Welcome to the final Fundraising Update of 2020. This week, we get expert advice on how to make fundraising teams more inclusive from the authors of a new book on DEI in advancement. Plus, new reports on virtual fundraising events and the promise of artificial intelligence in fundraising.

I’m Eden Stiffman, senior editor at the Chronicle of Philanthropy.

Thanks to sponsor iDonate for supporting Fundraising Update.

Diversity Isn’t Enough

Angelique Grant and Ron Schiller both spent decades working in advancement before beginning their work as consultants at the search firm Aspen Leadership Group. Since its founding seven years ago, the firm has been committed to improving diversity, equity, and inclusion in nonprofit and higher-education fundraising. The field still has a lot of work to do, they say, particularly when it comes to creating more inclusive workplaces.

“Our numbers of diverse professionals in fundraising and advancement are quite low. And everyone’s still having this conversation: How do we make it more attractive to not only new professionals entering the field but those who are currently there?” Grant says. “A lot of it has to do with inclusive cultures.”

Inclusion is not a natural consequence of diversity, she says. “We hear a lot of people say they want to diversify their teams,” she says. “But if no one feels included, whether they’re diverse or not, you’re never going to change the environment they walk into.”

Maybe your team is in the privileged position of being able to hire in the new year. Or perhaps you’re working to identify steps to take to become more inclusive — both internally and with your donors and other constituents.

Grant and Schiller’s new book, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Advancement, seeks to help readers move beyond awareness to meaningful action. The book draws on the latest research and the experiences of advancement professionals and offers tools and strategies for making real progress.

I recently spoke with them about creating a DEI statement, starting an “inclusion council,” and taking advantage of campaigns to accelerate internal and external DEI efforts. Here’s part of our conversation:

You write about the importance of considering “nontraditional candidates” when recruiting and hiring fundraisers. Have you found that institutions have a hard time changing their way of thinking about this, especially as the field has professionalized?

Schiller: We often laugh with each other and our team members because really none of us came to fundraising right out of school thinking that that’s what we were going to do. In a way, nontraditional has been traditional for decades in this profession.

As we’ve matured as a profession, there are people who very quickly forget that they themselves and most of their team members came from other fields where they had developed the skills and abilities that they needed, and they only want to hire somebody who already has five or 10 years of fundraising experience. That certainly gets in the way of increasing diversity in the field if we’re only hiring from within a field that’s not particularly diverse. We’re encouraging our clients to think about their own experiences coming into the profession.

Grant: A lot of organizations are open to having this discussion, but sometimes they’re a little hesitant with hiring at the end of the day. We do need to be a little bit more open when it comes to candidates with those core competencies — whether it’s strategic thinking, emotional intelligence, relationship building, etc. — and help to support candidates who are coming in with transferable skills. Some of that you can train; it’s just taking the time to do that.

You write that adding a new team member means that the whole team is new in some ways and suggest that the entire team be involved integrating a new hire into the organization. What does that look like when done well?

Grant: We found that onboarding is one of those keys to retention. There’s a statistic that 90 percent of employees decide whether they’re going to stay within the first six months. Onboarding actually starts right after the candidate signs the offer letter and before they actually even arrive.

Orientation is different than onboarding. Orientation is a great time to sit down and learn about your benefits and spend eight hours in one room, whereas onboarding could be 90 days, six months, up to a year, because it’s that full transition of connecting this new employee, especially if they’re a diverse employee, with members of the team who can help support them along the way — mentors both within the organization and outside.

Now that they’re there, diversity is representation, and inclusion is the participation piece. So it makes sense to have everyone become part of the onboarding part, the inclusive part where you’re creating these opportunities for them to connect and identify and see themselves within the organization.

Schiller: Employees are much more likely to stay, not because of a loyalty to the institution per se but to people. Maybe it’s to the leaders of the institution because they really like them and respect them. Maybe it’s the people who are being served by the organization because they feel a connection or a passion for that work. Maybe it’s because of their supervisor. Maybe it’s because of their team members. Everybody on the team can contribute to a new employee’s sense of stickiness.

We’ve been polling people when we do presentations about the book, and whereas most of them have at least some kind of orientation program, only about a third, and always less than half, report that they have a robust onboarding program. Maybe a third don’t have any at all. It’s one of those things that’s not that difficult to do and can have a very powerful impact on inclusion and on retention.

Read the rest of the interview featuring more practical advice from Grant and Schiller.

Fundraising in 2021

What topics would you like to see us cover in the new year? Get in touch and let me know how we can help.

Need to Know


— Share of charities that said they are ending the year with a budget shortfall

According to a new survey of nearly 2,000 nonprofit professionals, much of the missing revenue stems from the cancellation of in-person fundraising events due to Covid-19.

Among groups that raised less money than they expected, 66 percent said they canceled at least one fundraising event.

While social-distancing measures challenged fundraisers, the survey found that new approaches to virtual events show promise, my colleague Emily Haynes reports. Charities that pivoted to an online event, or one that mixed in-person and virtual experiences, were 10 percent more likely to meet or exceed their original 2020 fundraising goal.


  • Most foundations say they’ve responded to the Covid-19 crisis by being more flexible and responsive with their grantees, though it remains an open question how many will continue those practices after the pandemic recedes, according to a new report from the Center for Effective Philanthropy. My colleague Michael Theis covered the report, which drew from surveys of 236 foundations. It found that 92 percent had loosened or eliminated restrictions on existing grants, 90 percent had reduced what they asked of their grantees, and 80 percent had made new grants as unrestricted as possible. Fifty-six percent of the foundations that made one of these changes to their practices since the start of the pandemic said the changes would be permanent, 32 percent said they were undecided, and 13 percent said the changes were not permanent.
  • Eighty-two percent of fundraising leaders believe that artificial intelligence will be part of the solution for challenges facing their teams as a result of the pandemic, according to a new survey from the AI in Advancement Advisory Council, Emily reports. Fundraising budgets are stagnant or tightening, and new hires are on hold at 73 percent of the 337 organizations surveyed by the council, which was organized by the fundraising technology company Gravyty. With so many fundraisers expected to do more with less, the council suggests artificial intelligence can help lighten the load. Eighty-two percent of respondents said artificial intelligence could help them identify and contact more potential donors, the survey found.
  • Barron Segar, CEO of World Food Program USA, writes that if nonprofits are to sustain and even build on the outpouring of charitable support in the months and years ahead, “nothing will be more important than maintaining and building trust in our work.” To do this, he writes in an opinion column, charities must clearly communicate the urgency of the needs, what solving problems entails, and how charities are having an impact.

Tips & Tools

Sharpen the Fundraising Skills You Need Now

With remote work, kids learning from home, and so many other challenges, you and your colleagues may have missed some of our best training sessions of 2020. Here are some of the sessions that address the most pressing fundraising needs in this time of social distancing and upheaval. Watch when it’s convenient for you — and encourage others to do the same. One registration can cover your whole team.

What We’re Reading

  • Struggling museums are increasingly relying on the generosity of artists to donate artwork the institutions can sell to raise money. As many donors pull back from giving or feel institutions’ needs dwarf what they can offer, museums have upped the ante with an irresistible draw: the opportunity to buy art that collectors might not otherwise have access to. For artists who are already suffering income loss from postponed or canceled exhibitions, this burden is not an easy one to bear. (artnet News)
  • “We are builders of opportunity, but we are not seen in that narrative.” Black Americans give a larger share of their wealth to charities than any other racial group, despite lower net worth. But stereotypes of Blacks as takers, not givers, persist. (Washington Post)
  • The University of Mississippi sent a letter of termination to a celebrated history professor who criticized the institution’s relationship with what he called “powerful, racist donors.” His department chairwoman had previously rejected a grant for a political education project on mass incarceration and immigrant detention that the professor, Garrett Felber, is involved with. The chairwoman told the professor the grant was political and could potentially harm the history department’s ability to procure funding. (Mississippi Free Press)
  • Anonymous Twitter personality the Whiny Donor critiques the stack of direct-mail appeals that have accumulated in her home in this thread. “I am actually dumbfounded by appeal letters that DON’T mention anything about being affected by the pandemic,” she writes in response to one. “Where have you been all year?”