By Mary Hackett, Vice President
Fundraisers often don’t believe that they can have a significant impact on their organization’s journey toward diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). Here’s the truth: development professionals play a critical role! You have a unique superpower that can play the role of disruptor: your donor data.
As connectors, spokespeople, and communicators, both internally and externally, you have a variety of impactful ways to further your organization’s DEI efforts through data.
What is Equity-Centered Philanthropy?
Before we dig in, let’s calibrate exactly what equity-centered philanthropy means. Alford Group defines it as intentional action toward changing structures, roles, processes, representation, and practices that perpetuate inequities in the nonprofit community and world at large
Every organization, including Alford Group, is on its own journey when it comes to the work of DEI. Many of our clients fall somewhere on the spectrum below.
How Data Informs Donor Engagement and Fuels Disruptive Change
One of the greatest tools that you have in your fundraising toolkit is the years of giving histories and donors that are in your fundraising database. It is important to understand how to use data to inform knowledge, strategy and intentional action in creating a set of practices for your organization.
Having this data allows you to step into the critical role of a disruptor by:
- Connecting and centering community voices
- Deepening organizational cultural competencies to better understand donors’ motivations and practices
- Ensuring an expanded, more inclusive definition of who is a philanthropist
- Increasing and sustaining collaboration and trust with donors by offering different giving levels and ways to support and invest
Often, we are worried about putting “sensitive” information into our databases, but we have to collect data to measure where we are and where we want to go. I often hear, “we won’t track gender” or “we won’t track age” and “we won’t track religious affiliation.” The APRA Ethics and Compliance Committee on DEI Data Collection said it best:
“DEI data can be considered sensitive, due to histories of discrimination, persecution, and lack of access. DEI data represents how we determine who is seen and who is erased, who counts and who does not.”
How we collect DEI data reflects our organization’s values. Methods can either perpetuate inequity, bias, and harmful stereotypes. It stands to reason that this information enables greater inclusivity in our constituencies.
How to Collect Demographic Data
The best way to collect demographic data is to allow your constituents to self-identify. There are many ways to collect this type of data surveys, event registrations, solicitation reply devices, online giving forms, and direct contact.
After I made a recent online donation, I was taken to this online survey. I took a screen-shot because it was such a great way to allow people to opt in and share how they’d like to be addressed.
You’ll see that every question allows people to type in a specific answer or prefer not to answer. After I filled out this survey, the organization captured that data and began addressing me as I had indicated that I’d like to be addressed.
When collecting demographic data:
- Only collect data that has business use. Don’t collect more data than exactly what you plan to use.
- Always include a free-form text box if none of the options you provide fit.
- Provide self-disclosure on surveys, event registrations, profile updates through the portal and in discussions with gift officers.
- Be transparent about why you’re collecting and tracking this data.
How to Use Demographic Data
As your collection of demographic data grows, you’ll begin to understand the composition of your donor pool. We urge clients to look at the following demographics to better understand their current pool. Once you have visibility, you can begin to implement strategies and tactics to further diversify. Consider the following:
- Disability and impairment
- Gender Identity
- Level of Education
We specifically chose these five demographics because they encourage us to be inclusive with our communications. As you examine the makeup of your constituents, here are some best practices:
- Use strength-based language when speaking about clients served
- Record, store and use data in ways that are inclusive and reflect their choices
- Move from an “opt out” model of data usage to a “permission based” model
- Identify and test message resonance with donor segments
- Engage donors at all levels
- Personalize your communications and use real individuals by incorporating their voice
Demographic Data is key to an equitable future.
While it may not seem obvious at first, as development professionals, we play an important role in our organizations’ DEI journey. Data is empowering.
Our use and understanding of data can be a major influence on our organization’s ability to forge radically authentic relationships internally and externally with board, staff, partners and donors alike.
Data can help our teams build the confidence to establish the brace spaces required to recognize scarcity mindsets, white-centered norms and deficit-based communications.
By focusing our strategies and systems on our donors’ self-identification and visibility, we can make necessary changes to be a more inclusive, diverse, and equitable nonprofit community.