How to develop inclusive communications and fundraising strategies
Prioritizing inclusivity in our communications and fundraising practices is an essential process for nonprofits and organizations looking to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion. But how can organizations go about doing that? On October 8, 2020, YW Boston’s Director of Marketing & Communications Coralys Negretti and Associate Director of Annual Giving and Special Events, Dominique Calixte, facilitated a workshop for the 2020 Massachusetts Nonprofit Network Annual Conference titled, “How to develop more inclusive communications and fundraising strategies.” I this workshop, attendees explored the importance of centering inclusive communications and fundraising practices, what gets in the way, and strategies for putting inclusion into practice.
Here are a few takeaways from How to develop more inclusive communications and fundraising strategies:
Inclusive communications and fundraising are not just important for nonprofits or social justice organizations
First, let’s build some shared language around our goal. We define inclusive communications as “the act of crafting and delivering communications using a diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) lens.” And inclusive fundraising as “the active work of grounding your fundraising practices in equity, anti-racism, and justice, so that folx who were missing from the funding conversation are now invited to the table.”
An important aspect of thinking about how we include people’s experiences is the concept of social identities. These are defined as “social constructions that include how we define ourselves and how others perceive us; including race, ethnicity, gender, ability, socioeconomic class, and many more.”
This is important for any organization to keep in mind, nonprofit or for-profit, because our population’s demographics are changing, and our understanding of social identities is also evolving as well.
There is both a moral imperative and a business case to inclusive communications and fundraising.
Inclusive communications are an essential part of achieving greater DEI and social justice. We all have a social responsibility to the people we communicate with and the communities we impact. Every organization, nonprofits, for-profits, and the people responsible for mass communications, we all play a part in shaping social norms and perceptions. We have the potential to both negatively and positively impact our internal and external stakeholders. We have the power to normalize language and ideas, to cause harm, to perpetuate stereotypes, and so on.
On the other hand, there is a business case for inclusive communications. There’s both a value that organizations can receive from practicing them and also a penalty for not doing so. Inclusive communications help us build more meaningful connections with our audiences. They allow us to recognize more deeply the diverse social identities that people hold, in a way that goes way further than traditional marketing demographic markers, such as income, location, or education level, for example. This allows us to better practice some of the most essential pillars of marketing & communications—“Know your audience” and “Bring the product to your consumers” or as we like to call it at YW Boston, “meet people where they are.”
Inclusive communications should not be confused with public relations, crisis communications, or mislabeled as “pandering,” “identity politics,” or “political correctness.”
It’s important to dispel misconceptions, not just when getting organizational buy-in to change your communication practices, but also to ensure you are centering inclusivity and not causing further harm. Public relations, or PR, and inclusive communications are not necessarily mutually exclusive, given that centering inclusivity can bring you “good PR.” The distinction is that PR has the goal of cultivating a positive reputation, and is not necessarily concerned about how that goal is achieved or whether DEI was centered or not. On the other hand, crisis communications are usually time-bound or one-off engagements, whereas inclusive communications require a long-term commitment to DEI.
Sometimes, pushback against inclusive communications accuses the practice of “pandering,” “political correctness,” and even so-called “identity politics.” However, it’s important to recognize that mainstream communication practices are already political. We all operate within systems and social institutions that have historically centered a specific set of experiences and treated them as the norm. In the context of race, that means centering Whiteness. In the context of gender, centering experiences of cisgender men, meaning those whose gender identity matches their gender assigned at birth. And so, by not disrupting the dominant culture and defaulting to the frame of reference of a dominant culture or social identity, we are also making a political decision to cater to a specific identity or group of people. Because “White Cis Man” is also a social identity, not just the variances from it.
Inclusive fundraising is essential for mission-aligned companies
A shift towards more inclusive fundraising strategies is essential because it will allow organizations to:
- Connect and address the needs of the communities.
- Seize the opportunity to diversify and stabilize funding streams.
- Better align with mission-driven work
In fact, centering inclusive fundraising can help organizations, nonprofits, in particular, address persisting barriers such as scarcity mindsets, White saviorism, and the idea that the nonprofit sector and the people who support the sector are well-intended and unable to perpetuate harm.
How to practice more inclusive communications and fundraising
1. Use inclusive language and messaging, such as gender-inclusive language and language inclusive of people with different abilities and levels of expertise.
Review and evaluate your communications beyond written language, such as visuals, photos, and graphics.
2. Question your assumptions about your audience, about your message, and about yourself.
Don’t assume cultural norms. For example, don’t assume that everyone celebrates holidays. Don’t assume English as a first language. Don’t use regional references, acronyms, or abbreviations without prior explanation.
3. Consider your audience’s intersectional social identities and ensure that you have an understanding of how social identities intersect.
4. Consider your subject matter and that your subject matters.
Think of who or what are you communicating about. How much knowledge do you have about this subject? How are you framing this subject? Are you using deficit-based language? Are you misplacing root causes? For instance, we often encounter the phrase “issues of race” or “the problem of race” rather than “issues of racism” or “the problem of racism.” The distinction is important because a person’s racial identity is not a problem. Racism and systemic oppression are problems.
5. Consider the context, not just the communication channels and placement, but also the historical context.
Ask yourself, where will people receive my message? Not just the physical medium, but during what moment in time? What else is part of people’s reality? Also, ask yourself, have these perspectives been historically centered or suppressed? Is this a story you should be telling? Are you providing constituents with the opportunity to tell their own stories?
6. Account for both your intent and your impact.
Recognize and acknowledge that we are able to cause harm, even when that was not our intention. And then, address the harm. Be specific. Don’t skirt around subjects. Many times, we worry about being controversial or negative. But ambiguity contributes to erasure, minimization, and ultimately harm. For example, if you’re talking about racism, say “racism.” Don’t use “racially charged,” “racial tensions,” or any other euphemisms.
Gather informed consent when communicating about others’ experiences. Do your constituents know that their story will be shared publicly? How long ago did you gather consent? Are you providing them with the opportunity to review their story? Or to tell the story in their own words?
Avoid phrases that center pity towards others such as “inner-city” and “underprivileged.” And avoid opportunities for communities to be a stop on a poverty tour. Your fundraising practices should not be transactional but rather a collaboration between stakeholders.
Watch the recording of “How to develop more inclusive communications and fundraising strategies” to learn more and get additional strategies.
About YW Boston
As the first YWCA in the nation, YW Boston has been at the forefront of advancing equity for over 150 years. Through our DE&I services—InclusionBoston and LeadBoston—as well as our advocacy work and F.Y.R.E. Initiative, we help individuals and organizations change policies, practices, attitudes, and behaviors with a goal of creating more inclusive environments where women, people of color, and especially women of color can succeed.
As part of that work, we are helping organizations prioritize Diversity, Equity & Inclusion and become socially connected while staying physically distant. During this time, YW Boston is providing organizations with digital workshops and resources to help them better understand the challenges faced by their employees. For more information, please contact Sheera Bornstein at firstname.lastname@example.org.