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You had me at welcome

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Diversifying donor base can benefit nonprofits and their constituents.

By Antonia Hernández

The donor bases at many charities in the U.S. do not reflect the diversity of the communities they serve and represent.

Consider the country’s Hispanic population: The number of Hispanic people grew 20 percent between 2000 and 2005 to 42.7 million, making it the fastest-growing ethnic group, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.  Ignoring this type of phenomenal growth would be missing an opportunity for community engagement and resource sharing – both fundamental principles that drive our work.

An effective strategy is for charities to pro-actively reach out to new populations so that their own donor bases will reflect the rich diversity that makes our communities so vibrant.

Nonprofits can reach out to groups such as those representing African Americans, Asian Americans, Latinos, and the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community by raising awareness about partnership opportunities that can fulfill their philanthropic goals.

Some practical tips:

* Reaching out to new donors is not rocket science.

When members of the Taiwanese community in Los Angeles were approached to contribute to a Chinese Garden at a local library a few years ago, for example, many of them had never been asked before despite being “high net worth” individuals.

Similarly, an African-American participant at an event said that, perhaps for the first time, he felt welcomed in the philanthropic community, and it made a world of a difference to his comfort level for future dealings.  The importance of overcoming this initial barrier to entry cannot be overstated enough.

* Know your potential donors before approaching them

While a big step, making someone feel welcomed is insufficient to kick off a meaningful collaboration in which both parties understand each other’s goals and capacity.

Obviously, the Persian community may define philanthropy differently from the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

LGBT outreach, for example, should recognize the issues affecting that community, such as marriage equality and estate planning for same-sex couples, and should engage this audience in conversations that help advance understanding and cooperation in these fields.

For minority groups, it is imperative that outreach strategies speak to the minority groups’ cultural uniqueness beyond merely being linguistically appropriate.

* Use multi-pronged strategies

Channels that can help to reach a more diverse donor base include:

— Estate planners and tax advisors who work closely with diverse communities and attain exposure through them. Tracking entails tagging these advisors in your database system, and making sure they regularly receive pertinent information on your events and services.

— Nonprofit partners. By promoting your planned giving efforts with nonprofits working in these communities, you can inform them of your philanthropic services and convey that their communities matter to us. These conversations also entail interaction at the board level among those representing the civic leadership and wealth in these communities. And these organizations frequently host gala events and award ceremonies, and sponsorship opportunities abound to continue expanding your visibility.

— Professional affiliation groups. Professional networking groups, especially those focusing on LGBT professionals and professionals of color, can serve as conduits to reach the intended audience.

These efforts should seek to maximize exposure and relationship-building opportunities in the short-term, with the goal that these activities should be embedded into the fabric of your organization.

Ultimately, the goal is to nurture an institution that truly values the richness of diversity.

Combined with engagement efforts focused on these communities, it is the fostering of this culture that will attract the donor of tomorrow – the constantly changing face of America.

Take a look at your donor profiles and think about how a more diverse donor base may benefit our organizations and constituents, and ultimately strengthen our communities.


Antonia Hernández is president and CEO of the California Community Foundation in Los Angeles.

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