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By Armando Zumaya

I have written about this before, but I feel this is a nail that needs to be hit a few more times. I cannot tell you how many recent articles talk about the need to change the chronic and shameful history of the lack of diversity and equity in nonprofit America. This perspective is so welcome and overdue—and simply wonderful!

What’s missing again and again from the discussion is methodology.  How do we get beyond the outrage and make impactful change?

There are a lot of calls for action, a lot of white guilt being tossed out. As a brown man, I felt the outrage and discouragement watching nonprofit leaders pledge their interest in diversity and then nothing ever happens. I can remember calls for action from 20 years ago. I am beginning to believe that the nonprofit sector is trailing the for-profit sector in waking up to reality.  Many nonprofit leaders are well-intentioned but fail to understand some key facts.

True equity and diversity come from a true balance of power. Power in nonprofits is based, as it is in many places, on money. If you have a diverse board that has a wealth/power disparity–where the people of color are not in the same place of influence and philanthropy, it’s simply not going to promote equity. This type of diversity, grounded in tokenism, looks good but it will never achieve equity. 

If you have a more balanced Board, where the people of color are also people of influence and philanthropy, the dynamic is radically different. Once you achieve this, you can turn and work on your staffing.  You can also work on your donors and of course–a diverse board will change your program. 

So your probably thinking, “yeah, but where do I find those people?” In my consulting, I’ve had countless Board Members tell me that people of color like that aren’t in their town! I have had people of color say that too. Amazing. 

The answer is two words:  Prospect Research. 

Prospect Research is a function of major gifts fundraising. Most Board Chairs or Board Members have never even heard of it.  Whatever university you attended, I can guarantee you that there are Prospect Researchers working there to produce prospect research. Think of this as a profession–a highly ethical and noble one–that helps fundraisers find the optimal people to ask for the right amount of money. Their professional organization is APRA (www.apra-home.org). You can also hire a freelance prospect researcher if you don’t have one on staff. Ask me about that. 

Ask a prospect researcher this question:  “Show me all the African American women in the greater New Orleans area, giving $5,000 or more to youth development,” or “Give me a need a list of Latinas in Chicagoland who give to women’s health at $2500 or more, and have given for the last three years.” 

Now you have a list of Board Candidates–token free. 

The problem is simply that most nonprofits, outside of universities and hospitals, don’t have prospect researchers. That’s because over 70% of nonprofits have never had a Major Giving program. So, there is tremendous inequality in fundraising. The large institutions raise billions annually because they invest in Major Gift fundraising and fundraising in general. They think about and fund large development teams strategically. They think long term. 

Small- and medium-sized nonprofits focus on foundations, small mailings, and corporations. They think short term and penny-pinch their development departments. So you make a meager or piecemeal investment and you get meager and piecemeal results. Thankfully, some smart nonprofit leaders are getting off the subsistence cycle and are asking their board to dig deep and make those investments. I can only hope more nonprofit leaders figure this out. 

We all need Major Gifts, and most of your organizations need to work on their lack of diversity and equity. 

My message is simple: The two go hand in hand. Prospect Research is the catalyst that makes good Major Gifts prospecting happen.  This process helps you discover powerful people of all types to advance your organization/institution.

  • Let’s make real, strategic investments in community-centered fundraising.
  • Let’s invest in relationship-based fundraising that produces relationships that weather crises and pandemics, especially Major Giving.
  • Let’s get off the overhead merry go round that demands we spend little on Development but expect big revenues in return. Let’s honor Development and Prospect Research as professions. 

Go over these points at your next Board meeting. Point by point. Discuss what this means and how you can achieve this in your current reality. If you love your nonprofit you will want it to grow strong. This is the way. Powerful fundraising, power program. If I can help let me know.


Armando Zumaya

The Missing Piece: Prospect Research and DEI in Nonprofits