Diversity in fundraising: The inclusive giving journey - Krishan Mehta and Deborah Greenfield

publication date: Nov 18, 2014
author/source: Krishan Mehta Deborah Greenfield

While diversity and inclusion have been mainstay topics in the charitable sector for several decades, globalization, immigration, recent advances in communications, and national policy decisions have informed new curiosities about different cultural approaches to philanthropy and how we can best build long-lasting and trusting relationships with emerging donor groups.

Celebrated scholar Benedict Anderson coined the term “imagined community” to describe how certain values and ideas bind people together, sometimes from coast to coast. In Canada, multiculturalism and diversity are often called out as important features of our national identity – our imagined community. And as we continue to welcome immigrants and affirm the rights of minoritized groups, other countries are looking to Canada to learn about social inclusion and equity.

But making sense of diversity and inclusion can be difficult – especially for fundraisers and social profit leaders – for a few reasons.

  1. The topic requires deep reflection about who you are, what your organization does and where new opportunities exist. Does your charity serve a distinct population? Are you located in a rural or urban setting? Do your volunteers and donors have diverse skills, backgrounds and interests? Are diversity and inclusion part of your organization’s DNA? These are just some of the questions that fundraisers and volunteers are asking in an effort to achieve success and build inclusively-minded organizations.
  2. There is no formula that guarantees a gift from a "diverse" donor.  While there are distinct cultural cues that may inform the giving interests and habits of emerging groups, we must remember that giving is a deeply personal act, and any attempt to apply individual strategies to a wider group of donors will inevitably yield great frustration – on both sides of the table. Giving is also context-driven, which means that we must pay attention to the donor’s personal interests and needs, which may or may not be informed by cultural background.
  3. Diversity is a tidy word for a very broad concept that has been ascribed to a wide range of communities. While we commonly use the word "diversity" to talk about race, class, age, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation and ability, there are many other internal and organizational dimensions that fall under the diversity umbrella: location, income, employment status and so on. 

Add the nuances related to family background, regional differences, intergenerational issues, and community politics – and there you have an exciting and endless journey of cultural discovery!

Different takes on giving

Charitable giving is a part of all societies, and these values can be found in sacred texts that are passed down from generation to generation. Hindus, for example, believe in the concept of seva, which means charitable "service." Within Indigenous traditions, philanthropy is a form of reciprocity, particularly giving back to nature and the environment. In Islam, charitable giving is called zakat, where individual wealth and access to resources inform how much one gives. Similarly, in Judaism, tzedakah refers to a religious obligation to give. In Buddhist traditions, giving is done without any expectation of return or recognition. Some African diaspora groups use the word ubuntu to describe acts of selflessness. While the nuances of giving within these and other communities can be found in many books and articles, what is important to understand is that giving is universal and still speaks to the Latin origins of the word philanthropy, meaning love for humankind.

Practically speaking, giving behaviours aren’t always rooted in faith-based teachings or centuries-old giving practices.  For example, many youth are learning about philanthropy through the formal educational system, and a growing number are relying on social media channels, text message donation options, crowdsourcing platforms and group sharing sites to express their support for a cause.

Other forms of giving are sometimes connected to a struggle for social justice, such as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) rights, access for people with disabilities or gender equity. While some may argue that each of these groups tend to favour specific giving tools and methods, as we all know personal experiences influence how people give – and in most cases this depends on how you are able to match their interests with your organization’s mission.

We must remember that as cultures mix and future generations build their own giving traditions, current norms and practices are bound to change as well. Therefore, it is important to be open to embracing emerging trends and technologies as part of your commitment to inclusion.

This is an excerpt from Krishan Mehta and Deborah Greenfield's  chapter on diversity in Excellence in Fundraising in Canada, Vol. 2. Buy your copy here.

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