Reaching Out to Donors about Systemic Injustice: 4 Tips and 10 Conversation Goals

While many inspiring leaders and activists have stepped up to create and share resources on how to respond to the current movement, my colleagues in the fundraising space have lamented the lack specific ideas and tools for having critical conversations with donors.

These conversations can feel daunting for organizations whose missions don’t explicitly include the dismantling of racial oppression in the United States or for those organizations who don’t have robust Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion policies and plans. If you haven’t personally spoken with donors on these topics before, or if your organization has never made a public statement before, you may worry about coming across as insincere or inauthentic.

In this article,  I provide front-line fundraisers with four tips and ten conversation goals for reaching out to donors about the issues that are in stark relief now.

Tip #1: Be Clear (with Yourself) About Your Role in the Conversation

First, I want to put you at ease by setting accurate expectations about your role in these calls. The first 4 points are for everyone, with segmented advice below:

  • You don’t need to be the source of all facts and news headlines. Keep up to date as much as you can, but realize there is no way you can possibly know everything.
  • You don’t need to have all the solutions or even all the opinions. Spend time educating yourself on what solutions are being proposed, but you don’t need to position yourself as an expert on them.
  • You don’t need to be the definitive resource on anything. You know what you know and you experience the world from your own lens.
  • You don’t need to control things you can’t control. You cannot control what your donors say, how they feel, or what they do about the movement. You can control how you show up to the conversation, the space you provide them, and the resources and learning you share.
  • For My Colleagues of Color: I recognize these conversations take an enormous emotional tole on you. I hope you are getting support from your colleagues and leadership. And I hope you are not the only person expected to talk about race and oppression at your organization.
  • For My Fellow White Allies: You don’t need to be a perfect ally to be an ally. You are where you are in your journey right now. These critical conversations cannot wait for the Future You who is more informed and self-aware. Acknowledging the limitations of your own knowledge and experience is the best (and only) place to start.

Tip #2: Set Reasonable Goals for the Conversation

Second, I want to help you determine why you are reaching out to the donor and what you can hope to achieve in the call. There is so much we can do with the information received on calls like these and many ways such calls could benefit our organizations. Depending on the length of time and how close you are to the donor, I recommend having between 3-5 goals for the conversation, which could include any of the 10 I have listed below.

These first 5 reasons help you get to know your donor even better. Depending on their knowledge of, and experience with, anti-racist work, these conversations can illuminate strengths and gaps that can inform future programming around this topics. Goals include:

  1. To check in on your donor’s physical, emotional, and mental wellbeing.
  2. To learn more about your donor’s perspective on current events.
  3. To learn more about your donor’s concerns and interests with regards to racial equity.
  4. To learn more about your donor’s connections and resources that could be used to advance the movement.
  5. To baseline your donor’s knowledge and comfort with the topic of racial equity.

These next 5 goals should always be offered in the form of a question. “Would you like to hear more about what we are doing?”  Getting their verbal consent to learn more or receive resources keeps you from sounding like you’ve called to educate them – which can be off-putting and unwelcome. This courtesy aside, your donors will likely be very interested in hearing what your organization has done in response to the movement, or what actions you are planning to take. Goals include:

  1. To share more about what your organization is doing in response to the current movement.
  2. To share more about your organization’s statement or policies regarding Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.
  3. To share or get feedback on upcoming Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion initiatives you are considering
  4. To ask the donor what resources, information, or support they would like from your organization to better respond to the current movement
  5. To connect your donor to those resources (information, people, or other nonprofits) that can help them play a more active role in advancing the movement

Tip #3: Prepare to Respond to Different Viewpoints in the Conversation

Third, I want to address what is likely one of your major concerns:  What to do if your donor says something overtly racist, commits a micro-aggression, or has perspectives that don’t align with your values and commitment to racial equity.

While this remains a fantastic resource on responding to micro-aggressions, the biggest piece of advice I can share with you shows up in this article:

“At any opportunity where you would normally make a statement, try asking a question instead.  By shifting the spotlight off of you—your beliefs, values, stories, feelings—and on to the other person, your direct questions, and the space you provide for their answers can help prompt that person into deeper thinking and reflection that can actually guide them to the very insights you wanted to share all along.”

Notice that in the “Reasonable Goals” section, one of the goals was not “convince the donor that you are right” or “make the donor agree with you.” That is not an outcome you can control. What you can do is provide the donor space to think through and discuss some of the values and beliefs they are reckoning with, while exemplifying your own commitment to racial equity.

Tip #4: If You Can’t Have a Conversation, Make it a Debrief

If you still feel ill-equipped to have one-on-one conversations with donors, or if time and resources prevent you from making these calls, consider hosting a group debrief around an illuminating piece of content.

Debriefs are one of my favorite ways to facilitate critical conversations. Facilitating a debrief around a particular piece of content or a shared experience can be a powerful way of anchoring our learning to something tangible. It’s also a way of reaching more donors as it lends itself well to a group format. I encourage you to put to use my tips on virtual engagement and invite your donors to interactive discussions around these topics.

Provide your donors with resources on race, power, bias, as well as white privilege, supremacy,  and fragility and facilitate virtual debriefs around them. Here are just a few reasons why a debrief is effective:

  • A debrief provides an opportunity to reflect on an experience we have just had (the experience could include reading or watching certain content)
  • A debrief provides concrete examples to discuss (what was in the book or movie) so that we don’t have to spend time debating the facts or identifying relevant examples
  • A debrief provides opportunities to discuss difficult topics without requiring participants to share their own stories (since we can discuss the stories shared in existing resources)
  • A debrief allows participants to explore concepts outside of their own experience
  • A debrief can be facilitated with a group, so participants learn from one another and a greater diversity of perspectives can be shared

Great Resources to Debrief:

Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World


How to Be an Antiracist
Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People
Beyond Guilt Trips: Mindful Travel in an Unequal World
White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism

Never miss a post! Subscribe now: