FYI Blog

DEIB in 2024: The Choice Fundraisers Have to Make

Disrupting what’s expected is uncomfortable. But when it comes to diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB), the choice for nonprofits is simple: Interrupt autopilot and build a more diverse coalition to support your mission or keep doing what you’re doing and quickly become an echo chamber that’s out of touch.

To address this challenge, Avalon has implemented a strategy with our clients called Fundraising Choice Points — a process by which we slow down our strategy decisions and actively consider how those choices might be unintentionally excluding audiences from engaging with a client’s fundraising program.

This is slow, persistent work without an end — and we are by no means experts in this endeavor. If this were a class we were taking together, I’d be leaning over my desk to show you the notes I’ve taken so far. We don’t have it all figured out, but we do know that sharing our work-in-progress and encouraging others to join us in this work is the best way to advance DEIB across the industry.

First, Have a Conversation About Goals

When implementing Fundraising Choice Points in your donor program, what exactly are you hoping to achieve? What is your baseline, and where are you getting that data?

Goal setting with Fundraising Choice Points means looking at factors beyond the typical fundraising metrics, like the number of donors or gross and net revenue. Success may not mean lifting results but rather lowering barriers to engagement while maintaining results.

And it doesn’t mean throwing out your existing goals, either. It’s about offering up a new approach, tracking the response to this kind of initiative, and getting clear on what success looks like for your organization.

Choose a few Fundraising Choice Point goals that impact inclusion and access, like language and design. You could try using a different font and a larger font size for easier reading. You could lower the reading level of fundraising appeals, opting for plain language and shorter sentences which help people absorb information more efficiently. You could try incorporating more white space or using different images that better reflect the true diversity of your donors or your organization’s beneficiaries. Include these metrics in your fiscal year strategy plan and track your goals with various tests.

Then, Think Through How You’re Going to Achieve Those Goals

Once you’ve named the Fundraising Choice Points your organization is going to focus on, it’s time to think through how you’ll test their effectiveness.

To make your fundraising more accessible, you could test small changes like increasing the font size and making language more accessible for screen readers. For example, we learned within the last year that screen readers don’t read out abbreviated phrases like “2X” (used often in fundraising copy for matching gift offers), so we’ve stopped including that in subject lines and within copy.

Many fundraising campaigns rely on urgency as the sole hook for giving because it’s convenient. But just because a technique may drive a higher response, doesn’t make it the best thing to do.

Trauma-informed fundraising and donor-centric fundraising don’t shame people into action. That kind of cheap scare tactic won’t build trust in the long run. Instead, dig deeper into the story — what’s motivating the urgency? How can we tell that story with welcoming language to invite more people in? If you have a campaign that is overly dependent on urgency and weak on case, amp up the case, tamp down the urgency, and test that copy against your control.

Finally, Share Your Results and Learnings

Now that we’re using our Fundraising Choice Points with clients, being open and transparent with our progress is an important part of this whole process. Avalon’s testing so far breaks down into the following areas:

  • Design: These tests included increasing font size, testing font type, using trauma-informed practices, and applying accessible colors in print and online.
  • Narrative: Our messaging tests pushed us to use new voices in our copy (not just nonprofit leadership, but people impacted directly by the nonprofit’s work), pay attention to the use or abuse of urgency, to consider shorter messaging length, and to lower reading levels for more accessible copy.
  • Shifting power: This tactic aimed to de-center the client’s organization as the ONLY one to make change and invite in other perspectives or highlight partnerships.
  • Root causes: These tests aimed to, when appropriate, name race oppression and the marginalized communities clients serve or the issues impacting them.

For the most part, we were able to show that Fundraising Choice Points, while not always a traditional testing “winner,” proved that incorporating equitable practices into our work wasn’t harming results. And in some cases, organizations were comfortable with softer results because these equitable practices were an organizational goal.

We’ve incorporated these learnings into our approach to our client work. We’ve found we’ve become more intentional in reading copy, in using the tools available to ensure accessibility, in having dialogue about the value of this testing. And we’ve identified what Fundraising Choice Points we want to test next. For example, would some of the messaging tests we conducted in appeals have different results – and bring on different donors – if tested in acquisition?

So, we’re still evolving. There is still work to be done to shift away from urgency as the sole driver of response. We must continue to evaluate how we use generative AI through a DEIB lens, because that technology is changing and is not always neutral. And we are still working to define what it means to diversify donor bases and how we qualify (beyond just numbers or percentages) when we’ve reached an expanded audience.

Let this article serve as a check-in, a promise that we’re continuing to challenge each other. Join us in comparing results and encouraging peers and partners to participate in this work, too!

For further learning, check out our blog post DEI-Informed Fundraising: A Five Part Series. You can also read Avalon’s DEI commitment, and you can read Tema Okun’s piece to learn more about white supremacy culture.