The liberal cable news pundits are having a field day chronicling the ‘demise’ of the Republican Party as a major factor in the future of national politics in the U.S.

They reason, citing poll after poll, that soon the Grand Old Party will be relegated to the dustbin of history — a minority coalition of angry, right wing, largely southern white men whose agenda is no longer relevant to the majority of American voters.

Most of the prognosticating pundits cite the rising significance of the Hispanic vote. In another 4 to 8 years the Hispanic block alone could deprive the Republicans — whose outreach to this community and its agenda is horrible at best — of their ‘safe’ red states of Texas, Arizona, Montana and a number of other states as well. Game change.

All of which got me thinking about our nonprofit sector. Have we so ignored the ethnic dimensions of fundraising that we are damaging our own future? Do our current strategies and approaches — almost all of which favor short-term, quick payoff techniques — contain the seeds of our own downfall?

It should come as no shock that in today’s direct response fundraising “Caucasians” are currently and overwhelmingly the target audience. List brokers and telemarketers — urged on by their clients of course — apply ‘zip selects’ and ‘demographic selects’ to ‘optimize’ returns based on affluent areas … indirectly targeting the white population.

I’m not faulting the brokers and telemarketers. The short-term mindset of most clients demands and tolerates nothing less.

What I am questioning is the long-term effect of this direct response apartheid — a process that too often simply ignores major non-Caucasian ethnic groups (Hispanics and Pan-Asians for example).

Why are these groups ignored? Because we believe they don’t or won’t give?

For a possible answer I re-read a study done by the Boston College Center for Wealth and Philanthropy. Although it’s a bit dated (it reports on 2002 trends) and is jammed with more facts than envelope salesmen at a DMA conference, one item struck me:  Caucasians may be better givers because they’re asked for money more frequently.

Here’s what the Boston College study notes. And, I think all of us should pay attention:

  • “If formal philanthropy is something that whites are involved in more than members of other ethnicities, what are the implications of these findings for nonprofits in a country where in the coming decades, whites will increasingly constitute a minority of the population in many cities and states across the country?”
  • “The Independent Sector considers the “power of the ask” as one of the strongest motivators of charitable giving. Quite simply, people give because they are asked to do so.” [ Emphasis added.]
  • “In the 1997 National Survey of Philanthropy, 67% of Hispanic households, and 68% of black households said that the biggest reason they had not volunteered or made a charitable contribution was that they were not asked to do so.”  [Emphasis added.]
  • “Only 44% of white households said not being asked had been an obstacle to participation. Given that housing is increasingly segregated socioeconomically and that black households, for example, tend to have on average, only one-fifth to one-quarter of the wealth of white households (Altonji, Dorazelski, and Segal 2000:1), it is not surprising that direct mail campaigns or telephone fundraisers, which tend to target affluent areas, fail to engage ethnically diverse donors.”

Just sayin’  …


P.S. I’m also curious about whether ethnicity makes a difference when it comes to the all-important issue of Donor Commitment (loyalty/retention). My colleagues over at DonorVoice have reams of up-to-the-minute data on Commitment, so, I called ‘em. Here’s what they told me:

  • Race/ethnicity is not causal or even correlated with high Commitment.
  • Most nonprofit donor files are ‘lily white’, but the ethnic donors within those files exhibit the same donor attitudes and behaviors as the Caucasian majority.

You can view the DonorVoice infographic, Anatomy of a Committed Donor here.

So, I have to wonder, why is everyone whining about acquisition if there is a massive number of high value, non-white relationships being left on the table. Maybe we should try fishing somewhere else in addition to the same old tired, over-fished waters that everyone goes to. My guess is there’s an untapped shoreline of great fishing holes few are touching.

Hopefully, lots of Agitator readers are experimenting or fully implementing ethnically-focused efforts. If so, please share.

This article was posted in: Communications, Demographics, Donor acquisition, DonorTrends / DonorVoice, Nonprofit management.
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