By Kathleen Loehr
We know that the world has rapidly changed in the last generation. There is rich demographic diversity across our country today; kindergarten classes are now majority-minority, meaning that no one racial group makes up more than half their population. This shift translates into greater diversity of donors in our portfolios now and going forward. Fundraisers understand the need to adapt their current best practices to create meaningful connections to these diverse prospects and donors. How do we do it?
Research on how the different populations give is the first step. If we don’t know how they give differently, how can we engage with them in ways that demonstrate respect and understanding? Research also brings forward facts, so we can look directly at stories we carry in our head and question how true the stories really are. Are we assuming that millennials will engage directly with current nonprofits? Do we believe that women give less than men? Do we perceive Hispanics as less generous than other cultures?
For the last 22 years, I have paid attention to the unique ways women give. When I started in the mid-90s, I was regularly told: “Really? Women give differently?” as well as “What does it matter?” In January 2017, when I was presenting with the Women’s Philanthropy Institute (WPI) at the annual conference for the National Coalition of Girl’s Schools (NCGS), I was greeted by many with “We get that women give more and give differently. HOW do we adapt?”
The shift in understanding came from WPI’s research. WPI has advanced women’s philanthropy through original, rigorous research that informs donors, fundraisers, and institutions about the different ways women give. With thanks to an incredible body of empirical research that has grown significantly in the past decade, the world now knows that gender matters in philanthropy. As I saw from fundraisers and leaders at the NCGS conference, there is clear awareness now of the distinctions AND that they matter if we want to raise more support for our missions.
Still, why is awareness important? Without awareness, we have unexamined thoughts and actions. We are what we practice, and often what we practice is unconscious because we’ve gotten so good at it. For instance, in fundraising this means that we began with “new” behaviors many years ago, practiced them over and over, and at some point, we were able to effortlessly, almost unconsciously, gain the same fundraising results regularly without thinking about our behaviors.
This has worked admirably for us; we have codified our behaviors, processes and systems to result in billions of dollars raised each year. We believe in these best practices because they do work—for many male donors. They often do not resonate with women.
Once we are aware of the quantifiable, rigorous research that women DO give differently, we have increased our ability to choose new and more effective ways to interact with women. We become conscious of different possibilities. We get curious and look at our data differently, ask for input from women who care about our cause, design our cultivation in ways that will resonate with women, and also show impact differently based on what they are looking for. With awareness comes choice, and with choice we are open to new actions.
Research is what helps break the cycle of unconscious behaviors done over and over again to raise funds. Our sector has been able to move from “Why focus on women?” to “How do we focus on women,” thanks to the important research conducted by WPI. We can now act differently thanks to what we know.
Our new conscious actions will diversify the practices of our fundraising field so that we are adaptive and effective in bringing transformed connections to women who care about furthering a strong civil society.
Kathleen Loehr is the incoming chair of the Women’s Philanthropy Institute (July 1, 2018). Her book, Gender Matters: A Guide to Empowering Women’s Philanthropy, is being published by CASE and will be out July 2018. Written for fundraisers, Loehr uses a design thinking approach to unlock our unconscious biases and provides dozens of specific examples of how we can connect to women differently to grow philanthropy.