Ethnic Diversity: Fundraising Threat or Opportunity?

Ethnic Diversity: Fundraising Threat or Opportunity?

Diversity and Philanthropy - Expanding the Circle of Giving

Wayne McKenzie, our Fundraising Consultant in New ZealandDiversity and Philanthropy - Expanding the Circle of Giving, reacts on the topic of examining cultural context for fundraising activities, following the publication of Lilya Wagner’s new book “Diversity and Philanthropy: Expanding the Circle of Giving”, for which he wrote a piece.


Immigration into Australia and New Zealand is rapidly changing our societies. What was once for many people a comfortable environment is now unsettled. Changes are taking place outside their control. The world is not as it once was.


The effect on housing, education, health, transport, and other areas is immense and obvious. I suggest the effect on fundraising and philanthropy is yet to be understood and realised.


The principles and techniques of fundraising have been taught and shown for many years to apply similarly in Australia, Japan, Italy, or anywhere else. Think of the case, constituency circles, and fundraising cycle.


In her new book, Lilya Wagner is clearly of the view “the one size doesn’t fit all when it comes to philanthropy and fundraising” in ethnically-diverse communities.


How will increasing diversity demand change?

Ethnic and cultural diversity are not new. Many ethnic groups have developed their own fundraising processes to fund their temples, cultural centres, and sometimes schools and health facilities.


Of course, many non-profit organisations serve populations with special health, access or cultural needs, but they have often overlooked the potential of minority groups as philanthropists and fundraisers.


In the USA, Asian peoples number just 6% of the population, but they are recognised as the largest annual migrant group. In New Zealand, the people who identify as Asian are 12% of the population, an increase of 33% in 7 years. They are a very diverse ethnic and cultural group and comprise many different smaller groupings. It is also generally agreed that Asians are poorly understood, and often face discrimination and hostility. It has been that way since the Chinese settlers came in the gold rush days of the 19th century.


Today, Asian immigrants are mostly overlooked in fundraising, apart from the education sector. There are, however, strong implications for philanthropy, as they are among the best educated and highest income population.


So, as the world and our own small piece of it becomes more diverse culturally and ethnically, what do fundraisers need to consider?


Is ethnic diversity a problem or an opportunity for fundraising?

Recent immigration leaves some people feeling overwhelmed. It’s too difficult, there’s too much to know, they can’t cope and they remain mono-cultural. They see a calamity, not an opportunity. If charities don’t recognise the demographic trends and change to meet the challenges, they risk shrinking and ceasing to exist. The population that supported them in the past is getting smaller and won’t be big enough for the future.


To see the possibilities rather than the problems, think of travel as a metaphor. “The joy of travel is to let different cultures seep into your identity. It’s not to bring your own culture with you so you can inflict it on the native populace.”, says Seth Stevenson[1]Seth Stevenson, “How to Be Invisible,” Newsweek, April 19, 2010, p. 12.. To quote Wagner: “The real voyage of discovery is not seeing new places, but in taking a new look.”[2]Wagner , Introduction, page XVII This approach can be applied to fundraising among different cultures.


What if recent immigrants were not looked upon as a problem to be solved, but as a potential human, social, economic and spiritual asset to be developed? As Lilya Wagner noted, that is the kind of radical approach that KFC took in China: discarding their western business model and adapting to the new market. To be successful, fundraisers of the future will need to identify, acknowledge and tap into the rich diversity among the immigrant populations.


Awareness about diversity is not enough to be culturally appropriate in fundraising

Lack of awareness will hamper a charity’s ability to be relevant, secure resources, serve clients and fulfil their mission. Minority groups do not necessarily give for the same reasons or in the same way as the majority population. So what can a charity do to become culturally appropriate to expand their current, often shrinking pool of donors?


Lilya Wagner’s book and my own experience with diverse communities suggest to begin with these five steps:


1. Acknowledge and discard past or current stereotypes and misconceptions about people of different cultures. Become more aware of and understand the cultures better, and learn how to engage with them.

2. Learn the influences, social norms, motivations, language, customs, holidays and religions of minority groups to better appeal to and on behalf of them.

3. Tailor appeals more to the customs and sensibilities of prospective (ethnic) donors. That may mean different appeals or more segmentation.

4. Recognise the differences between new immigrants and those of the 4-5th.

5. Enlist board members to reflect the diversity of your community.


These suggestions are a beginning. I would be interested in hearing about your experience or ideas. Join the discussion on LinkedIn!


Wayne McKenzie

Wayne McKenzie

Senior Fundraising Consultant at AskRIGHT
Wayne McKenzie is an esteemed and award winning fundraising professional with more than 25 year experience working with charities in New Zealand.

To find out how Wayne can help your organisation, contact
Wayne McKenzie

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