Leah Eustace

  Leah Eustace


A few months ago, Blackbaud came out with a report called “Diversity in Giving: The Changing Landscape of American Philanthropy.” It’s based on a survey of just over 1,000 adults and looks specifically at the giving traditions, attitudes and values of African-American, Asian, and Hispanic donors.

One of the statements in the report really stood out for me: “Philanthropy today looks like the America of 25 years ago.”

My first reaction was, “Wow!” but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that the statement should actually be obvious to all of us no matter where in North America we live (full disclosure: I’m Canadian).

Look around you. Look at your colleagues, your volunteers, your board members and your donors. Do they represent the United States or Canada of today? I’d hazard a guess that they don’t.

Consider these statistics from the latest census and projections in Canada:

  • 20% of the population is made up of immigrants;
  • In the last census, more than 200 languages were reported as mother tongue;
  • Statistics Canada projects that by 2031, 25-28% of the population will be foreign-born and 29-32% of the population will belong to a visible minority group; and,
  • Visible minorities are expected to account for 63% of the population of Toronto, 59% of Vancouver and 31% of Montreal.

And, from the U.S. census data:

  • 13% of the population is foreign born;
  • Just over 13% of the population is Black or African American;
  • 17% of the population is Hispanic or Latino;
  • 3% of the population is Asian;
  • By 2044, more than half of all Americans are projected to belong to a minority group; and
  • By 2060, nearly 20% of the total population in the United States is projected to be foreign born.

This is a huge wake-up call. Here we sit, as fundraisers, bellyaching about how hard it is to find and retain new donors, how difficult it is to fundraise when we’re facing donor fatigue, how hard it is to find good volunteers… the list goes on. Frankly, the bellyaching is making me angry.

This is a rallying cry!

Let’s smash open our fundraising box and embrace diversity, equity and inclusion in philanthropy. The truth is, if we don’t, we’re just going to fall further and further behind, and face bigger and bigger fundraising challenges.

We know, for a fact, that under-represented communities in philanthropy are under-asked. We heard this loud and clear during AFP’s Inclusive Giving Project in Ontario. The project, just entering its second phase, has held 12 conferences over the past three years, each looking at a distinct under-represented community. Reports were produced as an outcome of each conference.

It also comes out loud and clear in the Blackbaud report. For example:

“The data suggests that many African-American donors have been left out of mainstream fundraising efforts. Giving via core fundraising channels – direct mail, email, etc. – falls well below the overall average. African-American donors say they are asked to give less often and say they would give more if only they were asked.”

So how do we start? What are the first concrete steps we can take to change the face of philanthropy? While just a start, here are a few suggestions:

  1. We need to educate ourselves.

Many conferences these days have sessions on diversity and inclusion, and they’re typically very poorly attended. We need to start attending these sessions. Think about it: Are you better served going to yet another session on how to tweak your acquisition program, or by going to a session that will give you tools to respectfully build partnerships and connections with thousands of your community members who are typically under-asked, but very philanthropic?

  1. Develop a definition of diversity, equity and inclusion for your organization.

One thing we have learned during the Inclusive Giving Project is that what diversity, equity and inclusion look like depends very much on your location. For example, in Ottawa where I live, language is a big factor (over 40% of Ottawans don’t speak English at home). In Vancouver or Denver or Tampa, there may be other priority populations. And, don’t forget that diversity isn’t limited to the colour of your skin: it’s also about language, religion, sexual orientation, gender, geography, disability… the list goes on.

  1. Gather some baseline data.

How representative are your staff, volunteers, board members and donors right now? How does this compare to the makeup of your community? Where are the gaps? One great tool at our disposal is OriginsCanada, also available to U.S.-based charities, which is offered by Environics. They will run your donor data through their system and predict the cultural, ethnic and linguistic origins of people based on first and last name alone.

  1. Don’t be afraid to reach out.

In the three years that I’ve been heavily involved in diversity, equity and inclusion, the biggest thing I’ve learned is that all communities are happy to help you build connections, help you learn, and embrace your efforts. Never be afraid to ask questions and to solicit advice. Sometimes it helps to open with, “I’m anxious to learn, so please don’t hesitate to correct me if I’m wrong, or educate me if I use incorrect terminology.” I’ve never had anyone react badly to that statement.

  1. Develop a strategic plan around diversity, equity and inclusion.

Build a plan that will guide you toward being more representative. Break it down by communities with whom you want to build connections. Don’t hesitate to engage others with more expertise, and reach out to the network you’ve established by attending conference sessions on diversity. Most of us are learning as we go along and we shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help and guidance.

It’s time to start an inclusion revolution.


Leah Eustace, ACFRE, is a Principal and Chief Idea Goddess at Good Works, a boutique fundraising consultancy located in Ottawa, Canada, that works with charities to help build deep donor connections through storytelling. Chair of the AFP Foundation for Philanthropy Canada, Leah has also been heavily involved in AFP’s diversity and inclusion work in Canada. A version of this article first appeared in Hilborn’s Canadian Fundraising and Philanthropy in May 2015. leah@goodworksco.ca or twitter @LeahEustace

Photo by Michelle Valberg.

This article is reprinted from Issue #5 of Nonprofit Performance Magazine. Subscribe today!

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