How to Jumpstart Diversifying an Organization’s Donor Pool (Part 4)

By Kristal Enter (she/her), Massachusetts General Hospital

This article is the fourth in a four-part series. Click here to view part one, which serves as an introduction to the series, covers terminology and explores how prospect researchers can begin this work by first examining how they understand the world and how that impacts their work. Click here to view part two, which looks at how prospect researchers think and talk about prospects, and click here to view part three, in which you can learn how organizations might be limiting their prospect pool without even realizing it.

Thorny Issues

There are several thorny issues related to increasing the diversity of an organization’s donors, including fitting prospect research into large-scale organizational change, questions around the ethics of collecting and analyzing sensitive data on prospects, and building resources and time to dedicate to this work. These are very important questions that merit ongoing discussion within the prospect research community to consider the best approach to these issues. 

Organizational Change and Prospect Research

Compared to “traditional” philanthropists, research demonstrates that donors from historically-excluded groups have different philanthropic interests and varied pathways to philanthropy. They also engage with organizations differently. Given this variability, as prospect researchers bring these prospects to the table, organizations must be equipped to engage with these types of prospects. This includes examining bias across the organization, adjusting mindsets about what makes for a key donor and developing strategies so each donor feels valued by the organization.

Prospect research is an important piece of a complex fundraising process and cannot create organizational-wide change alone. Going even further, because traditional practices of philanthropy are so systematically entrenched, a full-scale shift toward the embrace of diverse donors will likely take generations. However, my experience has been prospect researchers can contribute important data analysis, ask critical questions and creatively think about new prospects, which can drive important conversations within an organization now.

Diversity and Data

There are also very difficult questions around data and tracking of demographic data on prospects. Should we collect, store and analyze information on a donor’s race, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation? This question likely raises an instinctive discomfort about researching this type of sensitive information or recording it in a systematic way. But it also leads to tricky questions about how to identify prospects from historically-excluded groups in our work and how we can analyze progress related to increasing the diversity of our donor pool.

Guidelines around ethics in fundraising from Apra, AFP, CASE and other organizations do not yet speak to this issue specifically. However, the guidelines from these organizations do state that prospect researchers, broadly speaking, should only collect information that is available to the public and related to a specific fundraising purpose. Importantly, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) provides guidelines around the collection and tracking of an individual’s personal data and it is key for an organization to ensure it is compliant with these regulations.

Apra is committed to ensuring that our association lives the values of diversity, equity and inclusion espoused in our Diversity and Inclusion Statement of Principles and delivers on the objectives set forward in the Diversity and Inclusion pillar of our 2019-2021 Strategic Plan.

With that in mind, there may be a two-fold solution to questions around demographic data collection and analysis:

  • Organizations must create very clear, intentional guidelines on the circumstances in which information related to race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability or religion can be collected and incorporated into a database or research.
  • Researchers can work with the information that is readily available, such as gender, marital status and residential zip code. At the heart of increasing the diversity of a donor pool is thinking creatively about what prospects organizations are overlooking and why that might be. We do not necessarily need comprehensive information about race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or religion to identify these prospects.
Resources and Time

This work takes intentional, strategic efforts and requires both time and resources, neither of which may be readily available to prospect researchers. Specifically, discrete projects are often put on the backburner until there is time to fit them into workflow. However, there may be greater urgency to developing and implementing these projects. Organizations tend to revisit their most loyal donors and donors who readily fit a “good prospect” mold time and again. This may not be a sustainable model in the long-term. Identifying new prospects an organization is overlooking right now may be a down payment on future success and financial stability of an organization.


There are clearly many difficult issues to address as organizations seek to increase the diversity of its donor pools and dismantle historic approaches to philanthropy that perpetuate inequity. However, I am optimistic that prospect researchers are positioned to take a leading role in that process right now. The first step may be to examine existing individual and organizational mindsets to identify bias, including “prospect scarcity” mindsets, as well as develop ways of communicating about prospects who are from historically-excluded groups. Prospect researchers can also identify more of these prospects through examining the resources they use, current prospecting processes and opportunities for discreet projects. Finally, concepts of diversity, equity and inclusion can be interwoven into prospect and portfolio management work, as prospect researchers advise gift officers and help them to identify potential biases. Part of this work to grow diversity of a donor pool hinges on data collection and tracking practices at an organization and the establishment of guidance on acceptable data to collect, track and analyze.

Appendix 1: Tools and Resources for Identifying and Addressing Bias

Implicit Project: Implicit Association Test for Identifying Bias:

The Gardner’s Tale video by Camara Jones:

Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People by Mahzarin R. Banaji and Anthony G. Greenwald

Ted Talk by Verna Myers: “How to Overcome Our Biases? Walk Boldly Towards Them”:

Ted Talk by Valerie Alexander: “How to Outsmart Your Own Unconscious Bias”:

Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World by Anand Giridharadas

Decolonizing Wealth: Indigenous Wisdom to Heal Divides and Restore Balance by Edgar Villanueva

How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi

Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor by Layla F. Saad

So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo

Harvard Business Review, “How the Best Bosses Interrupt Bias on Their Teams” by Joan C. Williams and Sky Mihaylo:

Forbes article, “10 Books To Help You Foster A More Diverse And Inclusive Workplace” by Janice Gassam:

Council on Nonprofits, “Why Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Matter for Nonprofits”:


Aspen Leadership Group’s 2019 report, Diversity and Inclusion in Healthcare Advancement: Changing Behaviors and Outcomes by Angelique S.C. Grant, Ph.D. and Ronald J. Schiller:

Kathy Johnson Bowles, “Having Trouble Diversifying Your Board? The Culprit May Be Your Discriminatory Database and Application Forms,” Chronicle of Philanthropy, 1/12/2021:

Chronicle of Philanthropy toolkits and articles on diversity, equity, and inclusion:

Community Centric Fundraising, “How Prospect Research Can Help Nonprofits Become Less Racist and More Inclusive”, by Elisa Shoenberger:

Donors of Color March 2018 report, The Apparitional Donor: Understanding and Engaging

High Net Worth Donors of Color by Urvashi Vaid and Ashindi Maxton:

Tyrone McKinley Freeman, Madam C.J. Walker’s Gospel of Giving: Black Women’s Philanthropy during Jim Crow (University of Illinois Press, 2020).

Helen Brown Group, “Is Your Nonprofit Ready for GDPR?” by Helen Brown:

IUPUI’s Women’s Philanthropy Institute:

IUPUI’s Mays Family Institute on Diverse Philanthropy:

NEDRA DE&I Resource Guide:

Learn more about the author on the Connections Thought Leadership Page.

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