Diversity and Philanthropy – Book Review

Book: Diversity and Philanthropy 

Author: Lilya Wagner

I have been preparing for a conference presentation on an important but somewhat difficult topic- Funding from New Audiences: How to Attract, Appeal to, & Engage New and More Diverse Audiences to Support Your Mission. Many times, I speak on topics I am fully versed in and comfortable with. Since I have been raising funds in Atlanta for 30 years, I can usually share about annual funds, and capital and endowment funds, or dealing with volunteers. This time I really must do some homework!

I was fortunate to be able to find this 2016 book, Diversity and Philanthropy by Dr. Lilya Wagner. It is chock full of helpful advice on the subject. It covers history and culture, not just in the US, but abroad. It has made me stop and think about many misconceptions in the field and how there are so many little mannerisms and language difficulties I had never really considered as being a barrier for giving by certain populations.

According to the Census Bureau one half of the US population will be non-white by 2050. We need to make sure we meet all our constituents’ needs and interests where they are.

Definitions of philanthropy differ by how people identify themselves. Community is highly significant. Family and religion and generational differences matter. Not all strategies work for these identity-based prospects.

The best illustrative example I have found is gala fundraising. You invite everyone, but cultural differences may keep some from attending. People who keep kosher may not attend if food offerings are not appropriate. Is dancing allowed in the culture in question? Chinese people may gamble, Muslims do not. Memorial donations may be important to some, but other people give anonymously. You may even need to reprogram your event fundraising in light of more thoughtful audience considerations.

Bottom line, we need to use best practices in fundraising to an extreme. Here are just a few tips:

  • Learn some languages.
  • Hire people who look like and know the culture of your prospective audience members.
  • Be a donor to an international organization.
  • Travel, study the history and culture of other places.
  • Get to know your prospects and their families and communities.
  • Serve the community first. Then ask-personally. Offer recognition only when requested and warranted.
  • Pay attention and keep learning!

Good luck!