Is diversity bad for fund-raising? – Conversations in Philanthropy #5

Is diversity bad for fund-raising? Conventional wisdom says so. This is because of the difficulty in getting diverse group of people to agree on what is a “common good” and also the high transaction costs involved, in terms of time spent due to language and cultural barriers[i]. Anft quotes federal income tax data to point out that Hispanics and Blacks give more of their proportion of wealth, as compared to the general population (qtd. In Achieving Excellence in Fundraising 185).

IMG_2157 fundraising_21

Growing trends in fund-raising : Arab Americans and South Asian Americans

Given my research focus and experience with Arab-Americans and American Muslims, I will talk a bit about these two groups. A few things stand out in regards to these two groups

  1. Informality and emotion – Much of giving and philanthropy by Arab Americans and South Asian Americans can be considered informal and driven largely by emotions. This was shared by Maha Freij, the Deputy Executive Director of ACCESS, the largest Arab American NGO in the U.S in a recent conversation with her. While the younger generation may be become more organized about their giving practices, certainly the emotional appeal of a relative or friend in need gets a faster response than an appeal from an organization.
  2. Giving to civil society institutions is low[ii] – Given that many countries in the MENA and South Asia are not democracies (or where they are, civil society does not fully function as it does in other countries), the trust that people have in these institutions is rather low. Hence, Arab Americans and South Asian Americans tend to give lesser amounts of money to civil society institutions such as non-profits, think-tanks etc.
  3. Individual giving, rather than to institutions – Related to the point above, this is again a generalization, but something that holds true in almost all cases. There is greater recognition of individual needs rather than those of institutions. One can even argue that institution building is somewhat new phenomenon and one that is not fully appreciated by many people. This is not to generalize among all Arab Americans or South Asians but a trend that stands up to scrutiny, if one were to do some research.

 

What should fund-raisers do?

Approach each one distinctively, knowing their cultural norms and being mindful of what is acceptable behavior, in terms of asking behavior.  Recognizing that most ethnic giving is informal is important, and a few factors such as increased wealth, growing recognition of social needs and those of individuals in particular is growing. There is also much emotional giving in this space, in contrast to planned giving, which is done with the expectation of tax-benefits etc.

While most traditional fundraising principles still hold true, it may help to have people in the fundraising team who are sensitive to these issues and make appropriate strategic choices. There is also a need to craft a needs assessment that clarifies the organization’s perspectives on diversity.

 

[i]  Osili Una. Achieving Excellence in Fundraising. Josey Bass. 2011. Print.

 

[ii] This is based on my own research, anecdotal evidence and also some literature I have read in this space.

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