This post is part three of a five-part series on DEI-informed fundraising.
In part one of this series, we explored the connection between list strategies and DEI—and concluded that lists alone cannot make an organization more diverse. In part two, we offered six principles for DEI-informed messaging.
In this post, we apply a DEI lens to direct marketing data processes. Data and analytics are the engine of strategic fundraising, so it is imperative that we understand their impact on an organization’s DEI goals. We agree with Rella Kaplowitz and Jasmine Laroche at Schusterman Family Foundation, who offer this call to action for data professionals:
“How and what we collect sends a message about who counts—and who is made invisible.”
Take, for example, names and ethnicity. It is a common misconception that these are straightforward to track, or easy to mine for cultural markers. Experts point to a significantly more complex process, and you should investigate the methodology of any data vendor providing related appends. Is it well documented, transparent, and able to evolve with new information? Likewise, recognize the depth of bias and mistaken assumptions that even well-intentioned professionals may hold around names.
Gender is another critical DEI focus. If your forms only offer a male/female option, they are excluding transgender and gender–nonconforming individuals. Researcher and designer Sabrina Fonseca offers a good review of gender inclusivity best practices, including the crucial step of understanding why your organization requires such information in the first place. She concludes, “Trans & GNC people and their allies want to see organizations take action rather than just say they’re supportive.”
For donors, DEI-informed practices support engagement and inclusion—making each person feel welcome and invited to participate fully in your organization’s mission. For example, John Graham-Cunning shared the frustrating experience of not being able to enter his name accurately in an online form. He concludes, “If I’m entering my name, I’m probably signing up for your service. Do you really want part of my sign-up experience to be that you tell me that my name is invalid?”
For organizations, DEI-informed practices are imperative because data informs decision-making. As we’ve been saying at Avalon for years, data hygiene is an essential best practice. With a DEI lens, we also propose that the “garbage in, garbage out” rule is about more than mailing efficiency or successful segmentation. Those remain important, but they aren’t the whole story. In addition, these practices can empower your organization to achieve its DEI goals, support a culture of inclusive fundraising, and, by extension, deliver on mission.
Across the entire nonprofit sector, this work can help steer DEI leadership. It is critical that data and analytics support honest work around the complexity of diversity. Superficial change or what Nicole Anand and SSIR call “checkbox diversity” is not enough. This is a key awareness for those who work with data. Core values of specificity and clarity drive data practitioners. And this may conflict with the complexity that comes with a substantive DEI commitment.
For example, we need to understand that there is bias in coding and machine learning. And this is important because these tools are being adopted more widely every day. Think of insurance companies, banks, and even police departments relying on code that is not inclusive. It will be important to stay open to the implications of what Joy Buolamwini calls algorithmic justice for our work, and not retreat to simplicity.
Based on these principles, we have compiled the following checklist. We also referenced the excellent Schusterman data collection guide, our research on form design, and our knowledge of industry practice for ethnicity appends. to inform this list. We recommend these practices to our clients and want to share them broadly–to support wider adoption and industry discussion.
We would love to hear from you: Which of these practices will you use at your organization?
Next up in our series on DEI-informed fundraising: hiring. We will discuss this task force’s findings, practices we are implementing at Avalon, and challenges we have encountered as we work towards this change.