Toward Donor Diversity: A Prospect Researcher’s Call for Stronger Organizational Readiness

Prospect researchers are often asked about how to cultivate a diverse donor pool.

This is a worthy question, but first examining your nonprofit’s organizational structures, especially by those of us with white access, and privilege, is needed.

You see, before we can address where to find diverse donors, we need to assess if our institution is creating an environment in which diverse donors would not only feel welcomed, valued, and heard, but in which they feel safe and engaged to invest their capital.

To have a stronger organizational readiness, consider these questions:

• What do we offer to diverse donors?
• Is your programming sufficiently inclusive?
• How are you perceived in the communities you serve?
• Is your board and staff leadership reflective of the donor demographics you’d like to engage and solicit?

Without answering these questions, all you’ll get from your researchers is a list of prospective donors (and even potential board members) who are great on paper, but who will likely not have a reason to stay invested in your organization beyond a single gift.

In his incredible book, Decolonizing Wealth, Edgar Villanueva explains that “. . .the issue is not recruitment of diverse humans – the ‘pipeline’ focus on the past, laying a seat at the table, as is often said – the issue is creating a culture of respect, curiosity, acceptance, and love. It’s fundamentally about changing organizational culture, what constitutes acceptable behavior, and the definitions of success and leadership.”

Talk To Us

If you are about to ask your research team to find diverse donors for your nonprofit, it is also worth exploring how you can involve them in discussions about client programming and organizational strategy. Researchers are often left out of such planning processes, but many of us would love the opportunity to be partners in supporting equity and inclusivity, including finding new avenues for collaboration with external organizations like minority business associations, and peer organization donor rolls. And we have a lot of hard data to bring to the process!

Has your nonprofit thought about how you’re perceived by the diverse donors you seek? That’s an important first question.

One cultural nonprofit in Ohio asked that readiness question and decided to work on inviting communities of color to their park and recreation programs first, something they had long neglected. They also offered a one-year no-fee pass that proved to be exceedingly popular.

You can leverage your prospect researchers to move you closer the goal of diversifying your donor pool, but nonprofit executives need to ask for our input. Because we are researchers, we can find workshops, trainings, and consultants to help you dig deeper into your antiracism, equity, and diversity work.

A recent study published by Indiana University’s Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, says this,
“. . . it is important that racial equity work is structurally supported across entire organizations, rather than being expected of, and left solely to, donors of color. Key to integrating donors of color into broader philanthropic networks is to recognize the wide-ranging cultural and social capital that they bring to the table, including that which is unrelated to racial justice and racialized communities.”

Nonprofits have tremendous power, and immense responsibility, to encourage and support the whole community. Prospect Research is a key part of the path toward a diverse and engaged donor pool – but the work starts internally with your organizational culture.

If you’d like to learn more about advanced prospect research, here’s a free white paper by our founder, Laurence A. Pagnoni where he explains the different approaches. Also, you can hear us talking about this subject on our recent webinar.

Make sure that your nonprofit is ready to sustain meaningful relationships with donors across the demographic spectrum, that is your ultimate goal.

What’s been your experience with recruiting diverse donors? Have you taken readiness steps to make sure your nonprofit is ready? Please forward this post to a colleague who may appreciate it.


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