6 Steps to Attracting More Diverse Donors

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Click here to read on The Chronicle of Philanthropy 

by Eden Stiffman (first published in 2016)

A quick look at donor demographics at many nonprofits shows a racial and ethnic makeup that looks more like America in 1990 than today. That is a key takeaway of a 2015 Blackbaud report on diversity in giving, which found that the ratio of white donors to others is far higher than in the general population.

Few nonprofits have adapted their fundraising approaches to reach more diverse audiences despite advice from experts who warn that traditional practices don’t always resonate with all races and ethnicities.

Charities that do appeal to a broad range of supporters say it requires a careful look at your organization — the messages it sends, the media it uses, the racial and ethnic backgrounds of staff and board, and their connections to other organizations.

Here are six tips from nonprofit fundraisers, marketers, and consultants on how to raise money from a wider variety of people.

1. Look at the racial and ethnic makeup of your donors.

Compare the demographics of the people you serve with those of your supporters, says Danielle Johnson Vermenton, a Blackbaud consultant who has worked in fundraising for Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta and the American Red Cross. “You have to know that to determine what diversity looks like where you are.”

This may not require seismic shifts in your organization. “Sometimes folks think they have to do something really different,” says Darryl Lester, founder of HindSight Consulting. “If we’re advocating for a diverse group, we have a responsibility to ask that constituency to contribute,” he says. “But it’s really about how we think about building a relationship.”

2. Build a diverse board and staff.

“It is difficult to raise money from diverse donors if an organization’s board and staff are not diverse,” says Ana Gloria Rivas-Vázquez, regional development director of Catholic Relief Services in Miami. “Part of it is optics, but part is a real cultural competency. We all want to feel understood, and that is especially true as a donor.”

In 2010, PeopleFund, a Texas nonprofit that provides small-business loans and other services to people with limited access to such resources, embarked on a five-year plan to diversify its board, staff, and volunteers to be ethnically and geographically representative of the communities it serves. Today, more than half of the organization’s board and staff at its seven sites are minorities and bilingual.

“We didn’t just give lip service to diversity; we made it happen,” says Amber Cooney, the organization’s director of development and communications. “Our donors could immediately recognize that we were seriously committed to diversity at all angles of our organization, and it was easier to bring them on board.”

Mando Rayo, co-founder of the New Philanthropists, an effort focused on creating a diverse pipeline of trustees, , donors, and nonprofit executives in the Austin area, says attracting diverse leaders can have big implications for fundraising. “When more people are more invested at the board level of an organization, they’ll definitely open up their wallets,” he says.

3. Develop new relationships outside of the charity.

Getting access to people your organization may have overlooked in the past requires building relationships in new ways. Staff at PeopleFund, for example, joined more membership organizations, served on more boards, attended city-council sessions and neighborhood meetings, and connected with local universities to meet new donors and forge new relationships.

“Building relationships with traditionally overlooked donor groups ensures a longstanding partnership with our organization, so the initial investment of time pays off,” Ms. Cooney says.

Connecting with giving circles, places of worship, and fraternities and sororities may also provide entree to new groups of donors who may not be familiar with your organization or feel connected to the cause.

4. Take a hard look at your communications.

Critically evaluate how you’re representing your organization through social media, fundraising and marketing materials, and your website, says Mr. Rayo, who also is chief executive of the multicultural marketing agency Mando Rayo + Collective. Are the stories you’re telling culturally appropriate? Does your organization come across as welcoming to people of color?

It isn’t just words. Look carefully at pictures and illustrations, too. “Some foundations and donors have encouraged nonprofits to become more ethnically varied in their imagery,” Jatrice Martel Gaiter, a vice president at Volunteers of America, wrote in a recent Chronicle of Philanthropy op-ed. “That should not mean pictures of consumers of services who are people of color and pictures of CEOs, board members, and staff who are white.”

Sometimes it’s helpful to bring in someone from outside the organization to provide a new perspective, Mr. Rayo says. A consultant or even a volunteer may have a different view of how the organization is presenting itself than board members or fundraisers.

5. Consider donor preferences.

The Blackbaud study also found differences in priorities, values, and habits among donors of different ethnicities and races.

“There are nuances with diverse donors,” says Ms. Rivas-Vázquez.

African-American donors, for example, say they’re not as likely to give through direct-mail or email, but they also say they are not being asked at all.

Asian donors are more likely to visit a nonprofit’s website before giving. And Hispanic donors say they are more likely to make their giving decisions “in the moment” based on appeals that tug on their heartstrings.

Some charities have seen success by developing ads aimed at a particular demographic on cable television or radio or producing content in multiple languages.

6. Start now.

Building new relationships takes long-term planning and a willingness to commit resources, says Ms. Vermenton. “This isn’t something that happens overnight,” she says. Having a conversation is a starting place, but it’s the follow-through that is key. “There has to be quite a strength of will there to see this through, to make sure it continues to be a priority,” she says.

Charities must get started immediately, says Mr. Rayo. “If you wait three years or five years for the next strategic plan to come along, you’re going to be behind. You have to just get out there and do it.”

“If you’re intentional,” he says, “People will come to your door.”

A version of this article appeared in the February 7, 2017, issue.

Read other items in this Advice on Attracting Diverse Donors package.

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