DEI for Fundraisers

by Kerri Kerr, Avalon Consulting

Avalon was founded in 1997 as a place for women to have a seat at the table in a male-dominated direct marketing industry. We remain committed to equity and inclusion, yet we assert that a substantive DEI commitment is not static. We are committed to taking a harder look at how we do business, how we advise our clients, and how we take care of our staff, to ensure we are walking the walk.

In that spirit, we are pulling back the curtain on our DEI work—not because we have it all figured out, but because we know that sharing our work is the best way to advance DEI across the industry.

Specifically, we are working on four pillars of DEI improvement. Here is our progress so far:

(1) Staff Training and Education

  • Regularly assemble our DEI Task Force.
  • Invest in guidance from DEI consultants.
  • Conduct equity and inclusion trainings and workshops to ensure ongoing learning.
  • Engage via an internal Teams channel with continued resources and self-guided learning.

(2) Hiring 

  • Use a new, DEI-informed hiring rubric.
  • Expand reach of job postings to attract more diverse candidates.
  • Incorporate DEI into new hire onboarding.

(3) Agency Culture 

  • Regularly update company website to reflect our DEI commitment.
  • Encourage industry leadership with DEI impact. Avalon staff currently serve the DMAW Education Foundation’s DEI committee, DMFA board, and TNPA’s Leading EDGE internship program.
  • Improve accessibility by updating brand fonts and providing transcription options for meetings.
  • Encourage staff to share pronouns in meetings and email signatures.
  • Add optional fields for name pronunciations and LGBTQIA+ status in internal staff directory.

(4) Client Work

  • Partner with aligned nonprofits that share Avalon’s DEI priorities.
  • Work to understand what each organization is doing to reflect diversity and how fundraising strategy can support their DEI goals.
  • Produce and share a blog content that applies a DEI-Informed Fundraising lens to various areas of fundraising.

Additionally, with guidance from consultant Alex McNeil, we launched Fundraising Choice Points, an initiative to empower nonprofits to improve DEI through measurable fundraising strategies. Choice points are decision-making opportunities to disrupt the status quo. Our teams are setting goals beyond typical fundraising metrics (number of donors, gross and net revenue) to interrupt unconscious bias and expectations. This creates opportunities to enact changes that advance equity and inclusion.​

The primary goal is to identify and test fundraising choice points that impact inclusion and access for our clients. We are not necessarily looking to lift results, but rather to quantify relative performance so we can understand the impact of DEI-informed practices. This information will empower nonprofit leaders to implement DEI improvements strategically and sustainably, for lasting change.

Avalon teams are introducing this concept to clients and recommending a path forward.

For example, we are testing fonts and language to improve reading accessibility, challenging established techniques that may trigger emotional harm, and editing copy to include DEI language. We have also had repeated success rewriting copy for bolder social justice positioning.

We find that Fundraising Choice Points align with our clients’ internal goals and leadership mandates. Widening reach along metrics of age, race, and gender will take many experiments—and choice points are a good place to begin. By learning to be more equity conscious, we can interrupt bias, come off auto-pilot, and make deliberate choices that further DEI.