Inclusive Fundraising: Examining New Donor Profiles

Winter 2024

By Stacy Jagodowski

This article appeared as "A New View on Fundraising" in the Winter 2024 issue of Independent School.

When alumni visit Tabor Academy (MA) today, they are greeted by a campus that has changed over the years, with new faces in leadership and departments that didn’t exist when they attended. RoseMarie Wallace, the director of diversity, equity, and belonging (DEB) and one of the newest school leaders, says she’s struck by how many alumni stop by her office and remark, “If we had an office like this when I went here, our experiences would have been so different.” She says alumni are often eager to give to DEB initiatives. 

Donors are becoming more discerning with where they give as well as the amount they give, and because of that, institutions like Tabor are rethinking how they approach fundraising and how they interact with their donors. The traditional mindset of “give back to the institution that gave so much to you,” largely the mentality of the silent and boomer generations, and even many in Generation X, is no longer the driving force behind why donors give. And the resulting shift in the donor profile—and what it means to donate—has led schools to take a closer look at their fundraising practices. 

Over the past few decades, the typical donor profile has evolved in tandem with technological, societal, and economic shifts. In the 1980s, donors were predominantly older white men, often engaging through direct-mail campaigns and influenced by both altruism and tax incentives. In the 1990s, the donor base started to diversify slightly, with more women playing a role in philanthropy, and the emergence of online giving hinted at the digital transformation ahead. Online giving became mainstream with the onset of social media platforms reshaping donor engagement in the 2000s. And, by 2010, younger donors, especially millennials, prioritized impact and measurable outcomes, all while mobile giving, crowdfunding, and social media campaigns rose in prominence. 

Today, millennials and Gen Z have become more influential on the philanthropic scene, motivated by pressing global issues like social justice and environmental concerns. Digital platforms, including increased mobile giving and crowdfunding, have become paramount, with a strong emphasis on transparency, storytelling, and genuine relationship-building. The challenges and responses to events such as the COVID-19 pandemic and racial justice further molded donor behaviors, reflecting an adaptive and increasingly diverse philanthropic landscape. 

In this landscape, schools need to focus on how to make fundraising more inclusive. The concept of inclusive fundraising is new for many organizations; it’s a comprehensive and equitable approach to fundraising, recognizing and seeking to overcome barriers and biases that often exclude certain groups from fully participating in philanthropic efforts. Inclusive fundraising strategies and practices involve and value all potential donors, regardless of their race, gender, socioeconomic status, disability, sexual orientation, religion, or other aspects of their identity.

School fundraising professionals, who interact with the entire community—parents, students, alumni, grandparents, board members, faculty, staff, friends, and more—have a responsibility to represent all voices and reimagine the school’s fundraising program. Working toward a more inclusive model of raising money will have a broad impact, and Tabor Academy is committed to being intentional about asking donors and students what story they want to tell.

Making a Commitment

In 2021, the Tabor board of trustees adopted a new DEB statement, underscoring its dedication to diversity, equity, and belonging principles as foundational values. We began working to understand our community and our needs with extensive research, which led to identifying DEB priorities for the school and a leadership restructuring. In 2022, we hired two new associate heads of school, and in spring 2023, we brought on two additional team members—Wallace, as director of DEB, and Stephen Ginter, director of advancement—to, among other things, help change the school’s approach to fundraising. This past fall, we unveiled our latest strategic plan, which emphasizes DEB values as one of our main priorities, aiming to foster a globally minded community and enrich the learning experiences of every community member, students and adults alike.

So, through this DEB lens, all offices on campus are examining how their work maps back to these values. Wallace has been building trust and support with staff across campus, from athletics and admission to marketing and maintenance. Facilitating professional development opportunities and serving as a sounding board for all school departments, she is the forward-facing representative of DEB, sharing a message of confidence in and support of the school’s priorities. Wallace and Ginter are partnering on several fundraising initiatives—but first have partnered as new employees to better understand the Tabor community and culture. 

In spring 2023, they started to dig deeper into the demographics of the school community. To get this full picture, they explored information in the school database to learn how many families receive financial aid, the ZIP codes in which the school’s families live, where alumni are located, and more. With this full picture, we can better tailor the fundraising strategy to connect with donors in a more personal and meaningful way. 

“This knowledge helps us better anticipate a donor’s needs and what they might expect from us, and it helps us plan for how we want to communicate,” Ginter says. “It changes how we interact, ranging from segmentation in email or print mail, to whether we’ll travel to meet people where they are to make the connection. We can also anticipate if someone is more likely to donate their time or a service, give to operating expenses, or if they have a restricted passion project they want to pursue.”

This research will allow Ginter and his team to look at who hasn’t traditionally engaged with the community and determine whether they might do so in the future. Ginter wants to reconnect with as many constituents as possible, regardless of their capacity for giving. “We must reach out and make the connection. And we can provide a more robust set of options to have an impact on Tabor—in addition to writing a check,” he says. 

The New Donor Profile

Historically, schools, including Tabor, have long looked at traditional means of identifying donors through demographics and wealth screening. But these methods only tell part of an individual’s story. What excites a school’s donor base? What are donors’ passions? The key to unlocking giving and engagement is through a connection to an individual institution, its mission, and a donor’s own personal interests. As schools move toward inclusive fundraising, it’s important for advancement offices to understand all members of their community and the relationship they want to have with the institution.

Schools often think about the contributions of our trustees in terms of time, talent, and treasure; we are applying the same thinking to donors. As we continue to build relationships in our school community, several donor opportunities are rising to the surface—and they don’t involve money. We have been actively recruiting donors of all backgrounds to engage in community leadership, such as Tabor’s Alumni Council, Parents Association, and Parent Advancement Council. These groups are often the first to learn about new initiatives, weigh in on changes to the institution, support student initiatives, and provide feedback. They all serve as ambassadors for the school. And in addition to our alumni and current parent communities, we’re also thinking creatively about how to involve grandparents, parents of alumni, and past trustees, among others.

“When we can recognize the value of time, energy, and expertise, we breathe new life into what it means to be a donor,” Ginter says. “This mindset helps us foster community-driven support and engagement. The reintroduction to a long-lost alum or new connection to a community influencer can often be valuable, yet we endlessly chase the gift to the annual fund and not the networking opportunities.” 

The Keys to Inclusive Fundraising

Our shifting strategy is still in the early stages, but we have identified areas that are critical to the success of our fundraising goals and the sustainability of our school. 

Diversifying teams and prioritizing cultural competencies. Inclusive fundraising ensures that philanthropic efforts welcome and value donors from all backgrounds, and as such, it is critical to include a diversity of people and perspectives on fundraising and leadership teams, as well as on the school’s board. We are currently working to do that; we want to make sure that people feel recognized and valued through representation, and we want everyone to feel included by every member of our team, whether or not they share the same background. The external affairs office partners closely with DEB to make sure outreach is thoughtful, authentic, welcoming, and inclusive. 

“We have to look beyond what we see as our traditional circle of philanthropic influence,” Wallace adds, encouraging all fundraisers to create a value-based, opportunity-based mindset for every interaction. Employee rewards programs or incentive structures, creative idea sharing, training meetings, or collaborative relationship presentations could all help motivate fundraisers to embrace broader outreach. 

Ginter, who has 15 years of experience in fundraising in nonprofit and education sectors, cautions that being more inclusive can’t fall solely on the shoulders of diverse staff members. “This work is essential for all members of our community to engage in, regardless of who we are or how we identify,” he says. It is easy to look to people who outwardly embody diversity, and many initiatives may be spearheaded by diversity offices, “but we all must be leaders in the change we want to see in our communities. Everyone that we may be bringing into these important roles should have a number of cultural competencies that prepare them for the diversity of our communities,” Ginter adds, acknowledging that not everyone may feel comfortable diving into diversity work, but that area of discomfort is a place to find growth. 

In the complex dynamics of fundraising, it is not uncommon to make mistakes, and it’s important to own them when they happen, Ginter says. “Learning from our mistakes is what helps us make positive and influential change. If we’re willing to learn, including learning uncomfortable truths about our own offices and organizations, and we’re willing to stand for change, then we can take the necessary steps to push ourselves and our institutions further.”

Communicating effectively. We are conducting a communications audit, including a recent survey that asked alumni questions about engagement and outreach, frequency, and what kinds of information they want to receive. This data can fine-tune initiatives to connect in ways that audiences feel are meaningful. Thanks to higher-than-average email open rates, we saw a strong response rate to the alumni survey; 11% of email recipients completed the survey. Since the form closed, members of the advancement team have been contacting those who opted to have a follow-up discussion. “If they asked for someone to reach out to them, we’re taking advantage of that opportunity to make a connection,” Ginter says. 

Fundraising offices should always strive to share information on multiple channels and in various ways, and to that end, we have added a translation service to our website, allowing families to choose any language in which to view the site. The new site, which launched in August 2023, also features accessibility tools that support the needs of a diverse viewing audience. 

Partnering with donors. For fundraising to be truly inclusive, donors should also be treated as partners in the work. Wallace and Ginter are collaborating to find new ways for donors to participate in DEB efforts, making resources more readily available and pointing to practices and programming that will provide authentic and meaningful experiences. Empowering alumni to spearhead fundraising efforts, whether for specific programs, scholarships, or infrastructure improvements, can tap into a network of passionate individuals who have a deep connection to the institution. This approach not only leverages their expertise and resources but also strengthens the sense of community and pride among alumni, fostering a culture of giving back. 

We have created a list of benefits to alumni involvement, both professionally and personally, and are engaging donors in the fundraising work by serving as thought partners in understanding what the evolution of programs should be and engaging in peer-to-peer fundraising asks. These benefits to involvement are discussed with alumni. “Last year, for example,” Ginter says, “we allowed reunion committees to focus their class giving on a specific project, such as raising funds to endow a memorial scholarship in a classmate’s honor. Individual classes worked with the advancement office to set up dedicated reunion giving webpages to help them focus their efforts, track their progress, and share their stories.”

Saying thanks. One of the most important pieces of inclusive fundraising is acknowledging donors’ support—whether a large monetary gift or a donation of time. In our annual reports, we dedicate space to thank those who made monetary gifts, detailed by amount. Advancement officers and the head of school also use services like ThankView to send personalized videos with messages of gratitude, in addition to handwritten notes and annual donor appreciation events. But now more than ever, it’s just as important that we recognize and show appreciation to donors who volunteer their time by serving on committees, such as the Parent Association or Alumni Council, or by helping at school events. 

We are starting to recognize more than just the top donors through alumni profiles in Currents, our monthly alumni e-newsletter, and in Tabor Today, our biannual alumni magazine. After an alum spoke out on social media about negative experiences at the school, someone from the advancement office reached out to reconnect and learn more about the experiences. Ultimately, the magazine committee highlighted the alumnus and the interesting work he is doing in the publication. Having alumni see their stories highlighted in the school magazine sends an important message that they are valued now, even if they didn’t feel it in the past, and broadens the community’s understanding of itself.

Retelling the Story

The story of independent schools and inclusive fundraising is still being written. Through our work to redefine fundraising expertise, embracing diversity in teams and fostering inclusive relationships, we can build and grow the culture of inclusivity we seek. Too often, schools craft a narrative that we want to tell or what we think our best donors want to hear. “That story isn’t necessarily genuine though, and we run the risk of perpetuating bias or stereotypes by creating inauthentic narratives,” Wallace warns. That’s why we’re asking our donors and students what story they want to tell by engaging them in the conversation and encouraging them to tell their own stories. 

One very tangible way in which these stories can be seen at Tabor is the most recent donor wall, which appears in the new Travis Roy Campus Center. Donors were given the opportunity to choose a quote or word to go on their donor square to put a personal stamp on their legacy and the values they want their gift to illustrate. “We want this donor wall to be more than just a list of names,” says Rachael Beare, associate head of school for external affairs. “We want to reflect the values and personalities of our donors and give our students reasons to engage with it. We want to create a more equitable philanthropic approach to fundraising where all potential donors feel seen, heard, and valued, regardless of their capacity for giving.”  


Go Deeper

Fundraising has become ever more critical to creating enduring financial strength for independent schools—and ever more challenging. In Spring 2021, Independent School magazine focused on philanthropy trends. Check out these articles and more at

Stacy Jagodowski

Stacy Jagodowski is director of strategic marketing and communications at Tabor Academy in Marion, Massachusetts.