Six Ways to Increase Diversity and Equity in Fundraising

Mel and Pearl ShawPart four of a four-part series on inclusion, diversity, equity and access.

Diversity and equity can  become buzzwords unless we put these into action in a meaningful way. The following suggestions are excerpted from remarks we made at the Memphis Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP). The monthly luncheon was held, appropriately, at the National Civil Rights Museum. We share the following as tools that can be used by nonprofits large and small when seeking to increase diversity and equity. 

Here are six specific actions that you and the leadership of your organization can take as we move forward.

  1. When seeking to increase diversity, look at the composition of the organization as a whole, not just the fundraising team.
    Take time to consciously build a qualified and diverse team. Think about your expectations. Do you want someone to be the “gay employee”? Or do you want an accountant who brings his top game to work on a daily basis? Think about the match — or mismatch — between who you hire and who you serve.
  2. Build pipelines for advancement within your organization.
    It is not okay for executive and fundraising leadership to be white and for African Americans to deliver services and provide administrative support. Create pipelines to leadership that include authority, decision-making, fundraising, and other forms of revenue generation.
  3. Engage people from diverse backgrounds to participate as board members, advisers, and fundraising volunteers.
    Bring new members onto the board in diverse cohorts and beware of creating a situation where one person becomes representative of a race, gender, or ethnicity. Create an onboarding process that shares information about the organization, its priorities, fundraising, and finances so that all members have access to information, not just those who already know someone on the board. Create “board buddies” so that each new board member has someone who can help them navigate and understand the written and unwritten rules of the board.
  4. Review policies and practices to learn what formal or informal barriers to employment may be in place.
    For example, are the educational requirements for specific positions a job-related requirement or a barrier? What about years as a “fundraising professional?” Could sales experience, volunteer fundraising, or entrepreneurial experience provide comparable skills? Does the time or location of meetings create barriers for fundraising volunteers?
  5. As we build the diversity within our staff and boards we need to engage our donors as well.
    Share your vision for inclusion, diversity, equity and access with your donors, especially your major donors. Talk about why it is important and the steps you are taking. Encourage them to ask questions. Ask for their guidance, suggestions, and participation. Don’t let silence pass for acceptance. Create opportunities for long time donors to meet with and get to know your new donors. As you bring on new staff leadership make sure that your board schedules time for your major donors to meet your new leaders. As we increase the diversity of our organizations we must retain the long-time support of donors who have invested in our nonprofits and who believe in Memphis. This is not about “us and them.” This is about all of us.
  6. As fundraisers we want to increase the diversity of our donors so that we increase support for the mission and vision of the organizations we represent. We want to build a spirit of inclusion, a valuing of diversity, and a welcoming spirit among all our donors.
    With opportunities to “truly know each other” across differences, donor circles, donor receptions, and nonprofit activities can be a unique space where one of the “benefits of giving” is the ability to participate within a diverse community of peers. We want to live our values in how we treat our donors, how we bring them together, and in how we create equity when offering opportunities and visibility.

Looking at Ourselves

Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Access

Inclusion, diversity, equity, and access have to be at the heart of who we are — these are not an additional area to check in on. They are vital to our sustainability — and the sustainability of our communities and country. These are not Republican ideals or Democratic visions. These are human values.

Copyright 2018 – Mel and Pearl Shaw

Read full remarks here.

Photo courtesy of Jessica Lindsay. Image courtesy of


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