Zuleika Johnson has dedicated her career to diversifying philanthropy — as a university staff member, as a nonprofit board member, and as the founder and CEO of her own company.
Johnson, whose parents are originally from the Dominican Republic, was born and raised in the Bronx, in an impoverished neighborhood. She received a scholarship to attend Connecticut College and pursued degrees in economics and women’s studies. “That’s what really propelled me to look into the work that’s being done by the nonprofit sector to help support families like mine to succeed and essentially get out of poverty,” Johnson said.
Her first job after college was at a homeless shelter. As a social worker, she was exposed to not only the challenges families face in breaking the cycle of generational poverty, but also the challenges nonprofits face with funding. This is what encouraged her to return to school — where she obtained a master’s degree in public administration — and get involved in fundraising work.
“I really enjoy [fundraising] because it allows me to help these organizations keep their doors open,” said Johnson. “I also get to work with generous people. I get to see the best in humanity, and the people who want to create change and help others.”
Johnson was with the El Pomar Foundation, overseeing their Elevating Leadership Development program, when she took a leap of faith and created her own fundraising consulting company. Luna Philanthropy helps nonprofit organizations “infuse” diversity, equity and inclusion into their fundraising practices: “Everything from, how do they uplift and recognize and engage donors of color? To how do they recruit and retain diverse staff? How do they diversify their boards? How can we help all fundraising professionals play a role in diversifying the field?”
Outside of Luna Philanthropy, Johnson is the associate director of development at UCCS, where she raises support for DEI efforts on campus. She also serves on the Pikes Peak Community Foundation board, which recently launched the Racial Equity Fund. “It’s an opportunity,” said Johnson, “for philanthropist organizations in this community to really help uplift the generosity that exists in communities of color to support communities of color.”
So much of a person’s social capital is attached to their philanthropy, Johnson explained, but people give back to the community in different ways: “Giving exists in all communities. [For example] it’s not just a white person that can give. People of color give all the time. They’re just not called philanthropists — or the ways in which they give are not traditional or celebrated.
“So that’s the work that I’m doing now,” she said. “Continuing to support organizations through fundraising, but also helping to celebrate and empower all donors to be recognized and to be at the table and to leverage their wealth together to be able to do this work.”
For 18 years, the Colorado Springs Business Journal has highlighted women who have gone the extra mile for work, for community, for the greater good.