Why Nonprofits Aren't Inclusive to All Donors
Some brands, such as Channel and Vogue, are founded on exclusivity. In other words, what they advertise is mostly not available to the masses, but the elite, because of the price point. However, nonprofits aren't intended to serve the elite. People establish nonprofits to support and improve the lives of others. Still, COVID-19 restrictions in municipalities have caused some donors to stop funding organizations.
Let's consider in-person events. Because of the restrictions brought on by the pandemic, there's been more interest in attending in-person events. Yet, a few nonprofit organizations have made a COVID-19 vaccination requirement to participate in an event and some of it is based on the situs (location) of the nonprofit. As a result, some donors and supporters have found it restrictive and off-putting, even if they're vaccinated. In short, they feel it's an affront to personal liberties.
What Is the Role of a Nonprofit in Society?
If you happen to be a nonprofit leader or fundraiser who wants to do an in-person event, it’s essential to ask yourself, is there any conflict to excluding people from your event? If you're a privately owned business, the answer is that you have the legal right to cater and even exclude people with whom you disagree in most cases.
Generally, we see these issues arise concerning hot-button issues, such as guns and LGBTQ rights. For instance, a few years ago, the Supreme Court affirmed a bakery did not have to bake a wedding cake that a same-sex couple tried to order. The religious freedom and rights of the bakery trumped the couple's desire and personal liberty rights to have the bakery produce a cake for the wedding.
The bakery was a privately held business. But what about a nonprofit? That's an entity founded for the good of society and the public. In fact, that's the reason that the government does not tax it. Moreover, when donors make contributions in support of nonprofits, the government incentivizes them by offering them a tax deduction depending on the amount they give to charity in a given year.
Perceived Exclusivity By Nonprofits
Wouldn't you say that it's society's best interest (especially since nonprofits don't pay taxes, generally) that they ensure they achieve the highest level of fundraising so they could provide the scalability and sustainability of their programs in the community? If that's the case, is it exclusionary and counterproductive to that aim when nonprofits hold in-person events but exclude those not vaccinated? If we're going to be exclusionary and intolerant as a society, is it hypocritical of nonprofits to loudly proclaim their values and beliefs, and exclude people? Is this the precursor to social credit scoring?
Don’t get me wrong; I'm not suggesting that nonprofits that exclude unvaccinated donors from their events are inappropriate or incorrect? As an attorney, I could easily see and understand both sides of the issue. On the vaccination side of the topic, I know some feel strongly that unvaccinated people increase the chances of vaccinated people getting sick.
However, I'm saying before fundraisers and nonprofit leaders unequivocally exclude unvaccinated people from in-person events, they need to think through the issue. Is it ethical? Is it legal? Does it make smart fundraising sense? And before you immediately say, "yes," because you protect the vaccinated, how about the people who get serviced by your programs? I know of a major donor who declined to continue to fund a nonprofit precisely because of this issue, which will dent the organization's fundraising revenue.
Why Exclusivity Isn’t Inclusive to All
As mentioned before, perceived exclusivity may work well for businesses, but perhaps not so well for nonprofits. And that's because organizations focusing on improving the lives of others, to better the world, are unlike businesses in that sense. Businesses thrive on growth and exposure. In fact, companies would starve without the benefit of exposure to new customers. But nonprofits are inherently different.
When you limit the opportunities for donors to support your organization, there's a higher potential for missteps (e.g., not getting essential funding). And if there's a decrease in funding because you annoyed and offended donors, the people your serve, and your programs suffer. Is that good for your community? The psychological advantage of being an exclusive business isn't present for nonprofits. The purpose and the difference nonprofits make in people's lives are always present.
Furthermore, some nonprofits believe that if you're willing to support the cause with your time, money, or effort, you must be ready to vaccinate. It's essential not to make that assumption. As we know, not everyone (rich or poor) wants to get vaccinated, and even more so now that there's an expectation that people have to get boosters for their COVID-19 vaccines.
How To Step Carefully Around the COVID-19 Minefield
If you want to have an in-person nonprofit event, that’s great. But before you do it, ask for comments and feedback from the people you need in attendance — your donors. It's essential to reach out to the people who support your organization. Remember that nonprofits must make a solid commitment to being inclusive and follow through with action. The last thing you want segments of your donor base to feel is stigmatized.
Nonprofits hold a special place in the social fabric of our country. Therefore, the need for nonprofits to be inclusive is vast. Being mindful of how you include and exclude donors (even inadvertently) is hard to measure and impossible to quantify — especially if you get it wrong.
Paul D’Alessandro, J.D., CFRE, is a vice president at Innovest. He is also the founder of High Impact Nonprofit Advisors (HNA), and D’Alessandro Inc. (DAI), which is a fundraising and strategic management consulting company. With more than 30 years of experience in the philanthropic sector, he’s the author of “The Future of Fundraising: How Philanthropy’s Future is Here with Donors Dictating the Terms.”
He has worked with hundreds of nonprofits to raise more than $1 billion dollars for his clients in the U.S. and abroad. In addition, as a nonprofit and business expert — who is also a practicing attorney — Paul has worked with high-level global philanthropists, vetting and negotiating their strategic gifts to charitable causes. Paul understands that today’s environment requires innovation and fresh thinking, which is why he launched HNA to train and coach leaders who want to make a difference in the world.