Reimagining the Role of Fundraising in Pursuit of Racial Justice
In recent months, our country has faced a renewed reckoning about racism. What does this all mean for fundraisers? As this cultural moment shapes our future, fundraising is overdue for fundamental changes to the way it operates. Our ability to reach a diverse donor base to sustain operations and truly achieve the justice we seek through our missions relies on it.
Several years ago, the Blackbaud Institute released its “Diversity in Giving” study. In this study, we found that whites are overrepresented in the donor universe compared to their overall proportion of the population. In fact, the demographic picture of the donor universe more closely matches the racial and ethnic makeup of America in 1990 than that of America in the 21st century.
Nearly three-fourths of donors are non-Hispanic whites, despite the fact that whites make up only 64% of the population. Concurrently, the study found that both African-Americans and Hispanics are underrepresented in the donor universe. Asian donor participation was congruent with population size. Let me be clear: This does not suggest that white donors are more generous than other racial and ethnic groups. Research continues to show that factors such as income and religious engagement are far more significant predictors of giving behavior than race or ethnicity. The Women’s Philanthropy Institute’s “Women Give 2019: Gender and Giving Across Communities of Color” found similar results, showing that a donor’s race does not have a significant effect on the amount given to charity.
Our takeaway from this data needs to be that organized philanthropy is not doing an adequate job of engaging non-white communities. African-American and Hispanic donors both say they are solicited less frequently. Furthermore, they say that they would give more if they were asked more often.
As fundraisers, we must face the reality that our practices and methodologies have been built based on the interests, values and traditions of white Americans. Our one-size-fits-all approach is increasingly proven to be anything but. Over time, we mailed to the households that looked most like the households who responded in the past. We built complex lookalike models, allowing us to find more donors like our current donors. As technology brings us tools to facilitate a more nuanced approach to fundraising, we are presented with a critical inflection point to reevaluate our practices. The goal for all fundraisers must be to meet all donors where they are. Given the pressing social challenges we are all confronting, this effort has never been more important. And this is not just about shifting our channels, messaging and language to speak to a broader donor base. The present moment demands a deeper reckoning. A transformation in the face of giving must start with a transformation within the profession of fundraising. As long as the fundraising community remains disproportionately white, we will never truly be able to solve the issues our missions focus on.
As Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation, writes in his new book, “From Generosity to Justice: A New Gospel of Wealth,”: “Communities we serve get our support without necessarily getting a role in the decision-making or even a seat at the table. When we approach giving in this limited way, we diminish the very people we aim to help and end up reinforcing the inequalities we hope to change. We keep the power to decide and finance an agenda in the hands of very few, rather than including the perspectives of those who have been historically unrepresented or immediately impacted. In other words, if we offer only charity, we fail to address the fundamental injustices in our society.”
Now is the time to have the hard conversations at your organization and with your funders. We must all examine the ways in which the homogeneity of our profession and our practices serves as a roadblock for more diverse support. We must admit, as Darrin Gross, CEO of Coastal Community Foundation, says, “that systems and structures were put in place in order to advantage one group of people (white) and disadvantage another group of people (everyone else).”
As we embrace new technology and its capacity to help us reach a broader base of support than ever before, we must concurrently dismantle those old systems and structures that harm communities of color and hold all of us back from progress. Let’s be bold in the way we re-envision the possibilities. Our ability to truly achieve justice depends on it.
Ashley Thompson is the managing director for the Blackbaud Institute. She is responsible for driving Blackbaud’s extensive research, thought leadership, and best practice content.
Through this role, she builds thoughtful strategies and solutions for the philanthropic sector utilizing the most comprehensive data set in the social good community. She also manages internal and external relationships for the Institute, including the convening of the Blackbaud Institute Advisory Board.
Ashley is active in the Austin community and participates in numerous groups as a volunteer, active board member, and collaborative partner.
She is a regular contributor to sgENGAGE, serves on the Giving USA Editorial Review Board, and is a member of the NonProfit PRO Editorial Advisory Board.