How to Make Your Development Activities More Inclusive

How can schools include first-generation families (those with no prior independent school experience in the family history) and families receiving financial aid in their fund-raising activities?

This was the topic NAIS Vice President for Equity and Justice Caroline Blackwell and I presented at the CASE/NAIS Conference in January.
For starters, inclusion must be an important value and goal for the whole school community. Next, it must be raised up as an authentic value in fund-raising.  Then, the question becomes: How do you make sure inclusion is evident in fund-raising work (as in all other realms of the school's operations and programs)? 
Admittedly, for many people and institutions, it can be tough to notice that you're not being inclusive. That's why it's critical to learn about implicit bias and create a "brave space" to talk about how bias might play out in your fund-raising goals, plans, and activities. After identifying implicit biases, you can take steps to address the pitfalls of such bias. When planning your annual goals and activities, carve out sufficient time to understand biases and how you will handle them. 
One example of how exclusivity or inclusivity routinely play out is when a school decides whether to invite families receiving financial aid to participate in a particular fund-raising event or campaign.  The school that's being exclusive might say, "We don't want to offend these families by asking them to basically give back some of their aid."  However, it's worth reconsidering the decision to exclude the families that receive financial aid from the "ask" because:
  1. Many families may be more able to contribute than you think, as there are more high-income families seeking aid today than in the past. Increased income and wealth diversity exists among financial aid recipients.  Understand your pool's characteristics and recipients' potential for excess capacity to give. With the rise in incomes among aid applicants, it is unlikely that all recipients of financial aid have curtailed or eliminated charitable giving.
  2. Data support that middle- and low-income families are willing to sacrifice for causes they care about. In fact, IRS data show that lower-income families tend to give a larger percentage of their income to charity than higher-income families (until reaching the very top of the highest earners).  Other IRS data show that in 2012, middle- and low-income families gave a larger percentage of their income than they did in 2006, while higher income families gave a smaller percentage. And NAIS data show no apparent correlation between the growth in percentage of families receiving aid and the percentage of families participating in giving.

Trends in Giving Participation and Financial Aid Recipients, 2004-2015

The school that believes it's being inclusive will say, "We ask all of our families to do X, without knowing which of them does or doesn't received aid."  This is preferable to actively excluding financial aid families from an invitation, but many other aspects of inclusivity are worth considering beyond just asking them to participate. These include:
  • Does the "one-size-fits-all" messaging about giving work for everyone?  Could differentiated appeals for and among aid recipients or first-generation families be more effective? 
  • Do you provide clear options for families who want to give back but are limited financially? Other than cash donations, what else can a family do to participate in a campaign? Estimate, document, and celebrate the impact on the bottom line of noncash giving.
  • Do any of the following barriers to entry exist for first-generation and financial aid families:
    • Cultural — Might families feel excluded because they may be uncomfortable in the setting where the event takes place? In other words, does the venue privilege one cultural group over others?
    • Financial — Might families feel excluded because of the realities and/or perceptions of what it will really cost them? Something as small as the price of a ticket or two to the event can be a big hurdle to inclusion for many. Do you provide a range of giving opportunities and range of costs to participate in these opportunities?
    • Accessibility — Might families feel excluded because the location and/or time the event occurs makes it difficult to get to? Do your events create structural barriers to participation and inclusion for diverse populations in your community?
    • Social — Might families feel excluded because they harbor a fear or anxiety of "not belonging" to a group of social elites they think will be at an event? Do your fund-raising activities exacerbate in-group versus out-group perceptions?
Development officers can leverage the work that admissions and financial aid directors have been doing to build relationships of trust and cooperation among first-generation and financial aid families. Move beyond asking – or not asking – admissions and financial aid directors for the list of aid applicants. Instead, ask them to help build and implement strategies for effective appeals that encourage these families to be part of the school's collective work. 
For example, the financial aid director can be an advancement catalyst for the population of aid recipients. For a particular campaign, he or she can initiate the appeal by educating the families about the cultural expectations for giving. That can be followed by an informal "hand-off" to the advancement office. At some schools, the director of financial aid sits on the advancement committee, providing input into how activities or their details might be perceived by families that receive financial aid. They also have the opportunity to discuss any fund-raising needs for the financial aid program itself.
Finally, it's imperative to consider how inclusion helps meet explicit fund-raising goals beyond a school's short-term financial needs.  For instance, if your school hits its $1,000,000 annual fund target with one gift from the only person solicited, would that mean your school has reached all the goals you've set for the campaign? Be explicit about your qualitative goals and determine which ones you couldn't hit without higher levels of inclusivity. If fund-raising is really about building relationships, connecting the community to common goals, and cultivating long-term loyalty, having goals that support these values should make your school's fund-raisers more eager to include all constituents in different ways.