Donor Focus: African Americans
And even though racial integration is more prevelant than ever before in certain aspects of American culture — higher education, for example — there are still obstacles to overcome.
“African Americans are skeptical, though,” Burnette adds. “People don’t want to be wanted so that they could give money.”
Burnette cites a consulting experience with a majority educational institution where many African-American alumni failed to respond to a year-end direct mail campaign. The institution was dumfounded by the results.
“I understood perfectly,” Burnette says. “There was no effort to get to know this donor constituency. There’s a sense [among some nonprofit organizations] that if we ask you to become a participant, you will. It doesn’t work like that.”
Throughout U.S. history, there have been many organizations that have had less than ideal relationships with the African-American community and, equally, many that have failed to adopt culturally specific fundraising approaches.
“[Organizations] must recognize that they have to be responsive to the needs and interests of a different community if they want to get their involvement, in terms of donations,” Carson affirms, “and be very intentional in acknowledging their history [with the black community] and working deliberately to change it, if it is impaired.”
To illustrate, Carson shares a personal story: His mother, who recently turned 80, was not permitted to join the Girl Scouts when she was a young girl. The exclusion left a deep, emotional scar that he says might never heal. Today, her granddaughter is a proud, happy Scout. Says Carson: “History matters. But history is not predeterminate. You can build a new story.”
A desirable constituency
Some 52 percent of African Americans surveyed by national nonprofit coalition Independent Sector in the late 1990s gave to a charity, and 47 percent volunteered. According to the 2001 study, “Giving and Volunteering in the United States,” blacks are more likely to contribute to an organization than Hispanics (80.6 percent versus 77.6 percent, respectively). Based on nonprofit consulting firm Wirthlin Worldwide’s 2002 year-end study of donor behavior, African-American respondents are significantly more likely than others to be first-time donors, and they gave more in 2002 than in 2001.