Diversity in Fundraising: Making a Long-Term Commitment

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Growing up in Kentucky during segregation, Jimmie Alford – The Alford Group’s founder – attended an all-white school, and didn’t experience racial diversity until the age of nine when his parents moved to Chicago. The move, due to the closing of coal mines, placed Jimmie’s family in a small apartment in the Englewood community. Jimmie was one of three white students in his third grade class of 40 students.

Along with his classmates, he understood economic diversity and its impact on themselves, their families and their community while living in extreme poverty within a predominantly affluent nation. He also directly and personally saw and felt the impact of discrimination. He decided at a young age that the injustice of discrimination was something he would never allow to penetrate his life and that he would work his entire life to eradicate it in all forms. Like many who grow up marginalized in one way or another, Jimmie vowed to lift himself out of his circumstances, make a better life and never forget the important life lessons learned along the way. His commitment to this goal was unwavering and steadfast.

Diversity

Diversity is one of seven core values of The Alford Group, and one of Jimmie’s enduring “fingerprints” on the consulting firm he founded in 1979. One manifestation of this commitment is our 20+-year sponsorship of the Diversity Workshop and Diversity Art Showcase at the annual AFP International Conference. While our dedication to diversity and inclusiveness has remained resolute over the decades, the demographics of America – and thus the universe of donors and prospective donors – have changed dramatically. Lessons learned from diverse communities, and the shared values of diversity, equity and inclusiveness (DEI), are more relevant and more essential today than ever before.

Changing Demographics

America’s Changing Landscape means the profile of the “ideal” prospective donor has shifted beyond traditional characteristics of white, male, married, protestant, 50-64 years of age, highly educated, and professional or corporate executive.  Today, the prospective donor is just as likely to be any race; either gender; married, widowed or single; any religion or none; any age, though increasingly older than 65; highly educated; and entrepreneurial or professional. Consider the following realities:

While it’s helpful to be aware of the facts, sometimes the simplest ideas can be the most impactful. Consider this basic truth:

  • The most important factor influencing a philanthropic decision is “being asked,” and many minority populations indicate they are less likely to be asked.

Preparing for Success

Preparing for Success in an increasingly diverse nation means that organizations can no longer plan only for the familiar, comfortable and traditional ways of doing business. In sticking only with the tried-and-true, we run the risk of missing the opportunities that invariably present themselves with major societal shift. Not-for-profit leaders must ensure that they and their organizations are well-positioned in this changing landscape. Fortunately, this is not an insurmountable challenge; in fact it can be summarized in four simple steps: 1) keep informed; 2) make a commitment from the top; 3) take action; and 4) evaluate, adjust and persevere.

1.   Keep well informed about demographic trends…

…and the implications to your community and organization. Be knowledgeable about the current demographic profile of your service area, and whether it has changed significantly in the past 5-10 years. Be aware of whether your organization serves a diverse client base, and if your client diversity is at least on par with the diversity of your service area. Prospective donors from diverse communities want assurance that organizations they support actually serve the entire community. Even organizations that traditionally serve minority populations can experience significant demographic shifts in their client base. For example, 100 to 150 years ago most Asians in America were immigrant laborers. Subsequently, these families evolved from immigrants to 4th, 5th, even 6th generation Asian Americans. Since 1965 the profile of the Asian immigrant has shifted to more skilled and educated individuals with a broader range of countries of origin. One can readily imagine the implications of this demographic shift for an organization that “serves the Asian community.”

2.   Make a commitment to diversity, equity and inclusiveness (DEI)

This should be a strategic organizational priority, not an afterthought. Begin by creating consensus, achieving clarity and planning for deliberate action.

  • Administer an organizational assessment of diversity readiness and performance.
  • Seek a skilled professional consultant, and ensure that s/he also demonstrates a commitment to DEI, as facilitator of the organization’s next strategic planning process.
  • Address the commitment to DEI as an integral part of the organization’s strategic plan. Follow this link to view a sample Commitment to Diversity.
  • Appoint a task force of the Board to lead DEI efforts, and ensure participation by the entire Board.
  • Establish a multi-year DEI plan to strengthen the organization internally and externally.
  • Set measurable goals to ensure the composition of Board and staff reflects society’s growing diversity, and evaluate progress annually.
  • Set benchmarks to ensure that you serve a diversity of clients within your mission.
  • Plan to adapt and expand upon traditional ways of doing business, including communications, outreach and fundraising.

3.   Taking Action: Ready, Set, Go!

  • Analyze and take action based on results of the diversity assessment.
  • Know and cultivate your audience; take steps to understand and engage diverse populations in your organization.
  • Involve clients/donors/stakeholders as DEI advisors; convene a Leadership Circle of DEI advisors. Create regular opportunities for strategic and meaningful involvement; thank, recognize and steward DEI advisors for continued involvement.
  • Listen and learn! Then carefully consider and act upon these views and ideas wherever possible. Be prepared to take some calculated risk; innovation doesn’t come from inside the box! Start small and build upon proven success.
  • Articulate your organizational “case” for expanded support from a diverse donor base and communicate that case broadly.
  • Recognize and celebrate in appropriate ways the impact of philanthropic support from a diverse donor base.

4.   Evaluate progress, adjust strategies as needed, and remember to persevere!

  • Measure and evaluate progress against annual goals. Consider quantitative as well as qualitative data and anecdotal information.
  • Make adjustments to next year’s DEI plan based on prior year’s evaluation.
  • Include the commitment to DEI in the organization’s next strategic plan.

America did not become more diverse overnight – it just seems like that! Moving your organization and your donor base from where you are today, to where you want to be tomorrow and into the future, will require time and commitment. Like all successful efforts, it will require solid and stalwart leadership; alignment of mission, vision and values; strategic and intentional planning; dogged and determined implementation; honest and self-aware analysis and evaluation; and long-term dedication. If it were easily achieved, we would have nailed it by now!

Our communities look much different than they did only a few decades ago. Demographers assure us they will look markedly different by 2050. Lessons learned today about flexibility and adaptability will serve us well as our communities continue to evolve, to grow, and to become the places that they will someday be. Just as change is the only constant, the only certainty is that it will be a fascinating journey!

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