To bring diverse perspectives into development, start with staff training

Since our work on the The Changing Face of the 21st Century Donor, EAB continues to invest in the diversity and inclusion space. Advancement leaders inform us time and time again that the diversification of advancement staff is an area where they are dedicating increased focus and attention.

A recent CASE survey noted that only 9% of advancement professionals in higher education identified as diverse, while the alumni populations we serve—and North America as a whole—are significantly more diverse. Given this reality, many colleges and universities have begun to make investments in attracting more diverse applicant pools for advancement roles. However, most advancement leaders acknowledge that they are not going to be able to change the composition of their staff overnight. Becoming a more diverse profession is something that will take time and sustained effort.

While increasing staff diversity is often viewed as a long-term process, there are many opportunities to bring diverse perspectives into the advancement shop now. Start by updating simulation-based exercises for staff training and candidate interviews in order to ensure that current gift officers have opportunities to practice difficult conversations in a low-stakes environment.

Simulation-based coaching and role-play exercises are a common part of gift officer training modules and situational interviews, yet they rarely prepare gift officers for interactions with diverse prospects and donors. To increase the effectiveness of these activities, scenarios should include more diverse donor faces and stories than they currently do. The most effective scenarios will require MGOs to think about who they are soliciting, discuss uncomfortable topics, and think creatively about opportunities to support the institution.

Spotlight Diverse Faces in Our Trainings


For example, in role play exercises, scenarios could include a current or prospective gift officer making the ask to a 55 year-old African American female business owner, or a same-sex couple who met on campus in the 1970s. In these scenarios, key elements of the conversation between an MGO and a prospect may include:

  • Understanding how their experiences at the institution were different from other students
  • Hearing stories of how welcome (or unwelcome) they felt while on campus
  • Learning about how they want to use philanthropy to positively impact diverse students today

Be sure to encourage gift officers to ask for more than just scholarship dollars to support current diverse students—there may be other areas on campus that the prospect or donor is more passionate about supporting, regardless of their background. Thinking beyond scholarship dollars will expand the donor’s thinking and lead to more insightful conversations for the gift officer.

These conversations may be uncomfortable at first, but it is important to lean into that discomfort, especially when it occurs in a low-stakes practice environment. On-campus or virtual training sessions allow gift officers to have difficult conversations, make mistakes, and learn from them without the possibility of offending a prospect or donor.

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