Embrace your blind spots: Making independent school fundraising events more inclusive

Expert Insight

Embrace your blind spots: Making independent school fundraising events more inclusive

A blind spot is described as “an area where a person’s view is obstructed (Google Dictionary)” and generally points to a lack of understanding. 

In the wake of increased demands for racial justice, many independent schools are examining their blind spots and how they are hindering their ability to create inclusive communities.  One office ripe for these conversations is advancement, with its alumni and fundraising-related practices often steeped in years of tradition, and often disconnected from new paradigms.  In acknowledging where their ‘view is obstructed’, advancement teams can then start to take bold new steps to craft events that are mission-aligned and inclusive for all.

Through conversations with advancement teams, EAB’s Independent School Executive Forum has heard schools begin to acknowledge that having blind spots can mean they are:

  • Losing the opportunity to benefit from diverse perspectives and fresh ideas if committee structures remain stagnant;
  • Likely missing out on potential donors by not designing events that all members of the community want to attend;
  • Hindering the ability to connect with donors by making assumptions about people’s desire or potential for giving; and
  • Misaligned with their values when the mechanisms by which donations are appreciated—often through annual publications with giving levels clearly delineated—signal big money matters most.

To correct these blind spots, some schools are beginning to evaluate their policies and practices from a diversity, equity, and inclusion lens. While it may sound counterintuitive, these schools are taking a hard look at what they might not be seeing. Examples of what schools are doing include:

  • Thinking of ways to value time and money equally;
  • Committing to valuing and honoring what is meaningful to a donor when they give their time or money;
  • Evaluating their approach to segmenting populations to more accurately and fairly understand someone’s interest in supporting the school; and
  • Totally rethinking the “old sacred cows” of events like auctions and galas, in favor of ones where all members of the community feel welcome.

One school explained, they tried repackaging their auction for several years but ultimately decided it didn’t align with their mission. Instead, they shifted to a free annual fundraising lunch where they invited students to participate by sharing experiences; the school ended up raising more money than at the auction!

Another school, took a hard look at their capital campaign committee and realized it didn’t reflect who they are as an institution anymore. After years of using the same approach filling the committee with big donors, they wanted to reimagine how the committee could better reflect the work the school was doing to be inclusive and reflective of its mission. They did a couple of key things: intentionally sought out people with different perspectives, no longer required that committee members make a large donation, and gave it visibility by making it board level. They’ve had great response, new energy, and have signaled to their school that this is the way they will be doing things.

Unless schools are willing to see the places they can’t see, they will continue to do business as usual which means they will not truly build inclusive philanthropy. While change can be scary, in particular when finances are concerned, now is the time to reimagine and think big. Ask yourselves, ‘what might we gain if we didn’t do our auction anymore?’ for example. With the world around us already shaken up in so many ways, use this time to get innovative and think boldly about how your work can move your school forward.

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