alumni outreach. Through my HBCU personal networks, I learned about events and collective giving opportunities, and from my PWI, I received mass marketing appeals and college-specific giving requests. The PWI outreach didn’t motivate me to get involved in the same way. Reflecting on the differences in outreach, in my new position I tailored alumni and donor experiences that focused on creating opportunities that offer a sense of belonging. During the pandemic, I organized Instagram conversations with diverse alumni leaders, allowing them to reflect on their leadership development and offering advice for current students.
Now, working for CASE, I focus on embracing cultures and creating space for authenticity. I bring empathy to training and decisions around change management and creating a sense of belonging that impacts the experiences for volunteers, advancement professionals, alumni, and donors.
CASE’s Opportunity and Inclusion Center offers advancement capacity-building services grounded in research and practitioner experience. Advancement teams across the globe are asking how to diversify their workforces and how to create diverse constituent experiences that activate participation. Our goal is to offer tools to help answer those questions.
Article appears in:
Faculty Partnerships: How advancement officers can team up with faculty to drive fundraising success. Plus, explore supports for student mental health, lessons from new managers, cryptocurrency, and more.