Diverse Fund-Raisers for Tomorrow's Donors

Colleges with increasingly diverse student bodies are recognizing that development staff members remain overwhelmingly white.

September 20, 2018
 
Recent college graduates taking part in a new fund-raising training program started by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education.

A look at the student bodies and the development staffs of many colleges and universities might make evident the demographic mismatch occurring at institutions across the country -- the students are more diverse in race and income; the development staff members are largely white.

This was not a problem when deep-pocketed donors were mostly white and male, but it will likely present fund-raising challenges at many colleges going forward. A new generation of moneyed philanthropists has come of age -- women, people of color, people who identify as LGBTQ -- who not only want to support their alma maters but specifically want to help people who look like them or share similar backgrounds or life experiences. Their numbers are expected to keep growing and surpass the limited pool of fund-raisers that reflect the increasing diversity of donors.

Meanwhile, a shortage of fund-raisers overall is exacerbating the problem. Colleges are relying more heavily on donors to help defray the costs of rising tuition for a student body with less ability to pay, but data projections indicate the shortage of fund-raisers will increase over time with retirements. Experts say the problem will worsen if replacement workers aren't demographically representative of a changing donor base.

"People in the industry, especially higher ed chief advancement officers, deeply feel the crunch in fund-raising," said Liz Rothenberg, managing director of EAB Strategic Research, an education best practices research, technology and services firm. "They don't feel that they have the pipeline to replace those senior fund-raisers, especially diverse fund-raisers."

"Several factors are driving this need," said Brian Gawor, vice president for research at consulting firm Ruffalo Noel Levitz.

"Very few people know that being a fund-raiser is a profession, and that's because our profession is relatively young," he said. "The massive increase in registered nonprofits has also indicated a huge need."

Rothenberg said 20 percent of senior fund-raisers plan to retire in the next four years. She also noted that only 11 percent of front-line fund-raisers or gift officers are people of color, according to Association of Fundraising Professionals estimates. And just 12 percent of people from diverse backgrounds work in the profession over all, according to the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, or CASE.

"College fund-raising is not keeping pace with changing student demographics," Rothenberg said. "There's a lot of worry, especially if you consider that the U.S. will be a majority-minority country in 2045."

CASE recently launched a national effort to address those very challenges. It started a yearlong fund-raising residency program for college graduates as a gateway to fund-raising careers in higher ed.

The program is part of CASE's larger plans to grow and diversify the shrinking ranks of institutional fund-raisers, said Rob Henry, the organization's vice president of education who oversees global strategy on talent management.

"It made sense for us to build a pipeline and enhance diversity," he said, noting that a summer internship program CASE has run for the past three years is also part of the effort. "Some of those interns will graduate and be able to roll right into the residency program."

Henry said the residency program addresses a key concern of alumni donors who "expect to see a diverse work force" on college campuses.

"We think that it's important that alumni are interacting with people who are like themselves," he said. "You're getting voices now that can resonate with your alumni, your community and your student body."

Fund-raising experts widely agree that alumni are more likely to donate to their alma maters when approached by fund-raisers who are of the same race or gender, belong to the same affinity group, or share similar life experiences.

"Demographics is important because a lot of fund-raising is about building relationships and trust," Rothenberg said. She said trust building works when the donor knows the fund-raiser shares a similar background or life story and understands how it may have influenced the donor's experience on campus.

"This is not because donors are racists," said Gawor. "It's because they are looking for a connection. How are you going to get people to give when they're not seeing people who look like them benefiting?"

Although there is more diversity today among philanthropists, the majority continue to be white men, which "matches the demographics of our current fund-raisers," Rothenberg said.

"That's not a problem today, but it's going to be a problem down the road when the younger alumni or students of today are in a position to make a donation 10 or 15 years down the road," she said. "We're seeing that with women donors, black and Latino donors, and LGBT donors."

Until relatively recently, however, most people who went into philanthropy work did not follow a set academic or career path. Instead, they "fell into" fund-raising by happenstance after a friend or a mentor introduced them to the world of philanthropy or helped them land a related job.

"Just hoping people fall into the profession is not a talent recruitment strategy, and it's not a sustainable one," Rothenberg said.

Jesus Rangel is among those who initially entered the profession unintentionally. He's now one of 18 recent college graduates -- people of color, first in their families to attend college, children of immigrants -- placed in fund-raising-related jobs at colleges and universities across the country as part of the CASE residency program.

Rangel, 23, attended Texas State University intending to eventually become a lawyer. He majored in political science, planned for law school and got "super involved" on campus at the start of his freshman year.

He became an official "university ambassador," led campus tours for prospective students and took part in donor events, alumni award banquets, tailgate parties and more. He met the university's vice president for advancement during one of those social gatherings.

"We kind of made a connection," Rangel said.

She became his mentor and invited him to fund-raising events and introduced him to donors and prospective donors with whom she had cultivated relationships. Rangel knew nothing about her line of work but found it interesting.

"Seeing the work that she did and the impact these donors had on students made me want to have an impact, too," he said.

Rangel, who grew up in rural Texas, is a first-generation college student from a working-class family. He said he realized he could help other young people like him attend college by raising money to fund scholarships.

By the time he graduated last May, he'd changed his mind about becoming a lawyer.

Last month, he started his residency at Oregon State University as a social media specialist and fund-raiser. He's currently helping plan the university's first Day of Giving campaign scheduled for next April and is seeking out current students and alumni among various affinity groups, including African Americans, people who identify as LGBTQIA and members of Greek organizations, to get involved.

"Students giving back isn't very big here," Rangel explained. "Just looking at the analytics of student giving, you can see it's a very small percentage. I think it can be brought up."

He said the university is considering a Philanthropy Week of events leading up to the Day of Giving to get students, prospective donors and community members energized about giving.

"We're trying to develop ways to get that culture of philanthropy in their mind-set," Rangel said. "Articles that I've read about fund-raising say that some institutions introduce that culture of philanthropy the moment you walk in the door as a freshman so by the time you graduate you have that mind-set of donating your time, talent or treasure," he said.

Rangel is now on a completely different career track than when he first started college. "My current path is to get my master's degree in business and then get my Ph.D. in higher education and become president of a university one day."

Viet Nguyen, 23, who is doing his fund-raising residency at his alma mater, Ohio State University, also hopes to become a university president. He was also a university ambassador and then became a presidential host at his campus. Both opportunities brought him into contact with university leaders, alumni and donors. Still, he didn't consider fund-raising as a career option until his senior year.

"I never saw myself as a fund-raiser," he said. "I did cold-calling in high school and always hated that. The university ambassador program really helped me shape my future career."

Nguyen was born and raised in Columbus, Ohio. His parents are immigrants from Vietnam. After graduating with dual bachelor's degrees in strategic communications and business administration, he will work in different areas of the university's advancement department during his residency.

Now he spends his days talking with alumni "and trying to get them to give back to the university." At the end of those conversations, he shares "a perspective story" of why he chose to attend Ohio State in hopes of making that connection that might lead to a donation.

Zachary Price was also introduced to fund-raising through a mentor, an administrator in the advancement office of North Carolina A&T State University, where he earned a bachelor's degree in civil engineering.

Price now works as a strategic analyst in Dartmouth College's office of Development Research and Prospect Management, where he supports front-line officers performing wealth assessments of potential donors.

"It's been great," he says of the job. He and the other program participants met over the summer at CASE's annual Summer Institute in Educational Fundraising held at Dartmouth.

"As a cohort we have a lot of potential to learn from one another," Price said. "There's a lot of diversity among us."

He considers himself "a product of philanthropy" because he attended North Carolina A&T on a full academic scholarship. He also understands the financial hardships faced by friends who didn't have scholarships.

"I saw so many students who just didn't have the resources to stay in school even though they had the ability to do well," Price said.

He tried to help those students when he became president of the campus chapter of the Alpha Lambda Delta national honor society and created three $500 scholarships that have since been increased to $500, $750 and $1,000. He did something similar as president of the Black Graduate Student Association at Indiana University, where he helped raise money to create a $600 scholarship to help a graduate student fund research.

Those experiences, he said, "Let me know that there was a skill set there that needed to be tended to and help me understand that I really had a passion for it."

At Indiana, Price met more people involved in fund-raising who became mentors, including a professor of philanthropic studies at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, who suggested he attend an African American Development Officers Network conference in Cincinnati.

Price graduated from Indiana in May with a master's degree in higher ed and student affairs and a graduate certificate in institutional research. Since immersing himself in fund-raising, Price sees how little knowledge people outside the field, particularly students, have about fund-raising work.

"If you don't know the right people and don't ask about it, you wouldn't know about it," he said.

That lack of knowledge may change over time as fund-raising and philanthropy are integrated into more higher ed curricula.

"There are now over 50 philanthropy masters' programs," said Gawor of Ruffalo Noel Levitz. "A few years ago there were just a couple."

In the interim, people like Price are encouraging former grad school classmates to consider fund-raising careers that develop skills "that are very transferable to other fields."

Nikia Washington found that external motivation at Bowling Green State University long before she was accepted into the residency program. During her time at the Ohio institution, she helped raise money for the Children's Miracle Network, a nonprofit organization that supports children's hospitals.

After graduation, she worked as an au pair in France for a year, traveled and did some "soul-searching." She returned to her native Detroit and got a job in 2015 as an executive assistant to the president of the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History.

Washington's boss knew that she'd done a short stint as a campaign manager for the United Way and allowed her to do some development work for the museum, which happened to be marking its 50th anniversary as it struggled to keep operating.

"I had some ideas from my work at the United Way and my work on campus in Ohio," she said. She did "prospect research," which involves finding potential donors to the museum.

"And that's what pushed me into thinking how to go back to school to do more work in philanthropy," Washington said.

Washington, 28, is now a CASE resident at the University of Washington, where she works in the advancement office. She's also a full-time graduate student at the university studying public administration with a focus on philanthropy.

She's researching how to build strategic philanthropic models to serve underresourced and underserved communities. She's particularly interested in black philanthropy but wants to build models that can also apply to Muslim philanthropy and other groups, and that will also engage young people.

"That stems from being at the museum and seeing this fabulous museum almost having to shut its doors in a majority-black city," she said.

Her specialized approach is indicative of how fund-raising is changing as the field is being transformed by new people with different perspectives.

"More and more fund-raising will be controlled by women and people of color," said Gawor. "We have to build that pipeline and we have to be deliberate about it."

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