Webinar Recap: Are You Prospecting with Blinders? with Regina Alhassan

On August 26th, we were excited to host Are You Prospecting with Blinders? presented by Regina Alhassan, owner of ResearchPRO, as part of our Nonprofit Thought Leadership Series. Regina wrote a followup post and answered some of the questions from the webinar audience in this blog post. Read it below, and if you missed the webinar, you can watch the recording here, or listen to the podcast version here.


To see the bigger picture, we must first acknowledge and then remove our blinders. That is the greatest take away from the webinar. Of course, we want to tap into new prospects. But let’s remember the call for inclusion,  not exploitation. It’s not about showing the data to create tactics for further extraction of dollars from African American donors without any intention for meaningful inclusion and representation. The greater objective is to shine a light on the biased practices philanthropy uses every day and to put forth a call to action to stop those practices. The way to attract African American donors or any other group of donors remains fundamental. You are looking for people who care about your cause, get excited by your big ideas, and want to share in your impact.

The way to attract and retain African Americans, or any non-majority group of people is to stop being racist, looking racist, showing up racist, sounding elitist, acting exclusive. And, to really mean it; show it in the way you hire, promote, welcome, highlight, showcase, value, and affirm people of different backgrounds, abilities, gender, and so on. You don’t have to do anything special to attract me. Just don’t exclude me. Don’t other me. Don’t be racist with me, with anyone. That’s the work. That’s the takeaway. Determining how to do that internal work first is the bigger question I see too many organizations skip over in the name of attraction. Skipping that internal work, not turning the mirror inward sets the stage for a retention problem. You’ll attract diversity but those constituencies won’t stick around so retention lags.


Q: The family tradition statistic is really important for donor longevity! We are always looking for ways to get multi-generational giving underway. Do you have any advice for fostering multi-generational giving?

RA: Meaningful volunteer opportunities are always beneficial. Multi-generational programming is important to bring the entire family to the table. Marry the two for impactful, hands-on engagement. My own family includes Mom, Dad, a 5 yr old, a 23 yr old and grandparents. It has to be fun, full of movement, and hands-on for the 5 yr old. And, it better be sophisticated and interesting enough for my oldest or she’s getting on to Instagram, checking in to your location, and posting her entire less than stellar experience. The impact has to be there for Mom, Dad, and grandparents to give financial support. Of course, every family does not look like mine. Opportunities to honor loved ones can also be attractive. Personally, I’ve begun making donations in memory of deceased relatives and in honor of my youngest daughter. I explain the importance of philanthropy and helping others. The 5 yr old is thrilled to see her name in print on the donor list.


Q: Do you have some suggestions to help our board members dig deeper to find those diverse new board members when prospecting for new members? 

RA: Tap into professional associations in your area or the affinity groups within professional associations. AFP Affinity groups come to mind as well as The African American Development Officers (AADO) Network

I strongly recommend hiring a professional to conduct an “inclusion audit” so that your board and other stakeholders can identify opportunities for growth as well as to correct pre-existing conditions of bias, micro-aggression,  and workplace hostility. This step is especially important if you’ve noticed a trend of diverse candidates joining your board, your team, and leaving quickly. Set very clear expectations about inclusivity. You may need to take corrective action or remove those who are unable to enact the organization’s ethos around inclusion. Even if everyone is on board with inclusion, Active Bystander training can be a huge benefit. Lena Tenney of The Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at The Ohio State University offered implicit bias and active bystander training for Central Ohio AFP in January 2020. It was hilarious, insightful, and paradigm-shifting. Lena equipped fundraisers with skills to be empowered to act as allies and speak as advocates to foster inclusion, equity, and access. That’s the culture we need our boards and leadership to adapt and model. As we begin to invite new people to the table, we must also dig deeper to get our proverbial house in order.

Philanthropy Ohio is another organization that has taken great strides to build inclusion into impact, metrics, and funding criteria. Their President & CEO, Deborah Aubert Thomas is a fantastic leader helping to shift the culture of philanthropy at the leadership level. She’s been an amazing resource for Central Ohio AFP, sharing candid insights and tips from her journey. 

Similarly, LYNELL CADRAY, Senior Adviser to the President at Emory University conducted full-day implicit bias training for our local AFP chapter.  I can’t emphasize enough the importance of tapping into expertise whether it be local or national to do the internal work so that you are not inadvertently turning new stakeholders away.


Q: Do you have insights into the types of engagement/activities that attract African-American donors/prospects?

RA: It’s important to understand and embrace the fact that there is no single, monolithic profile that we can apply here. Similarly, we can’t say in broad terms what attracts Korean American or Indian American donors and prospects en masse. We can look at the statistics of donor behavior and compare it to our existing donor, member, or customer base. That comparison will likely reveal gaps. African Americans are definitely philanthropic. Perhaps, the question is not what attracts them. Instead, I propose African Americans are already engaged, already in the mix. The question is, how do our organizations reject them? How are they welcomed, or not, at the guest center? Are they followed in the gift shop? Is your staff diverse? What about leadership? How does that compare to your housekeeping staff? What is your presence and reputation in the various communities that include African Americans? Of course, things are shifting now, more things are virtual. I’m curious how the guest/customer/donor experience may change, hopefully, become more standardized, due to the influence of technology.


Q: Do you recommend diversifying a donor base through an acquisition campaign or by digging into greater detail on your current donor pool? 

RA: I tend to default to starting with existing data. And, I generally believe your best donors are already in your database. However, many teams have terrible data or no data at all. In those scenarios, quality data acquisition is important but it must still be meaningful and strategic. At its most basic, you are looking for people who care about your cause, get excited by your big ideas, and want to share in your impact. ZIP code searches are a common starting point. Expand your research beyond the usual suburbs. Or, a fun exercise is to identify a few different personas. Match that to real people representing diversity as you define it. Use that info to build out a donor model and find others who fall in that bucket. Prospect where those real people are, where they work, play, eat, live, entertain, consume information, etc. 


Q: Since you mentioned that African Americans are the most philanthropic, what areas resonate the most with the African American community? Where do their dollars go?

RA: According to Giving USA 2020, Religion, Education, and Human Services continue to be the top three categories to receive funding in 2019. I would anticipate that to parallel trends for African American donors. In 2007, the Chronicle of Philanthropy reported $9 of every $10 donated by African Americans goes to churches and religious institutions. As I mentioned, I challenge that because of the date and I’m not convinced it’s truly representative. But that’s the number floating around. Additionally, the Mays Family Institute on Diverse Philanthropy at The IU Lilly Family School of Philanthropy fosters a greater understanding of the ways in which underrepresented people are both inspired and informed donors by providing knowledge, education, and training. They offer a wealth of research about donor behavior for diverse donors. I highly recommend utilizing their resources to do a deeper dive for data for your specific needs.

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