DEI goals require serious commitment across the entire organization. We acknowledge that many nonprofits are in-process with this—and fundraising is an important vector for communicating those values. So, how should fundraisers approach messaging, in order to support and convey DEI strategies as they evolve?
Here are six principles that have emerged from our research and experience:
First, authenticity is essential. Make sure your organization is really doing the work. Is your nonprofit exploring its context for DEI, promoting DEI education, and representing diversity in its own staff and leadership? Is it assessing what communities need via partnership and participation, and steering away from “White saviorism”? Do your missions and programs reflect these findings? The heart of your message begins here.
Second, your content should honor the diversity you seek. A fundraising message should not marginalize your nonprofit’s constituents. Rather, the stories you tell should depict whole persons, not just their needs. In addition, the stories you tell should be diverse. One Avalon client put this beautifully: “Difference is enriching, not diminishing. Diversity is a necessary condition for life.”
Third, terminology and techniques matter. Trauma-informed fundraising is willing to challenge tactics that may cause emotional harm. For example, red “urgent” or “final notice” teasers may trigger anxiety in an audience that has experienced financial insecurity. The specifics of this will vary by organization, so Avalon has implemented a checklist question for our creative work: Would this copy make the people featured in it feel proud?
Fourth, your program strategy and budget should incorporate any changes you make. Shifting messaging is not risk-free, but we believe DEI-informed changes are important and necessary. In addition, they can be a smart investment towards long-term relevance and impact. The 2021 M+R Benchmarks Study reports that nonprofits across subsectors are embracing racial justice priorities—a good indicator that fundraising and donor expectations are evolving.
Fifth, adjust tactics as you go. Use data to assess the impact of new messaging. This approach enables you to adjust tactics, while continuing to advance your DEI commitment. There may be a learning curve for current donors, so test how to further their understanding, call them in, and bring them along for important changes. We like how Nonprofit AF puts it: “We respect our donors’ integrity and treat donors as partners, which means occasionally pushing back.”
Likewise, test how to engage and include new audiences. And be sure to carry your findings for both groups through all communications touch points and channels.
Finally, bring your organization along. We assert that a DEI commitment is not static; nor is fundraising strategy. You will be a better partner to your nonprofit’s leadership and will garner more support from them if you share emerging information, communicate well internally, and work for alignment as you proceed. This wisdom also applies to your peers in other departments. Your success is interdependent, so trust and collaboration are essential.
Editor’s Note: This blog post originally appeared in the Avalon FYI Blog.