FYI Blog

Diversity in Fundraising: Embrace It! Here’s How.

jenny-phillipsIn case you missed it, the Natural Resources Defense Council’s new president, Rhea Suh, offered a terrific call to action last month. In an interview with Brentin Mock at Grist, she spoke bluntly about the need for big environmental groups to intensify their commitment to diversity. “The [environmental] movement is really vulnerable for being too insular,” she said. “Diversity is not simply just reflecting demographics. Diversity is really about content, it’s about substance, it’s about what we do, why we do it, and how we pursue it.” As Mock points out, this gels nicely with Robert Bullard’s call to name 2015 the “year of diversity” for U.S. environmental nonprofits.

I agree, and not only with regard to the environmental sector. Organizations and movements will never be as effective or noble as their missions suggest if they don’t pursue a diverse body of constituents—from employees, to donors, to the communities in which and for which they advocate.

But here’s the catch: This introduces a challenge for fundraisers.

diversity board - JP PostIt is difficult to deliver the same or increased revenue year after year, while also pursuing donors from outside your core market. Whether we are talking about racial, socioeconomic, or generational diversity, it can be very scary to rock the boat. We know that changing the makeup of a donor file is expensive—a message that has not always been well received by higher-ups. Add to this a general discomfort around discussing race and diversity, and you can see why too many fundraisers avoid the issue entirely.

While this tension is real, it can’t be the end of the story. Here is a roadmap for fundraisers who are rising to the occasion:

1. Align fundraising strategies with your organization’s priorities.

If diversity and inclusion are at the top of the list, your job is to figure out how your department will support that strategy. Get on the same page with your nonprofit’s leadership—listen to their concerns, internalize their vision, and devise collaborative strategies.

2. Overcommunicate on investment and expected outcomes.

Educate your board and executives on the investment required to make their vision a reality. Project and re-project ROI; provide long-range forecasts; and communicate, communicate, communicate. It will be essential for you to bring everyone on board with whatever short- to mid-range impact you anticipate. Otherwise, the initiative may be killed before it has time to blossom, and you will be held accountable. Make sure you and your senior leadership are on the same page regarding how to define success, as well as the metrics and timeframes for assessment.

3. Make the most of historically high performers.

Be relentless about ROI, net per donor, and retention from this group. You will need your high performers to anchor your program, so that your diversity and inclusion initiatives have the room they need to grow.

4. Get familiar with industry research and benchmarks.

Blackbaud recently released its 2015 Diversity in Giving Report, which examines this very topic. Their research debunks any wrong-headed opinions you might hear about minority donors underperforming. Their conclusions are excerpt-worthy:

[The Donor Gap] does not suggest that whites are “more generous” than other racial and ethnic groups. Analysis of the data shows that factors such as income and religious engagement are far more significant predictors of giving behavior than race or ethnicity. The under-representation of African-Americans and Hispanics suggests that organized philanthropy is not doing an adequate job of engaging non-white communities…The goal for all fundraisers must be to meet all donors where they are, as opposed to using an outmoded one-size-fits-all model.

The report also shares data on the giving priorities, habits and attitudes of African-American, Asian and Hispanic donor communities. Read it closely.

5. Set targets for new audiences, but prepare to be agile.

If you measure it, you manage it. The targets you set will orient your day-to-day decisions, so choose them carefully and be sure they reflect your strategic goals. But don’t be rigid. Your strategies must evolve to reflect measured results as they become known. You will need to tweak on the fly, but those changes should continue to support the big picture.

6. Get ready to talk about overhead.

It will be more important than ever for your organization to have those tough conversations about overhead. Diversity and inclusion are worthwhile strategic goals, and you should feel confident defending them. The fact that they will require investment and administrative resources should not undermine their priority at your organization. However, some people may not see that as clearly as you and I. Do your part to arm your executives, your boards, and your fundraising staff with the talking points they need to get that message across.

I’m wearing my ethics hat when I say, simply, that supporting diversity is the right thing to do. But my strategic hat fits too—because this is smart, long-term thinking for the organizations and movements that we care about.