This excellent article was penned by Armando Zumaya, a fundraising consultant who focuses on assisting nonprofits with diversifying at all levels — boards, staff, and donors. The piece is being shared with Armando’s permission. I am grateful for his willingness to permit me to share his perspectives and guidance with you.
“Let’s talk about a subject nobody but this crazy Chicano talks about. Diversity in Major Giving.
Ever hear that term before? That’s because the only people talking about it are universities. And to their credit, they have realized what the rest of the nonprofit world hasn’t. That people of color, women, LGBT, Muslim Americans are philanthropic and give. Especially, when educated about your work and asked properly.
Too often all the groups of American’s I just mentioned are seen as victims. Or worse as parasites on society. Often, they are seen as so much flotsam in the great American river. Philanthropy. Nonprofits and the foundation community are heavily focused on the straight, rich old white man to help all of these poor helpless people.
Wealth in the US has changed, philanthropy needs to catch up. I always point people to corporate America. Put your TV on and look at a Honda commercial or that Tide Commercial. More and more you’ll find what I call “passable Latinos”. They are families in commercials that any Mexican or Dominican would identify with, but some nice white folks in San Diego would also identify with. That’s because Honda and Tide know Latinos have a purchasing power of $1.7 trillion annually. If you want to look at one nonprofit who figured out Latinos give, check out anything done by St. Jude Children’s Hospital. Turn on your radio, go buy some tortillas, open your mail, turn on your soccer game and there is St. Jude, in Spanish!
We aren’t victims. We are American’s and we want our voice. Philanthropy right now is our denied voice. We aren’t flotsam, we have our own power. When you help us make gifts, major gifts, you give us an opportunity to show our power.
You can also still hear many people, leaders in philanthropy talk about the need to teach us brown folks about philanthropy. I have literally heard senior leaders at nonprofits say that philanthropy “isn’t in our culture”.
I like to ask people if they have ever heard of Spelman or Xavier? Those Historically Black Colleges, many founded in the 1860s have existed because someone was fundraising. They just didn’t magically appear and survive? Latino cultural philanthropy has focused on the church and remittances. But also, we founded and funded our own nonprofits, I think of LULAC the League of United Latina American Citizens, one of our first civil rights organizations founded in 1929. There was Latino fundraising in 1929.
The lack of diversity in philanthropy has been talked about for 20 years. There has been a lot of hand wringing but I sense people are tired of hearing about it. That’s because, in my opinion, there are a lot of voices complaining about the situation without offering solutions.
One clear solution, going back to our friends at the universities. Is to spend money, focus, and staff diversity. You have seen universities have staff working to ensure diversity in their student populations. Now a few good universities have hired Major Gifts and Development Officers to focus on those groups! If you care about diversity and equity, stop talking, make an investment in change. If you want examples of which schools let me know.
Diversity in your donor population. Especially your major giving prospects is about good prospecting. It’s about having solid, actionable prospect research. And if you have read my articles before you know this is my personal soapbox.
Most institutions don’t use prospect research effectively and most nonprofits have no idea what Prospect Research is in the first place! So, if there is a wealthy old Latino family giving you $50 a year in your database you will never know that they could give you $25,000 if you asked. But you didn’t want to spend the $2,000 on a freelance prospect researcher so you don’t know. A $23,000 mistake. One seven-figure Latino donor of mine to this day gets mailings from his university, but for some reason, they miss him as a major donor prospect. Why? Knowing this institution, and I am guessing here, I believe a Major Gifts Officer hasn’t called him because the Prospect Research team is largely underpowered and ignored by Development Officers at that institution.
My work has been on helping nonprofits with Prospect Research teams create dynamic and powerful partnerships with their field Development Officers. On the opposite side of the spectrum, I help small nonprofits harness the power of Prospect Research to jumpstart small Major Giving programs. In both of these instances, I have seen nonprofits surprised by what they find in donors and how much in the past they were leaving on the table.
This is especially notable in two sectors of nonprofits. The arts and the environmental movement. Both have spoken out loud about their lack of diversity. Some like the San Francisco Opera has appointed staff to diversify audiences. Which is awesome. Kudos to them. But show me the arts or environmental fundraisers focused on diversity? I have seen one staffer at one of the largest environmental organizations in the US. And he is no longer in that role.
The message today is don’t just talk about Diversity and Equity in philanthropy and fundraising. Invest in it. Fundraising has a lot of ground to make up. Staff it well. Also, you can invest in training for your current staff. Help them improve prospecting, help them focus their equity lens in this work. I do this work as well as others.
Diversity in fundraising is ultimately about raising money from the whole community. Whether your community is Cleveland or the whole nation. Empower your whole community to be part of whatever cause your working on. Your sustainability, program effectiveness will see the long-term benefits.”