New Tool Aims to Help Fundraising Teams Improve Diversity
Calls for improved diversity, equity, and inclusion have been resonant since George Floyd’s murder in 2020, especially in the field of fundraising. A new tool developed by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education aims to help fundraising departments assess how they are performing in this area, and what steps they need to take next.
“There are some really systemic barriers that are in the field of advancement,” says Benjamin Fiore-Walker, senior director of the Opportunity & Inclusion Center at CASE. “We came up with this idea of how do we measure where institutions are in their maturity in their diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) journey.”
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Improving diversity, equity, and inclusion has become an increasing priority in many fields — and fundraising is no exception. Experts say the key is long-term commitment and evaluating what’s working and what’s not at your organization. The Council for Advancement and Support of Education has created a new tool that aims to help fundraising departments assess how they are doing in their efforts to improve DEI and the next steps they should take in their journey.
“There are some really systemic barriers that are in the field of advancement,” says Benjamin Fiore-Walker, senior director of the Opportunity and Inclusion Center at CASE. “We came up with this idea of how do we measure where institutions are in their maturity in their diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) journey.”
Fiore-Walker helped develop CASE’s new Advancement Inclusion Index. The tool, which includes a lengthy questionnaire, is designed to help university advancement departments see how they are performing in terms of DEIB and provide benchmarks against similar-size peers. While the tool is designed with university fundraisers in mind, Fiore-Walker says, any organization with a fundraising team can use it.
The DEI Problem in Fundraising
The amount of diversity in the field of development is hard to quantify; there’s not a lot of data on fundraiser demographics. The Association of Fundraising Professionals noted in its 2022 Compensation and Benefits Survey that “80 percent or more” of its members identified as non-Hispanic white. This is a higher share than the general population — which is 61.6 percent white alone (not multiracial), according to the 2020 census.
AFP explored diversity in fundraising in its 2021 “Assessment of Inclusion, Diversity, Equity & Access Report” survey, which found that 37 percent of fundraisers experienced bias from their co-workers and 25 percent experienced bias from donors, prospective donors, or volunteers.
Diversity has long been a problem in fundraising, says Isabelle Leighton, executive director of the Donors of Color Network. Many longstanding legacy institutions, she says, have passed on a fundraising culture that is not welcoming to people of color. “The operations are really big, there’s a lot of pressure, and there’s historically much more structural racism,” she says.
Leighton says many organizations hire people of color and then don’t work to make them feel like they belong. Too often, she says, nonprofits dismiss people’s attempts to bring their culture to the organization with them — especially when it comes to reaching out to donors of color. “They’re not taken seriously and not seen as people who have the same kind of resources.”
Leighton says any tools that help a fundraising department “shift their organizational culture to address” diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging will serve an organization well.
“The more that institutions can be aligned in supporting the needs of people of color who are entering into this very professionalized fundraising field, the better that that’s going to send a signal to the broader movement for mobilizing resources and trying to diversify fundraising,” she says.
How the Assessment Works
CASE’s inclusion index asks for numerous data points about the advancement department — about staff, donor, and volunteer policies and practices — to help assess the university. The tool also asks the institution to rate where it stands using a six-tier scale that ranges from a policy being “not present” to being carried out at an “advanced” level.
Here are a few items from the index that departments are asked to rate their performance on:
- “Regular discussion of unconscious bias, microagressions, and other DEIB challenges with advancement staff to understand how these issues create obstacles to achieving DEIB goals”
- “Advancement unit leadership shares the importance of DEIB with all stakeholders and mentions institution DEIB priorities regularly at all-staff meetings, board meetings, and events”
- “Integration of diversity training into leadership and professional development programs”
- “Diversity/inclusion audits to help identify gaps and needs”
- “DEIB goals and metrics are integrated into annual performance plans/reviews for advancement staff”
The assessment has more than 80 questions and asks for demographic data. In the pilot for the project, most universities completed the online questionnaire within two months. They then received an assessment that showed where they stood in a variety of categories and how they compared with their peers.
“For example, you can say, whatever this practice was, we haven’t initiated that,” Fiore-Walker says. “But other institutions are developing theirs. Similarly, they don’t do that practice, but we do it OK.”
Benefits to Fundraisers
The assessment can help advancement departments get a handle on where they are and where they need to go, Fiore-Walker says.
“You can really start mapping out what these initial, intermediate, and long-term steps need to be,” he says. “You can say, here are some things that you should be doing to really have a robust DEIB strategy.”
It’s a good tool for both institutions just starting out in this process and those already deep within it, says Mary Gresch, senior vice president for advancement at the University of Washington, which participated in the pilot of the study.
“This is a great guide,” Gresch says. “If you’re just beginning or you’re midstream, I would really encourage people to participate in this because it will give you the good beginnings of what you want to look at and see what your peers are doing.”
She says the assessment gives universities the data they need to figure out where and how to make changes. For Gresch, the index was helpful in assessing where the university was, confirming where it was having successes, and clarifying where it needed to make tweaks. For example, Gresch’s university is assessing whether its overall strategic plan includes many of the components assessed on the index.
“You can buy in philosophically and deeply but still be challenged by the vast amount of work that’s required to make significant progress,” she says. “It’s about conversations, convening, and setting up the right structures so people can see the work in action and contribute productively.” Universities aren’t going to improve their DEIB culture if they do things partway and don’t hold employees accountable, she adds. “You have to go all the way in.”
With the tight labor market for fundraising professionals, having a workplace that is steeped in DEIB is going to give any organization a competitive advantage.
“Folks who are voluntarily trying to start to hold themselves accountable to do that evaluation, they’re going to be ahead of the game when it comes to actually meeting the market for what these professional fundraisers are looking for in their jobs,” Leighton says.