Fundraising Strategies to Reach Communities of Color


As you expand your current fundraising strategies to reach communities of color, consider making adjustments to each step of the fundraising process.

Here are some suggested strategies for each of the three broad levels of the pyramid. In general, the usual principles of fundraising apply to diverse communities. To ensure sustainability, they should simply be executed with an understanding of the culture and context of the individuals to whom you are reaching out and as part of broader inclusiveness efforts.


Developing Prospects

The first step in fundraising is providing opportunities for individuals to become aware of your organization and to become qualified as prospects. To accomplish this, build on techniques of marketing and community relations such as those described in Marketing and Community Relations, which create a sense of trust and connectedness between your organization and the community you seek to reach.

You will then seek to establish connections within that community. There are two general ways to address this work: 

  • Reach out to a broad segment of the audience with whom you wish to connect.
  • Develop targeted relationships within that audience.

Consider the balance of such efforts and where your resources and goals best match with your available strategies.

To reach out to a broad segment of the audience employ such efforts as special events, open houses, and speaking engagements. Remember that these methods need to be designed carefully to reach your target audiences. When you plan a special event, ask for and listen to input from people within the community you seek to reach regarding such details as location, message, food, timing, child care, and activities.

For example, a gala event featuring French cuisine with an entry ticket of $500 will likely appeal to a narrow audience, while a community holiday party with activities for children will likely be more attractive to a wider group of people.

Remember that your event should give you the chance to tell your organization's story to your new audience, and that events can also give you an opportunity to involve potential donors as volunteers. Such personal connection can be very important to people from diverse communities.

Once you have considered whether and how you will use broad outreach methods to reach potential donors from communities of color, consider how to create targeted relationships with potential donors.  To nurture these relationships, remember the following important steps:

  • Develop connections with trusted individuals within the targeted community who can serve as "connectors" to introduce you to others and help you understand the values and customs of the people you meet.
  • If appropriate, send a letter of introduction, then follow up with a personal phone call.
  • Meet in a location that is comfortable to the person with whom you are meeting; if possible, ask your trusted community "connector" to join you.
  • Take time to establish a relationship and connection with the person before asking for support.
  • Follow up in a timely and thoughtful manner after your initial meeting.

Now that you have cultivated a group of prospects, give them opportunities to become supporters of your organization.


Moving Prospects to Donors

Some of the traditional fundraising methods (direct mail, media appeals, etc.) have been shown to be less successful within communities of color. Organizations have sometimes had success with targeted mailings and public service announcements that are tailored to the specific interests of the community in question. However, all communities report that they are more likely to give in response to a personal request. Chances of moving a prospect to an active donor increase if the prospective donor feels a personal connection to the cause and/or to the person requesting the support.

These personal connections can be nurtured through the following methods:

  • Individual meetings
  • House parties or small social gatherings
  • Larger special events

To ask for contributions through any of these methods, identify the person within your organization who has the closest connection to the prospect, and create an opportunity for that person to make the request, host the party, or provide invitations for involvement in the special event. Remember to talk with board members, volunteers, community partners, and clients who may know your prospects and would be willing to participate in such discussions.

Points of view differ as to the success of directly asking individuals from communities of color for support in personal meetings. Some say that personal solicitation is the only way to make real connections, while others share a concern that in some communities, a direct ask can lead to discomfort. Given the vast array of cultural differences among communities of color, no general rule fits every racial or ethnic group when it comes to how to ask for a contribution.

The best method for determining how to approach someone is to develop a relationship with that person, just as you would with any other donor, and to ask for advice on developing the relationship from someone who is close to him or her.

Be sure to follow up with acknowledgements as soon as possible after any kind of contribution has been made - and especially if it was given through a personal request, house party, or special event. For communities where trust and personal relationship are highly valued, appropriate recognition is critical.


Moving Donors to Major Donors

In addition to basic information gathering about donors within each community of color, researchers have looked at the behavior of those who have reached the "investing" stage as described by Chao. Donors from diverse communities who give at least $10,000 a year to charitable causes often share the following characteristics:

  • First-generation wealth.
  • Wealth from entrepreneurial enterprises in specific industries.
  • Live in multiple worlds/cultures.
  • Participate in multiple networks.
  • Biculturally fluent.
  • Most often prefer causes that impact their own communities.
  • Rarely limit giving to their own community.  
  • Reluctant to commit to long-term charitable planning.

Such donors also identify four common reasons for giving major gifts to particular causes or nonprofits: (See Bilbiography: Council on Foundations)

  • They identified with the nonprofit and its cause or beneficiaries and were passionately committed to the issues.
  • They had participated in the nonprofit and its cause for some time, either on a board or advisory committee or on a gala or event committee.
  • The major gift, particularly an endowment, was never the first gift; rather, it followed a sequence of increased financial commitment over time.
  • Someone they knew and trusted personally asked them to contribute; often this person was revered in their community. (See Bibliography: New Ventures in Philanthropy)

You can use these findings to design a program for developing major donors within communities of color. As described in the other stages, the same principles that apply to all fundraising apply to raising large gifts from donors of color:  determine or develop your connection, create the appropriate environment to ask for a gift, have the right person make the request, and provide appropriate and immediate recognition.


Overview: Fundraising and Membership 

Why Inclusive Fundraising Practices Matter  

Why Inclusive Membership Development Practices Matter 

Membership Development Strategies to Reach Communities of Color