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Keep your DEI efforts from stalling with these four tips

Vice President, Higher Education Practice Group Leader

Diversity. Equity. Inclusion. Belonging. Justice. These may seem like buzzwords, but they represent principles that are fundamental to the missions of many nonprofits. And when these principles are approached with intentionality, strategy, and curiosity, they can have a profound impact on your organization’s fundraising success.

With the Black Lives Matter movement of 2020 as a catalyst, many nonprofits jumpstarted their DEI initiatives through trainings and workshops but stalled on efforts to create lasting change within their organizations.

This isn’t surprising. Incorporating DEI principles often requires tough conversations and making even tougher decisions. For organizations that are persistent in their efforts, there is the opportunity to cultivate and engage entirely new groups of donors, volunteers, and advocates for your missions.

To enhance your engagement with underrepresented groups and to prevent your DEI efforts from stalling, here are four tips for success:

  1. Assess your internal composition, culture, and policies
  2. Cultivate gift officers who practice curiosity and cultural competence
  3. Captivate with fundraising materials and engagement opportunities
  4. Embed your DEI efforts within your strategic plan

Assess your internal composition, culture, and policies.

The first step in any DEI plan should be to look internally and assess the challenges to being a diverse and inclusive organization.

Donors are attracted to organizations and causes that mirror their identities and values, so it is essential that staff and board composition appropriately reflects the communities you seek to reach. If your board is made up of all White or all male individuals, you may not be maximizing your potential to garner diverse support.

An honest and unbiased assessment by a third party can often be helpful. Bringing in an objective third party to conduct the assessment often reveals blind spots that organizations miss when attempting to assess themselves.

It is also important to understand that internal assessments aren’t one-and-done events. To measure progress and hold your organization accountable, internal assessments should be ongoing.

Cultivate gift officers who practice curiosity and cultural competence.

To attract and retain diverse donors, it is pivotal for gift officers to practice curiosity and cultural competence. It could be as simple as promoting gift officers read about the top four giving areas for donors of color in the Everyday Donors of Color Report. Or learning about the philanthropic landscape of LGBTQIA+ donors as illustrated in the LGBT Giving Project. Gift officers must consistently learn and be aware of philanthropic topics as they pertain to people from a variety of backgrounds.

Some cultural competence lessons can be taught through DEI workshops and trainings, but other lessons can be gleaned from everyday interactions. For instance, I have noticed that individuals who come from certain faith perspectives, even if they make gifts alone, will usually want to consult with their spouses (if applicable) and seek spiritual guidance before making large financial commitments.

Captivate with fundraising materials and engagement opportunities.

Another area of focus should be creating fundraising materials and engagement opportunities that are inclusive of the populations you are attempting to reach. It is important that donors see themselves reflected in the imagery and narrative promoted by your organization. The language you use should be inclusive of multiple gender identities and sexual orientations.

Representation speaks volumes! If your organization serves a population that speaks a language other than English, think of the impact of having a greeting in that language during a fundraising video. The same is true about the type of music we play at fundraising events. We should think critically about how to enhance our materials to reflect the inclusivity of our organizations and the diversity that we want to foster.

Volunteering opportunities can also cultivate philanthropic connections. We must acknowledge that for many of our organizations we have not asked people who have historically not been included in our communities to provide their insights and experiences. As the adage goes, “If you want money, ask for advice; and if you want advice, ask for money.” Not only will asking folks for insight deepen your philanthropic relationships with them, but it also allows you to use those diverse perspectives to inform your organizations.

Embed your DEI efforts within your strategic plan.

DEI action plans help to hold organizations accountable; however, the life of your organization will likely outlive any one plan. To create lasting change, DEI must be embedded within your organization’s values and your strategic plan.

You can make DEI a priority for your organization by institutionalizing it. For example, if you are prioritizing a diverse and inclusive board, create a policy that would pause board member selection until you have a robust pool of applicants to evaluate. Do not assume that board members will be against diversifying. Engage them in a conversation about DEI and the organization’s goals. Talk to them about tapping into their networks and bringing people with different perspectives on board.

The same can be true for staff! Maybe it is time to promote job opportunities in different spaces or re-evaluate the qualifications for posted roles. We are inclined to share opportunities within our networks, but we must be critical of ourselves and be honest about the fact that our networks may not have a critical mass of diversity. Some organizations have gone as far as failing searches that do not have enough diverse applicants within the hiring pools.

Internal change doesn’t occur overnight. Incorporating DEI values throughout your organization requires intentionality and strategy, embracing bold change, patience, and being prepared to pivot when necessary.