Despite ongoing gains with improving diversity, equity, and inclusion in the nonprofit sector, there is one disparity that seems to persist—engaging donors of color in philanthropy to the level that matches their capacity and desire to give.
Furthermore, it is no secret that America is experiencing a remarkable demographic shift, in which the percentage of white Americans is shrinking as the share of those who identify as non-white continues to grow. This data alone points to the necessity of engaging donors of color. So why is it that white Americans remain over-represented in philanthropy?
Identify the Problem
First, we must understand the challenges with achieving DEI in philanthropy—of which there are many, especially within institutions of higher education. From the traditional and conventional methods utilized to identify and solicit donors to unacknowledged institutional histories rife with the vestiges of racial injustice experienced by some of their alumni, institutions may unintentionally marginalize and overlook donors of color.
As philanthropic professionals, we must be intentional and deliberate about checking our unconscious biases or prejudicial stereotypes about the philanthropic capacity and inclination of donors of color because they only serve to mitigate the opportunity before us to engage diverse donors. In fact, research shows philanthropic generosity spans racial and ethnic differences.
While awareness of such culprits that fuel the persisting disparity between donors of color and other donors is important, more is required to effect change. Institutions must prioritize and act on engaging donors of color in order to realize their full philanthropic potential.
Based on the years of experience I’ve gained working with institutions of higher education, there are a few key steps you can take to diversify your donor pool.
Have a strong understanding of the data at your institutions
Do you know how many of your alumni are first-generation college students? Are you familiar with the history of your institution—for example, when it was desegregated and began admitting people of color? What is the level of engagement of people of color in institutional activities? It is your institutional data that will be one of the most effective determinants to inform and drive your engagement activity for prospective donors of color.
Identify new donors through the alumni engagement or constituency engagement offices
The advancement department is likely not collecting this type of historical and institutional data, so where should you turn within the organization? The engagement office for alumni or other key institutional constituents can potentially be an informed resource for prospective donors, based upon the level of involvement of these key groups.
These offices are likely to capture and utilize data focused on individual involvement in institution-hosted events and volunteer activities as well as communication with and about the institution on social media. Your goal as a fundraiser is to bridge the gap between these departments and the advancement team and put their data to use to identify new donors.
Equip staff for the possibility of having difficult conversations
In addition to providing training on the science of different fundraising strategies, advancement professionals might see tremendous benefit in providing training on how to engage with prospective donors who may have had less than positive experiences with your institution or are familiar with others who had less than positive experiences based on how they identify.
It is important for fundraisers to be familiar with institutional history as well as present-day realities and future state plans to effectively engage in conversations that may be uncomfortable, especially when talking about race. Never dismiss or downplay someone’s experience at an institution that may be beloved by many just because it wasn’t everyone’s experience.
At the same time, just because someone had a negative experience doesn’t mean that you can’t demonstrate how the institution has evolved and articulate how their generosity may impact the experience of future students of color.
Diversify your advancement team
Philanthropy and advancement at all levels lack diversity, especially racial and ethnic diversity. While strides have certainly been made, leaders in philanthropy can realize benefits in diversifying their teams to garner broader perspectives and experiences that are reflective of a prospective donor base that has the capacity and the desire to give back. Investing in your team to ensure that it has the cultural competency to reach new communities of donors is critical for diversifying your donor base.
These steps should assist your institution in starting the process of realizing greater philanthropic potential by diversifying your donor pool. Engaging donors of color is not only the right thing to do as an inclusive practice, but it’s the smart thing to do.
– Authored by: Robiaun Charles
If you are interested in learning more and applying these strategies at your institution, please contact us.