FYI Blog

DEI-Informed Fundraising: List Strategy and Donor Diversity

This post is part one of a five-part series on DEI-informed fundraising.


One of the best levers that a nonprofit can use to impact donor acquisition performance is list strategy. Avalon has long believed in the power of a good list, and we love to collaborate with list partners who excel at matching nonprofits to the right market to meet their strategic goals.


So, we wanted to know: how might list strategies help us with our clients’ goals for DEI-informed fundraising?


To answer this, we have attended webinars, read extensively, assessed what we are seeing across our clients, and consulted with list brokers. Thank you in particular to Jeanette Cassano (Belardi Wong), Karen Lake (Lake Group Media), and Suzie McGuire (Names in the News) for sharing your insights with us last month.


Our most important finding is that there are no shortcuts to meaningful diversity in a donor file. List strategy, though it remains important, can only leverage meaningful DEI work that is already happening in your organization. Strategic list selections are valuable for an organization that already embraces DEI, but they cannot make an organization diverse.


To this end, the Chronicle of Philanthropy advocates a “culture of inclusive fundraising,” which supports a robust approach to engaging donors of color in meaningful ways. Specifically, they outline long-arc recommendations that include significant research, identification, cultural sensitivity, and a call to “advance DEI internally before seeking donors of color.”


Second, it is important that nonprofits get specific about their current state and their DEI goals. Name the communities and cultures that you want to better represent and engage. Ask your existing donors to self-identify demographic information, assess your reality vs. your goals, and build from there. The Blackbaud Diversity in Giving Report is an example of important nuance that you should understand and validate for your organization’s target markets.


We also recommend, as we always do, that nonprofits identify the right metrics to measure their progress. Many organizations want to increase the representation of donors of color as a percent of their file, and that’s a good start. However, what other metrics will help you understand the story of diversity in your donor file? Because outreach communications to new groups will be important, you may need to look beyond standard fundraising performance metrics to get the full picture.


Finally, what you know about engaged donors still applies. Substantive diversity in your file requires not only that you acquire donors of color, but also that they stick around and stay engaged. This will impact the kinds of lists that you eventually employ to support your larger DEI strategy. If you are looking for donors of color who will respond to your organization’s particular approach and the ways you are working in their communities, then you should look for lists who share those qualities.


For many of us on this task force, these insights reinforce a familiar lesson: diversity is not a box to check. Nonprofits–and every fundraiser who supports them–must keep showing up for the long work of DEI.


You cannot order up a list that will simply strengthen diversity for you. However, you can:


  • Get to know your target audience(s)—their identities, their giving preferences, and which metrics will best reflect their value to your organization.
  • Define a list strategy that builds on substantive DEI commitments that your prospects can already see in action.
  • Select lists that represent the kinds of engagement you want from and can offer your new donors.
  • Advocate inside your organization for a culture of inclusive fundraising.
  • Build on these strategies with with DEI-informed messaging—up next in this series!