Philanthropy and Underrepresented Students and Alumni

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The daily work of student affairs lies the groundwork for successful fundraising –  Patricia Rissmeyer

One of the best things about working in student affairs is the fact that we get to interact with such a diverse student population. We bring many voices to the table and create a space where those voices can be heard. While we work with these students in college, we leave it up to our colleagues in development and alumni affairs to connect with this vast population once these students graduate.

As we evolve in the world of giving and stewardship, working with this population is where advancement professionals miss the mark. Reaching out to underrepresented students and  or alumni  (GLBTQ, POC) is different. Why? Their motivations for giving will likely be different. Because of this, when we need to reach out to these populations to broaden stewardship efforts, we need to be mindful. Historically, our perception of philanthropy has been viewed through a white male lens, as the reflection of which demographic is most likely to give back to an institution.

The mindfulness we exercise when working with diverse populations extends into the alumni experience. As advancement professionals, we need to keep in mind a few key things:

Lesson in Communication: Don’t Skip the One on One Conversations

I found that working with my student staff was a great opportunity to work toward a common goal/vision/mission/job. When having one-on-one conversations with my students (regardless of staff or not staff) the conversations gave me great insight into the student perspective. It was also an excellent opportunity to build trust  in that relationship. Since advancement’s foundations are created through relationship building and communication, this is one of the most vital pieces to building connections with underrepresented alumni. Speaking of communication, when going into a meeting with a prospective donor, professionals need to respect the identity, culture, and traditions of that person. Try using common language and stay away from colloquialisms that might not translate well with your specific group of alumni.

Lesson in Understanding: Why Underrepresented Alumni Give

We all give for different reasons. Perhaps we had a really great college experience, a faculty member who inspired us, or were part of a student organization that helped us get to where we are today. No matter what, there is always some sort of motivation, albeit intrinsic or extrinsic, as to why we give.

Research on why POC give back shows:

  • African Americans are more likely to respond to appeals tied to racial uplift
  • Asian/Pacific Islanders prefer to make gifts in memory of lost loved ones
  • Latinos often support programs that address barriers to Latino educational engagement
  • Native Americans often view giving as an extension of honor, and tie it to preserving the future generation of Native people

– Gasman & Bowman(2013)

Lesson in Relevance: Golf Tournaments are Dead

Not only are golf tournaments dead, they’re laced with tons of connotations of white privilege. While they were once considered big money makers for  non-profit organizations, they most likely won’t resonate with the populations you are trying to reach. Instead of creating an event around a specific group, why not invite that population to an event either on or off campus? [For instance, invite an alumni group made up of individuals who identify as GLBTQ to a Pride event hosted on campus.] You don’t have to recreate the wheel in this instance. The program that you invite alumni to is already in place and then it gives alumni access to campus and undergraduate students; which in turn, will make for great networking opportunities for both the students and alumni.

The bottom line is that if you want to broaden your stewardship lens, you need to figure out how to attract and work with different populations of students and alumni. Reach out to campus partners and start building relationships with those professionals who work in multicultural centers, campus housing and activities, and NPHC organizations. Always push to challenge yourself to think differently about the who and the why. Underrepresented students and alumni giving their time, talent, and eventually treasure will happen with thoughtful research and time.

Author’s Note:

A huge thank you to Stacy, Chelsea, Jessi, and Tony for their outstanding editing skills!

This post was inspired by a presentation I attended at ACPA 15: “My Money Isn’t Good Enough: Creating Inclusive Fundraising Practices”. The presenters were Michael Bumbry and Jason Garvey

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March 2015
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