Many well intentioned fundraisers have made a cultural misstep: you schedule a major event on a religious holiday, pick a menu that features food that is culturally taboo, or you make an assumption about someone's beliefs only to find out the hard way that you are very, very wrong. So how can you navigate cultural traditions, norms and unwritten rules when you are not a member of a certain group, yet you need to work with the group for fundraising?
1. Think about things you have in common with individuals within the community.
When we meet someone new, if you're good at getting to know people, you immediately start to try to find things that you have in common. But isn't it interesting, that when you consider groups of people, suddenly it becomes easier to find things you don't
share? Instead of thinking about a particular culture as a group: Native American, African American, Chinese American, Jewish, Muslim, or others, begin with a single individual. Try to find common values and interests with that one person. Not only will this help with building respect for a potential donor's values, but also works to develop relationships that are critical to the fundraising process.
2. Find a "coach," advisor or trusted ally to help you within the community.
There are many factors that contribute to the definition of a culture, including but not limited to religious beliefs, traditions, geographic location, economic class, language, food, and much more. It can be very difficult to understand the layers of culture if you are an "outsider"--a transplant or an occasional visitor. Your advisor should be someone that you have gotten to know well enough that you can ask them the "stupid questions" without completely offending them. They should also be someone who believes in and trusts you enough to steer you away from the pitfalls and potholes! One of our trusted advisors is always good to point out without judgement when we've made a mistake. They also explain where we went awry. We value these learning opportunities and generally don't make the same mistake twice!
3. Take time to understand the "philanthropic currency" of the community.
While fundraisers are typically dealing with cash or cash based assets, we need to be aware that many diverse communities do not have a history of cash based philanthropy. In each group's culture of philanthropy, there may be traditions of helping extended family by providing a place to stay, or bringing food to a person who is sick, or coming with your horse to help with farming. In general, there is some tradition of helping others in every culture we have encountered, but in most, it is very direct and hands on. This is not to say that cash contributions don't happen in diverse communities--in fact, "minority" groups will become a majority proportion of philanthropic givers in the future as the makeup of our population changes. What you need to do, with the help of your advisor or coach, is understand what the culture's philanthropic currency is traditionally, and how you can translate those concepts to cash giving.
For example, in early Chinese American philanthropy, support was provided through "name houses," where any new immigrant with a particular family name could get help with housing, employment, communication, and more. So I could have gone to the Lin house to get help if I were just landing in the United States. Benefactors to these name houses were generally immigrants who had already established themselves. Points that you might glean from this tradition are that honoring the family name and making sure that the next generation is better off than the last are highly valued by this group.
4. Challenge your assumptions not only about other cultures but about yourself.
What misconceptions might other cultures have about you
? Being aware of what assumptions others might be bringing to the conversation will also help with your relationship development. In my past, I've had people assume that I know how to speak Chinese, can beat up someone with karate, will generally be quiet and demure, will giggle with my hand over my mouth, and that I was not born in the United States--all of which are incorrect. (I've also had people assume that I was a good student, that I'm good at math, and that I can whip up a mean Chinese dinner, but those are true.) For Jim, working with Native American communities, others bring many assumptions about what the "pahana" (white man) will do. Assessing what misconceptions you may have to disprove will also help you navigate the culture.
5. Take time to build trust.
As much as I would like to say that there is a magic formula, there isn't. This won't happen overnight. Like other sustainable philanthropic endeavors, this will be an investment in a relationship that will evolve into support for your cause. It's not about changing what you wear, or translating your materials into another language--it's about understanding what a community values, finding advocates for your cause within the community, and building connections based on honesty and mutual respect.
Other resources about diversity in fundraising
This blog is an extension of my original essay written for the Association of Fundraising Professionals Kaleidoscope e-newsletter. Read the essay here
Jay Frost writes a great blog, Frost on Fundraising. Here's his article on The Business Case for Diversity
This blog was based on a session presented to the Association of Fundraising Professionals Southern Arizona Chapter in June 2010. One exercise was "Circles of my Multi-Cultural Self," which is available at Critical Multicultural Pavilion
If you are interested in having this session presented to your nonprofit organization or association, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Alice Ferris just finished hosting her first pledge drive shift of the night. She's on the air statewide for Eight, Arizona PBS right now, wrapped up "Great Scenic Railway Journeys" next up "CanadianTenors" and later tonight she hosts the "Elaine Paige" program.
Mary W. Black Just saw you on Channel 8! Love those Railway Journeys! Great Job Alice!