How Do You Bring Equity Into Your Fundraising Practices?

By Laurence A. Pagnoni, MPA

LAPA blog reader Kennita, who works for a historic preservation nonprofit, writes, “How do I bring equity into our fundraising practices?”

Thanks for writing, Kennita, and that’s a terrific question. I hope my answer is useful.

It just so happens that a key advanced fundraising trend is to bring equity into your fundraising practices. But what does that really mean, and how do you implement it?

For a complete view of 2022 fundraising trends, watch this video.

Fundamental Questions

Here are two fundamental questions to get you started.

What is your fundraising equity approach?

The focus of your equity approach varies depending on your mission.

Which approach fits your nonprofit best? It’s important that you know.

For some nonprofits, it’s easy to develop equity messages and choose stories, graphics, and pictures for fundraising messages that reflect their values and the communities they serve. But many other nonprofits need to do much more.

For example, Care for the Homeless, a LAPA client whose mission is to provide high-quality, patient-centered health care, sets its fundraising appeals in messages about better comprehensive medical and mental health care, stable housing, equity, and social justice concerning eliminating barriers to care. It has even developed a full agenda to end homelessness, which you can read here.

Yet an equity message is not so obvious, or not articulated, for many other nonprofits.

Consider the impressive caregivers support nonprofit Caring Bridge, which I have benefited from, and donated to, but to which I have also slowed my recent giving.

Caring Bridge has a terrific mission — “a single vision: a world where no one goes through a health journey alone.” Yet throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, I have waited in vain for the organization to speak about entrenched and deplorable health care inequities. Maybe I missed it?

I challenge this organization to embrace an equity-focused message. Caring Bridge has shared moving stories of people affected by COVID-19, and I understand that it probably does not want to stray from its mission. But it runs the risk of being solipsistic to donors like me who believe this is no time to ignore systemic racism in health care. I have not spoken with Caring Bridge about my view, but I welcome a conversation. Until then, I am sharing my experience as a donor. And isn’t that worth its weight in gold?

Is your organizational culture integrated or siloed?

Your ability to put equity front and center in your fundraising is often directly tied to your organization’s culture.

Sadly, fundraisers whose work is siloed (i.e., not integrated into the nonprofit’s management) have little opportunity to make equity shine. That is hard news for many. Yet your ability to articulate equity values and actions is directly tied to your organizational culture. (Here is an example of how LAPA Fundraising articulates our equity values.)

If your organization does not value and embrace equity, it is disingenuous to make it a central piece of your fundraising strategy. It must be woven into your values, not simply adopted as a tactic to raise more revenue.

If you can’t back up your words with actions, you will be judged as transactional, and rightly so.

Too often, fundraising is not fully integrated with the values and practices of the larger organization. And you don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to detect the signs of a siloed fundraising program.

It occurs when:

  • fundraising staff doesn’t have fresh program data or culturally informed client stories.
  • board members overlook talking to guests about the vitality of your mission at a gala or Zoom call.
  • volunteers are not solicited for donations or asked to host gatherings for their friends and family to get them enthused about the mission.

By contrast, integration happens when a CEO or executive director realizes that the organization’s fundraising program is operating in a silo and decides to break that construct.

And you cannot embrace equity in fundraising until you break that silo.

The CEO must recognize the situation as a significant organizational problem, seek full integration between programs and revenue development, and devote attention to coordinating and harmonizing development with the other parts of the organization.

True integration includes educating, engaging, and motivating constituents, donors, and prospects about your fundraising needs and your organizational values. In short, integration moves people to action.

It’s not merely a buzzword — integration is an essential realignment of your marketing, communications, and fundraising activities.

While I have not addressed the equity issues involved within fundraising programs themselves, especially within donor research, my colleague Vanessa Chase Lockshin has, and her post about that is most certainly worth a read.

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg once said: “Enduring change happens one step at a time.” It may take time to bring equity into your fundraising, but you must define the action steps that bring you there. You want your nonprofit to embrace all the beautiful nuances that equity contains.

To help you on that journey, we’ve compiled an extensive list of resources. You can find it here.

We welcome your experience of bringing equity into your fundraising practices by posting in the comment section below.

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