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ASU Lodestar Center Blog

How higher education nonprofits can improve donor diversity to achieve success

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As the world around us becomes more diverse, and equity and inclusion are at the forefront of civil society, many organizations are taking a look at how inclusive their practices are. Paying attention to diversity, especially in fundraising and donor populations, is essential to helping higher education nonprofits grow.

Given the current environment, individual responsibilities and capacities have expanded tremendously offering the nonprofit sector a unique opportunity to bolster the importance of philanthropy in civil society. We have seen demographics at universities and other higher education institutions over time shift dramatically. Between 1980 and 2014, there was a 285% growth in Hispanic enrollment, a 240% growth in Black enrollment and a 375% growth in Asian/Pacific Islander enrollment. This influx of unique student populations sets the tone for alumni who become the primary donor base for universities. Therefore, it becomes imperative that universities focus on the diversity of their students as a means for achieving success. Luckily, higher education nonprofits have a unique advantage in this aspect; a built-in donor base, growing in diversity year-over-year, paired with the special ability to do community work that only universities hold, makes the higher education nonprofit sector unique. It’s time to utilize these advantages to create a brighter future and achieve success. As diversity will only continue to grow, higher education nonprofits have a responsibility to keep up.

Three recommendations

There are three main recommendations for higher education leadership to adopt. First, create diverse staff and fundraising teams. In order to connect with specific communities and find more diverse donors, an investment must be made by higher education organizations. They must hire more diverse fundraising staff that reflect the communities they wish to connect with. Organizations need to prove they have an understanding of people, their identities, and their interests.

Second, focus on community building and communication. Simply having someone who represents a minority ask a donor for money will not guarantee any yield in increased results of giving. Diverse communities must see a commitment to inclusivity to establish trust and see why they should give to institutions of higher education. This is where tools like community influences, partnership projects and engagement opportunities can be introduced to create the essential community building needed to expand donor bases.

Finally, create new engagement strategies. Year after year, universities graduate thousands of students, turning them into alumni. This is a valuable asset that organizations need to use immediately. Collecting relevant student information to later reference during relationship building is a strategic advantage. These then become systems that can create further models for giving. If that can be done successfully, higher education nonprofits can drastically improve their chances of increasing donor diversity and finding success.

It is imperative that nonprofits embrace diversity, equity and inclusionary practices to improve themselves and continue fulfilling their missions. Without a commitment to more inclusive and accurate fundraiser representation, organizations run the risk of deterioration. Focused efforts to serve community interests are necessary to avoid lower engagement and giving rates, and promoting the idea of philanthropy early allows universities to grow as institutions of giving.

Devin Dye is a 2022 graduate of the Master of Nonprofit Leadership and Management program at Arizona State University. He is a development officer for the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at the ASU Foundation. Fundraising to support MLFTC and advance the mission of ASU, Devin has worked at the foundation for the past 5 years. As an Arizona native passionate about higher education and social justice issues, he also earned his bachelor’s degrees in justice studies and sociology from ASU, and considers himself a Sun Devil for life.

Learn more: Fundraising and Sustainable Financial Management Certificate

Gain additional knowledge and skills in fundraising, strategic planning, board governance, financial management and more with this online certificate program from the ASU Lodestar Center's Nonprofit Management Institute. You'll be equipped to lead and manage the fundraising efforts for a nonprofit organization.

Devin Dye


ASU Lodestar Center Blog