Prospect Researchers: Actionable Steps to Support DEI in Your Work

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By Samir Chapra

“Healing cannot occur unless everyone is part of the process.” —Edgar Villanueva, author of “Decolonizing Wealth”

As we seek to address the long history of marginalizing underrepresented groups in our society, a renewed and overdue focus on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) is occurring in the workplace. As prospect researchers, we can play an integral role in supporting DEI within our organizations, but we must consciously decide to take actions that will contribute to advancing these efforts. With that goal in mind, here are some concrete steps you can take, both individually and on a departmental level, to support DEI in your work.

Take the time to educate yourself.

There is a wide body of knowledge available regarding DEI. However, this vast amount of information can also be overwhelming. There are several industry associations, books and websites that can help. The appendix at the end of this article provides a curated list of resources you can use to educate yourself in applying DEI principles to your work.

Create a DEI data policy.

Using the Apra DEI Data Guide as a starting point, you can create a DEI data policy that is specific to your organization’s constituency and needs.

First, clearly articulate why creating a DEI data policy in your organization is important. For most organizations, the ethical collection and storage of DEI data is key to beginning the process of identifying a diverse group of prospects, volunteers and board members, so having a data policy to provide a framework for that work is crucial.

Next, define your goals. Who are you trying to identify? Is it a broad group of ages, genders, races, ethnicities or other identifiers? Or is your organization’s constituency more narrowly defined? What is the purpose of collecting this data? How will you use it?  

Finally, be transparent with all stakeholders. How will your data be protected? Who has access to it? How will this affect collection and storage in your database?

These are just a few examples of questions you should ask yourself when writing a DEI data policy.  

Create a DEI language guide.

Creating a guide that examines the way your organization approaches prospect research through a DEI lens can be very helpful. How are research requests made specifically? What kind of information is asked for regarding identity categories? Do these requests meet the ethical standards you want to see at your organization? If not, how can these processes be improved upon?

A language guide that includes definitions of pronouns and identity categories (see this example from GLAAD) and highlights the history of social justice issues at your organization can help educate your colleagues and provide additional meaning to your DEI policy. This can encourage people in your organization to think about and discuss important issues surrounding DEI that may not always be easy to talk about.

Work on taking bias out of your research processes, database and screenings.

Consciously and proactively addressing potential bias in your research processes, database and electronic screenings is another important step in the long-term process of diversifying your prospect and volunteer pool. 

To identify potential unconscious biases in your work, be honest and reflect on how you go about researching a prospect. If your goal is to help identify prospects that are currently being overlooked by using the same best practices that have historically been used, then you should reassess and adjust those best practices to accurately reflect the identification of a more inclusive constituency.

Questions you should ask yourself include:

  • What assumptions are you making about a prospect based on their identifiers?
  • Who do you normally research first in a couple and how much time do you spend researching spouses?
  • How does real estate value, zip code or other potential exclusionary wealth indicators factor into your determination of a prospect’s rating?

Does your organization’s database allow for the storage of DEI information? If so, examine the categories available and compare them to an up-to-date list of cultural identifiers (see this example from the National Association of Independent Schools). Where are the gaps? Can you work with your database administrator to address those gaps? If this presents a major roadblock, consider having a conversation with other staff members to highlight these issues — it could lead to unexpected and positive outcomes.

In electronic screenings of your constituents, examine the results through a diversity lens. If your database does not already include identity information to verify, take a sample from the screening results and check them manually. Are prospects from all backgrounds and identity categories fairly represented in the results? If not, why not? What data points does your vendor use in its screening? Talk to your vendor to discuss these issues and, if necessary, explore and compare other vendor options.

These are just a few examples of actions you can take to address DEI in your work. If some of the suggestions seem a bridge too far within the workplace culture of your organization, don’t be discouraged. You can still take small steps by educating yourself and examining your own research methodology. I encourage you to discuss your efforts with your prospect research colleagues, as that shared knowledge and experience can provide further growth opportunities in your own DEI journey.

Acknowledgements

Many thanks to Kelli North, senior development research analyst at the University of Michigan, and Kristal Enter, assistant director of prospect research and management at Massachusetts General Hospital, for taking the time to discuss various ideas for this article and reviewing my work — your subject matter expertise was extremely helpful.  

Appendix: A Curated List of Resources to Help You on Your DEI Journey

Books

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents,” by Isabel Wilkerson

 “Collecting Courage: Joy, Pain, Freedom, Love,” by multiple authors  

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

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Advancement,” by Angelique Grant and Ronald J. Schiller

How to be an Antiracist,” by Ibram X. Kendi

Organizations

Apra’s DEI Data Guide: In addition to the Data Guide, there is an extensive list of DEI resource links toward the bottom of the Data Guide web page.  

Apra’s PRSPCT-L Forum: You can join research colleagues in the DEI group on Apra’s PRSPCT-L forum to ask any questions you may have or just explore posts which go over specific DEI topics that other researchers have already asked about. 

Apra University: There are several DEI webinars available on the Apra University website, from broad topics such as creating a culture of DEI in the workplace, to more specific ones such as mapping inclusive prospect development strategies.

The Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE): The organization has several DEI trainings and resources on their website. 

Websites

21-Day Equity Challenge: This link is for a specific challenge, the Brewster 21-Day Equity Boot Camp, but there are several variations available online.

The Chronicle of Philanthropy’s Diversity in Giving: This page offers a few articles from The Chronicle of Philanthropy related to the topic.

The Donors of Color Network: This site includes research about and for high-net-worth donors of color.

LinkedIn Learning: If your organization provides you with access to LinkedIn Learning, it has numerous DEI courses, videos and learning paths.  

Race Forward: Trainings and research on pressing racial justice issues, including model policies and leadership trainings.

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