A Chance to Champion: Prospect Development’s Unique Role in Diversity and Inclusion

By Regina Alhassan

Here’s the elephant in the room: prospect development demands exclusion. As researchers and analysts, we routinely segment and filter data. In a major gift world, identifying our top donors, alumni and members is par for the course. Excluding names from a call list, an appeal, an invitation and engagement is what we do.

While our work to identify the right donor, ask and timing requires laser focus on capacity, affinity, propensity and ROI, we must also be intentional about inclusion. Data segmentation does not give us a pass or an excuse to be homogenous, inequitable or unjust.


Edgar Villanueva’s hashtag #PhilanthropySoWhite grew from a webinar title in 2018 to an industry-wide call to action ― for a reason. We have to sit with that as individuals who work under the umbrella of philanthropy. More than likely, this means that the places we work are part of the problem contributing to a lack of diversity.

During my 20 years in major gift fundraising in central Ohio, I have found this to be especially true for large, legacy organizations such as museums, universities, zoos, libraries, hospitals, theatres, social service agencies, gardens and so on. Elitism, classism, sexism and racism have gone unchecked. I suspect the same is true where you live. We know we have work to do to advance diversity and inclusion. We have work to do in our industry, at our organizations, on our teams and in our CRMs.

Zoom in, Zoom Out

As prospect development professionals, we do need to have a very narrow focus. We must also be able and willing to adjust our focus in order to build prospect and donor pools that truly reflect the diversity of people that live and give in this country. Our roles in prospecting offer the opportunity to champion change and authentically grow our family of supporters.

How Do We Do That?

1. Acknowledge and Remove the Bias

We all have bias and we all operate with blinders. That’s life. Unconscious, or implicit, bias is a fact of our human nature. It’s not much different than knowing your car has a blind spot and understanding that merging to a new lane requires you to double or triple check it. If you have passengers, you might even ask one of them to help.

In our organizations, we must check our gaps in knowledge and ask for help. When we objectively understand that we have bias, we are then able to go a step further and build processes with the intention to identify a broader range of supporters beyond what our biases, knowledge gaps, weak spots and inherent ignorance allow us to see.

2. Track the Demographics

Demographic data is imperative to our work. After all, how can you build meaningful, enduring relationships with someone without knowing, acknowledging and making space for their full identity?

I find it dismal to presume that collecting demographic data would lead to further exclusion and bias. While that can be a valid concern, I choose to operate in the potential of enough individuals valuing fairness to collectively propel our organizations toward progress. Investing in inclusion requires that we more fully know who is at the table and who is missing. Setting intention, creating policies, crafting messaging and centering processes around inclusion and equity lays a clear foundation. This foundation can inform who we hire, talk to, invite and ask for money.

3. Quantify It

Just the word “quota” can be divisive. Dropping the “q word” at work can be problematic at best. Yet, we have to know numbers and we have to create benchmarks and KPIs around numbers in order to measure our progress, or lack thereof. While our organizations may hesitate to embrace quotas, we can set expectations for ourselves as prospect development professionals.

For example, within our teams we can create goals to identify a set number of new prospects per month, based on criteria such as race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, gift history, age or ZIP code. We can apply the metrics, reports and moves management systems we use daily to also track and advance our inclusion. We can go a step further to reward such efforts with employee recognition and opportunity.

Begin to shift organizational culture starting with yourself and your team. Quantifying goals and measuring movement is familiar to us and is vital to ushering in diversity at our organizations.

Are You Prospecting With Bias?

Yes. Yes, you are. And, that’s OK. Well, sort of.

We all have bias. Our daily work often demands a narrow view of net worth and capacity. But we are not excused from challenging ourselves and widening our lens. There is a greater 360-degree view waiting. And that view has the potential to further advance the mission and impact of our respective organizations.

What’s at stake? Only your sustainability.

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