This year, even more so than past, has been a year of thinking about and acting on equity and reconciliation. Most recently, I’ve thought a lot about equity in the fundraising profession. But it is as important that we explore the equity of the actual fundraising we do. I was inspired to think about this more critically after seeing the work my friend and colleague, Preeti Gill is doing.
Preeti is an accomplish prospect research and looks at equity in fundraising through her research lens. One of her current goals is to ensure that more women are in major gifts portfolios. After all, globally, women’s wealth growth is out pacing men’s and women are responsible for 64% of all charitable donations. But more than that, this work is about addressing the unconscious (or many conscious?) bias that old white men are the ones with the money. What’s equitable about that assumption given the above fact? Preeti’s suggestion is doing a full data audit using a gender lens, which you can read more about here. I’m also interested in thinking about data audits using other types of lenses such as a race and religion.
In the world of major gifts, I think it’s clear and easy how fundraisers could promote equity. This got me thinking about what this might look like for annual giving and mid-level giving programs. My suspicion is that it’s about not assuming who has the means to give and only appealing to them in our fundraising materials.
For larger donor file programs (like some annual giving programs), it starts with knowing the landscape of your donor file. I probably say this at least once a week but knowing who your donor audience is is your most important resource as a fundraiser. It’s too easy to make assumptions about your donors. You need to rely on data insights instead. Are they really who you think they are? Donor surveys can be helpful to answer questions like this.
Beyond your current donor file, it could be helpful to think about the landscape of prospective donors. Who is it that you consciously or unconsciously target in your acquisition campaigns?
You might also want to look to broader industry research to consider how demographic trends might influence changes to your fundraising program. One that I would draw your attention to is #9 on this list — non-Hispanic whites are predicted to no longer be the majority by 2044. What could this mean for your message? Your writing style? The stories you tell? I think it could mean a lot and I think these are things worth considering as we move into planning for 2018 and beyond.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic in the comments. What is your non-profit doing to make your fundraising program more equitable? How will you address changing demographics?
PS another post worth checking out from Jeremy Hatch — Reconsidering the Racist Donor
Preeti Gill says
Well said, Vanessa! Hey, thanks for pointing your readers to my site. I hope it’s helpful in re-engineering the mindset about how to connect to your true donor base of support. i love your idea of donor surveys to find out direct from the source who are donors truly are, how they represent themselves and how they want us to treat them.
Side tangent: We need to have more frank conversations in our industry about this topic. Did you know the Chicago Women in Philanthropy just formed a subcommittee specifically to address race, equity and social justice issues in philanthropy and the workplace? It shows a commitment to changing the way we have professionalized philanthropic services to this point. Mm hmm. Iwith you, sister. Preeti
Vanessa Chase Lockshin says
Hi Preeti! Really happy to share your awesome resources. I think so many people could benefit from them.
Thanks for telling me about the Chicago Women in Philanthropy project. That sounds great!
It is actually a pretty interesting read although in our case the vast majority of people interested in our work are older white men- a result of our area of focus- so I am not sure how useful it will be in a direct sense. The only women whom we seem able to get in touch with beyond a cursory interaction are those who have lost loved ones in cases where we may be able to intervene. We actually have caught a considerable amount of grief from various groups and activists simply for pointing this out. A lot of folks forget that not all groups have a diverse donor pool nor will they because of the sort of work they do or the demographics they primarily serve. Especially over the past year or so, due in no small part due to the reprehensible behaviour of Trump and his allies, a lot more folks have begun to artificially conflate the idea of nonprofit organisations with “social justice” organisations. We happen to be one which does not have a social justice slant in the traditional sense nor do we have a focus on minorities or poor folks. We help those whose cases fit our focus and abilities regardless of such considerations. It just happens that- due to the way history played out and produced our case load- that most of our workload involves men of European ancestry.
While I think the information in this article is thought provoking and likely to benefit some, it needs to be couched with the realisation that just because you cannot drive up the numbers of female or minority donors that you are doing something wrong or are violating some sort of a standard. That was not implied here- which is one reason I like reading your blog versus say the filler put forth by say the folks at Nonprofit Quarterly- but it would be useful for those of us to have someone else point this out.
Vanessa Chase Lockshin says
Hi Stephen – Thanks for such a thoughtful response to my article. I have said to people for years now that if you appeal to everyone, you end up appealing to no one. I’m still not suggesting that our fundraising programs and organizations need to appeal to everyone. Nor am I saying that in order to have a good fundraising program do we need to reach some magic number of donors from historically marginalized communities.
You might be right. There may be some causes that appeal to certain groups of people and that might just be the way it is. But still, I think it’s worth inquiring why it is our cause only resonates with that group of people. For example, there are plenty of organization who have majority white donor bases and if you look at their websites, they are full of pictures of white people, which sends a message. Our biases and assumptions can come through in ways we communicate our work. That homogeneity might send a message to people who are not in that bucket that this isn’t for them. I would also add that just because an organization does not have a social justice mandate doesn’t mean it can’t exercise good allyship.
I wrote this not because I have answers or want to suggest a best practice, but because I think it’s an interesting question to consider and wanted to start conversations with others about this topic.