To Reach Donors of Color, Fundraisers Should Focus on Faith, Family, and Community
I was about four or five years old the first time I remember my parents donating to our church. Personalized envelopes with our preprinted names and addresses were placed on a table at the entrance to the sanctuary every January — one envelope for each Sunday of the year and extra envelopes for world hunger donations, international missionary efforts, and other causes. My parents gave 10 percent of their paychecks to the local church because doing so was a tenet of our faith.
I was reminded of my family’s faith focused giving after reading a recent report from the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University —
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I was about 4 or 5 years old the first time I remember my parents donating to our church. Personalized envelopes with our preprinted names and addresses were placed on a table at the entrance to the sanctuary every January — one envelope for each Sunday of the year and extra envelopes for world hunger donations, international missionary efforts, and other causes. My parents gave 10 percent of their paychecks to the local church because doing so was a tenet of our faith.
I was reminded of my family’s faith-focused giving after reading a recent report from Indiana University’s Lilly Family School of Philanthropy — “Everyday Donors of Color: Diverse Philanthropy During Times of Change.” Since the Great Recession, the nonprofit world has lost an estimated 20 million donors. Bringing them back won’t be easy, but I believe a deeper understanding of how and why people of color give has the potential to unlock a wealth of new donors and expand the 15 percent of all donors who identify as people of color.
My own experiences reflect many of the conclusions reached by the Lilly Family School researchers — namely, that more intimate forms of giving, specifically giving tied to places of worship, family, and community, drive donating decisions by people of color.
Faith-motivated giving. In addition to the tithes and offerings to fund the church ministry, all members of my family’s congregation participated when a capital campaign was required to build a new fellowship hall or youth building. I remember my mother, a cafeteria worker, pledging to the church’s United We Build campaigns to fund such projects and pay for smaller items like a new church van. She wasn’t a major donor to these campaigns, but she faithfully gave each month.
People like my mother don’t give only to their local churches or to faith-based organizations, but they are more motivated to donate to causes that intersect with their faith. One example is St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, which has deep support among Latinos. I once asked a neighbor why she gave monthly to St. Jude. Her response: “Because I’m helping children who need help with cancer treatment and because of St. Jude, the saint.” Even though St. Jude is not a faith-based organization, it has deep roots in that community, and people like my neighbor view giving to the hospital as an extension of their faith.
Family-based giving. When I was growing up, my mother sent a portion of each paycheck back to her parents and siblings in Mexico. We were far from prosperous. My mother worked two or three hourly jobs to make ends meet, and at one point we were homeless. But my extended family in Mexico believed we were living the American Dream and had made it in the United States. We, in turn, understood that we had a responsibility to help less fortunate members of our family.
The money we sent back wasn’t used only to pay for basic needs. It helped fund quinceañeras, weddings, and funerals. Even now as adults, my siblings and I collectively send money to Mexico for family funeral expenses or medical emergencies. While some of these gifts are significant, they are not considered charitable donations in the traditional sense. Such giving, however, reveals a great deal about the capacity of donors of color to give more.
One way to tap into this capacity is through tools such as crowdfunding and enlisting supporters to tap their family and friends to give. Nonprofits can help organize fundraising events hosted by people of color who have received their services in the past. Such an approach takes advantage of the individual’s community ties and provides instant credibility to donors who may not have previously considered giving to the organization.
Building connections in this way is especially critical to attracting Blacks and Latinos who, the Lilly School researchers discovered, hold a historical distrust of philanthropic institutions that prompts many to prefer giving directly to those in need and to “people they know” — and to avoid paying nonprofit overhead costs.
Giving circles. Until a few years ago, I never thought of myself as a philanthropist. That changed in January 2019 when I was introduced to the Texas Women’s Foundation, which hosts several giving circles. I initially joined one of them, XIX Society, which honors the foundation’s founders — 19 trailblazing women from diverse backgrounds and cultures who donated through collective giving to the greater Dallas community. Several months later, I also joined the foundation’s recently launched H100 Latina Giving Circle.
I had worked in the philanthropic world for more than a decade and had certainly given to causes and institutions I cared about. But it wasn’t until I had the opportunity to give alongside other women in both of these giving circles that I began to shift my perspective on what it meant to give as a woman of color.
The collective giving harnessed through giving circles reinforces the sense of family and community that is critical to donating decisions made by people of color. Unfortunately, many nonprofits have eliminated giving societies and giving circles for midlevel donors. Nonprofit leaders should reconsider that decision, recognizing that collective giving resonates strongly among people of color.
Despite their strong traditions of giving, donors of color are too often overlooked by fundraisers. Inviting them to be part of a nonprofit’s giving process will require tuning into cultural giving patterns that set them apart from typical white donors. This will take time and thoughtful planning, especially if these donors haven’t been an intentional focus of fundraising in the past. But building this new and loyal community of givers is well worth the effort.