Donor Participation Project Resources

Growing Donor Engagement Among Underrepresented Groups

Our second Donor Participation Project meeting was about increasing representation and diversity in our donor populations.

Guided by Patrick Powell, CFRE, MBA, we had a lively conversation and learned a lot.

You can read and contribute to the session notes in this Google Doc.

Additional insights:

There was a common preconception in the industry: “It is going to take you so much longer to get a gift from a non-white donor.”

As soon as I made it my intention to build relationships with Black donors, in that same year I raised close to $250k from 2-3 donors.

It was about: 1) Getting in front of them to let them know that they were important to the institution, regardless of race or color, and that we recognize that they are making an impact and are making a difference as graduates; 2) Letting them know that we want to connect them and get them involved in whatever way is important to them; and 3) Asking them how do they want to put their stamp on an institution where, if they didn’t feel connected, we have a whole group of students who we don’t want to go through the same experience. Tell them, “You have the ability to change that.”

Join the Conversation

Sign Up

Sign up to join the Donor Participation Project learning sessions or to contribute to any of our docs:

    We will only use your email for information about the Donor Participation Project and will never share your information with anyone else.


    Dealing with Conflict

    Situations of conflict with our donors and community members can lead to positive outcomes as long as appropriate conflict resolution skills are utilized. And yet, fundraisers and nonprofit organizations tend to avoid them.

    As an experienced fundraiser once told me:

    I’ll take a strong reaction, even if it is negative, over apathy any day.

    Major Gifts Fundraiser

    Lead with Active Listening and Empathy

    Who are the experts in de-escalating highly agitated situations and lead them to constructive and safe outcomes? Even if your community members are probably not going to be physically violent, the techniques and research generated by the FBI can be helpful.

    The Behavior Change Stairway Model was developed by the FBI’s hostage negotiation unit. This model offers five steps to get other people to see your point of view and change their behavior.

    You can read the full paper here:

    From Stanford’s Game Design Thinking blog

    Behavioral Change Stairway Model

    1. Active Listening: Truly listen and make the other party aware that you’re listening.
    2. Empathy: Understand their position not only intellectually, but also emotionally. What are they feeling?
    3. Rapport: One the other party starts to feel that you understand them. Trust starts to build here.
    4. Influence: At this point, you can start to work on problem-solving with them. They may listen to your recommended course of action.
    5. Behavioral Change: They act.

    Common Errors

    Typically, people try to start directly with #4 (Influence) and expect #5 (Behavioral Change) to happen. This often leads to failure.

    Going into a conflict-laden conversation saying “these are the reasons why your position is wrong” is unlikely to cause any behavioral change because human beings are primarily emotional.

    Pretending that most people are completely rational will, more often than not, make your conversation fail.

    Active Listening Techniques

    General tips from Eric Barker’s blog:

    1. Listen to what they say. Don’t interrupt, disagree or “evaluate.”
    2. Nod your head, and make brief acknowledging comments like “yes” and “uh-huh.”
    3. Without being awkward, repeat back the gist of what they just said, from their frame of reference.
    4. Inquire. Ask questions that show you’ve been paying attention and that move the discussion forward.

    Additional techniques used by FBI negotiators:

    1. Ask open-ended questions
      You don’t want yes-no answers, you want them to open up.
    1. Effective pauses
      Pausing is powerful. Use it for emphasis, to encourage someone to keep talking or to defuse things when people get emotional.
    1. Minimal encouragers
      Brief statements to let the person know you’re listening and to keep them talking.
    1. Mirroring
      Repeating the last word or phrase the person said to show you’re listening and engaged. Yes, it’s that simple — just repeat the last word or two:
    1. Paraphrasing
      Repeating what the other person is saying back to them in your own words. This powerfully shows you really do understand and aren’t merely parroting.
    1. Emotional labeling
      Give their feelings a name. It shows you’re identifying with how they feel. Don’t comment on the validity of the feelings — they could be totally crazy — but show them you understand.

    Donor Conflict Resources

    Never Split the Difference, book by Chris Voss

    Vecchi, Gregory M. “Conflict & crisis communication: a methodology for influencing and persuading behavioral change.” Annals of the American Psychotherapy Association, vol. 12, no. 1, Spring 2009, p. 34+. Accessed 12 Sept. 2020.

    Vecchi, G.M., Van Hasselt, V.B. and Romano, S.J., 2005. Crisis (hostage) negotiation: Current strategies and issues in high-risk conflict resolution. Aggression and Violent Behavior10(5), pp.533-551.

    Donor Participation Project

    9/16/20 Lunch Analysis: Growing Engagement Among Underrepresented Groups

    This session has passed. Read the summary and takeaway points here.

    How have you tried to broaden your donor base and make it more representative? What has worked for you? What backfired?

    As part of the Donor Participation Project, this Lunch Analysis session will be guided by Patrick Powell, AVP of Volunteer Engagement and Donor Philanthropy at Morehouse School of Medicine.

    An expert in donor engagement and community-building, Patrick is part of one of the fastest-growing institutions in the country at Morehouse School of Medicine.

    Brainstorm and Discuss this Topic With Peers During our September 16 Lunch Analysis

    Lunch Analysis is a 45-minute meeting that is a part study group, part scholarly discussion, part brainstorming session, and part support group. Participation is open to all who fundraise or have fundraised at a nonprofit.

    Each Lunch Analysis covers a specific topic in donor participation and has required preparation and discussion. This one will be on September 16, 2020 at noon EST.

    Required Preparation

    Take a moment to jot down the answer to the following questions:

    • What is the percentage of alumni giving/participation for your Black and or Latino donors?
    • Has leadership placed an emphasis on engaging donors of color at your institution?
      • If yes, what are the strategies or best practices you’re utilizing to identify and cultivate this constituent group(s)?
      • If no, what do you perceive the barriers are to these discussions? 
    • How has that impacted your desire to cultivate these specific groups if at all?
    • Have you experienced any success or rejection as a result? 

    Sign Up

      I verify that all participants are from a legitimate nonprofit fundraising organization.

      Past Sessions

      8/19/20 Lunch Analysis: How We Gather (Millenial engagement, community-building)


      Adrian Annette Owen, CFRE, AVP for Advancement Services at LSU Foundation

      Allison Kerivan, Director Of Annual Giving at Bentley University

      Benjamin Osterhaut, Director of Annual Giving at Elizabethtown College

      Billie Handa, Director of the Annual Fund, Denison University

      Cameron Hall, Senior Director of Annual Giving at Texas Tech University

      Hawken Brackett, Executive Director of Strategic Engagement at The University of Alabama

      James Barnard, Executive Director of Annual Giving and Integrated Marketing at University of Cincinnati Foundation

      Jayanne Sevast, Director of Development, Annual Campaigns at Kutztown University of Pennsylvania

      Miriam McLean, Director of Development, University Initiatives at Tufts University

      Patrick Powell, MBA, CFRE, Senior Development Officer at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta

      Sean Devendorf, Senior Director of Annual Giving, University Advancement at Tufts University

      Sierra Rosen, Executive Director of Planned Giving at Brown University

      Donor Participation Project Resources

      Donor Participation Project Kickoff: How We Gather Report

      Angie Thurston of Sacred Design joined a group of fundraisers as part of the Donor Participation Project to discuss the implications of the How We Gather report for nonprofit engagement and donor participation.

      The document below summarizes the main points discussed:

      • The sector also needs a reliable way to know what is working well in the areas of donor engagement. In the current pandemic environment, especially in the area of digital engagement.
      • Angie shared a great thought:

      People come for [the workout/artistic self-expression/having dinner with like-minded individuals/something else] but they stay for the community.

      • Donor participation as it is sometimes defined can become a superficial numbers game. A deeper definition of authentic donor engagement is seen as necessary.
      • It is important that there is wide representation among donor constituencies. The current trend toward fewer donors making larger gifts feels undemocratic.

      Q: What are the common threads among the organizations in your report that have been able to grow large communities?

      “Community” is a word that is frequently used in an empty way, but we its true that we found a hunger for authentic community. This is different from something like “networking,” which can be valuable in its own right.

      Q: Larger, more established nonprofits include a broad variety of interests under their umbrella. How can we connect with and leverage those communities?

      In larger nonprofits, like universities, communities develop organically around different issues. Sometimes these communities have a separate identity from the main organization. How do we have those communities embrace the values of the “mothership”?

      Angie: This reminds me of There are thousands of communities made possible by this platform but its members identify with each other not with Some suggestions:

      Q: How do we message the values of the organization, especially to sub-communities that have their own values?

      Angie: Messaging about values depends on the extent to which the “real thing” is happening. Naming “values” is more effective if they match what is already going on. Otherwise, they come across as empty.

      People should testify to the values of their community, based on their experience.

      This connection between what is really happening and the official “values” can break down as organizations scale and grow. Some organizations are so reliant on the founder for these values that they fall apart when he or she is not there. We’ve all been guilty of this: “Developing Leaders for the 21st Century” sounds empty.

      The statement of values is less important than the lived experience.

      Among Millenials, there is a noticeable search for community, accountability, and an authentic voice. Communities must engage their constituents to be active, be purposeful, and demonstrate value to their members.

      Angie: What we found striking is that lot of people (especially Millenials) are looking for deep community. But they are hesitant to talk about it in those terms (there is still a stigma for “loneliness”). People are wary of hyperbole. What they find appealing is “come play live music for one hour.” In other words, they want to hear the unexagerated reality of what the offering is.

      Messaging should come from this lense. What are you actually doing? In real-life terms? Why have you made the decision to do that? Corporate messaging has exploited the word community and other concepts so much that people are hungry for a sense of reality.


      Khadija Hill
      James Barnard
      Hawken Brackett
      Franklin Guerrero
      Cathy Dodge-Miller
      Patrick Powell
      Ivan Alekhin
      Angel Terol
      Joanna Schofield
      Sierra Rosen
      Tilghman Moyer
      Patrick Powell
      Michael Spicer
      Rebekkah Brown
      Louis Diez

      Donor Participation Project Resources

      8/19/20 (noon EST) Lunch Analysis

      ANNOUNCEMENT: Research co-author Angie Thurston will be joining the discussion portion of the meeting!

      Religious participation and giving is seeing the same decline as overall civic life participation.

      The authors of this report study the “emerging landscape of Millennial communities that are fulfilling the functions that religious congregations used to fill.”

      Angie Thurston and Casper ter Kuile discover and analyze successful communities with thousands of members (religious and non-religious, they include CrossFit for example) that bring meaning and purpose to its members, many of whom are Millenials.

      As we struggle with how to involve people in general and Millenials in particular with our organizations, this is a surprising treasure-trove of ideas.

      Brainstorm and Discuss this Report With Peers During our August 19 Lunch Analysis

      Lunch Analysis is a 45-minute meeting that is a part book club, part scholarly discussion, part brainstorming session, and part support group. Participation is open to all who fundraise or have fundraised at a nonprofit.

      Each Lunch Analysis covers a specific topic in donor participation and has required reading and discussion. This one will be on August 19, 2020 at noon EST.

      To Take Part

      • Download and read the file above.
      • Choose one of the profiled communities and try it out: visit their website, sign up to their platform, join a newsletter.
      • Pick one element that you could apply to your own fundraising program right away. Prepare to share your thoughts!

      Sign up here to get the Zoom details (I check that all participants are from legitimate fundraising organizations):

        Join Us

        James Barnard, Executive Director of Annual Giving and Integrated Marketing at University of Cincinnati Foundation

        Tilghman Moyer, Vice President at Development at University of Arizona Foundation

        Hawken Brackett, Executive Director of Strategic Engagement at The University of Alabama

        Grant Kelly, Senior Director of Development at The Johns Hopkins University

        Noah Maier, National Principal Gifts at

        Michael Spicer, Director of Alumni and Parent Engagement at Pomona College

        Colt Chambers, Director of Development at Georgia Ballet

        Ivan Alekhin, Development Coordinator at National Parks Foundation