Leigh Player is Making a Lane for Black Women in the Fundraising World

Leigh Player is the Chief Development Officer of Horton Kids, a wraparound out-of-school-time service provider for under resourced DC neighborhoods. Horton Kids offers a range of programming, from tutoring to field trips to basic needs support. Students who participate in Horton Kids are twice as likely to graduate from high school.

While Leigh loves building relationships and advocating for Horton Kids, she didn’t initially set out to work in fundraising. 

“I originally thought that I was going to be in radio or television,” Leigh shares. 

After graduating from Bradley University with a communications degree, she moved to Los Angeles to pursue her career. She soon realized that wasn’t the lifestyle she wanted and moved back to the East Coast to explore other paths. 

“I went on Google and said, ‘what in the world can I do with a communications degree?’” Leigh shares. Her research introduced her to fundraising.

“It was never my first choice. But over time, I’ve sort of made my own lane and have found a lot of meaning in being the resource engine behind really important movements,” she explains.

Leigh got her first fundraising job in 2007. She worked on the institutional fundraising side until moving into her role as Chief Development Officer with Horton Kids in 2021. This new position has challenged her to work more closely with individuals and donors.

“I actually really enjoy it,” Leigh shares. “I’m really lucky to have a very strong executive director, who’s been not only a thought partner but definitely someone who’s pushed me to grow. I have a lot of imposter syndrome, which I don’t think is rare for people in our sector, especially if you are in a place where not very many people look like you.”

Every Person Has a Story

Leigh says this career path has changed her in many ways.

“I definitely think that I’m a lot more humble than I was in my 20s, which is good. I’m a lot more inquisitive. I’m a lot less rigid,” she explains. “I think more in shades of gray and I think about nuance more than I think I did when I was younger.”

She adds that once you start digging into people’s stories and motivations, you realize that things are not just black and white.

“I would say that when you look at folks who you might consider to be low income and you start to tell yourself a story about where they come from, or what they’re capable of, or who they are, that it makes sense to dig a little bit further because there are so many stereotypes about people of low wealth that are just not true,” she shares.

Creating More Lanes 

Leigh wants young Black women coming up behind her to believe in themselves. 

“There is somebody right now doing the same job that you’re doing and they’re doing it poorly and they have no intention of doing it better,” she says. “You might as well come through and do a great job and believe in yourself because you have the chops. You might not think you do because you haven’t been validated and there’s not a ton of people who look like you in the space. But believe in yourself, you can do it.”

In addition to this advice, Leigh is actively working to create more lanes for Black women. She is trying to serve as a mentor for college students who, like her, might not have considered fundraising as a career path.

“I’m trying to build more relationships like that so that down the road, 10 years from now, should I still be a fundraising executive, I won’t be the only Black woman in the room” Leigh shares.