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Social Justice and Fundraising

demonstration against injustice

By William Gross, Senior Consultant, Copley Raff Inc.


Social and technological change are moving faster and faster. We have all learned to embrace digital changes: think of learning to use increasingly sophisticated donor databases, Constant Contact, peer-to-peer giving sites, and other digital tools.

We are now seeing different changes … those driven by evolving social norms, and specifically, the movement to ensure racial justice and equity. This deeply personal issue also requires your organization’s attention. To address racial justice and equity, we must learn more, be introspective, honestly look at our personal biases, be respectful to everyone … and our organizations must craft policies that promote racial justice.

Is Your Zip Code Your Destiny

In my world, which is public health and healthcare, issues of racial inequity are putting greater emphasis on the already strong movement to address social determinants of health (SDOH). In fact, SDOH account for 40% of our wellbeing because education, housing, income, and income mobility shape our health. These factors influence whether we meet personal goals, eat healthy foods, feel emotionally secure, earn livable wages, own health insurance, live in safe neighborhoods, and feel in control of our lives. To illustrate this point, this brief video shows that one’s zip code has more influence on our health than our DNA:

Role of Advancement Office

What does this have to do with philanthropy? Well, everything.

Unlike time-limited fundraising campaigns, organization policies tend to be durable. Policies that work for racial equity – in all phases of operations, programs, and community relations – are centrally important for your organization and your stakeholders. An organization with these policies is a much stronger philanthropic target because you can tell donors and stakeholders about its leadership and board commitment to racial equality.

Looking at this inversely, think of your position if a donor asked how your organization is ensuring racial equality in its work and governance – and your answer is silence.

Because this issue is so important, you can provide leadership to help drive and ensure across-the-board policy adjustments. By assuring every policy is devoid of racial bias and promotes equity, you help your organization walk its talk, build staff pride, and conduct more effective philanthropy-supported programs and initiatives.

If your organization has a history of racial bias, it must work even harder to be transparent. The Sierra Club is a good example of how an organization is taking action to address its past role in perpetuating white supremacy.

Your takes:

1. Be sure your organization’s policies reflect racial equality and pay equity priorities.

2. Promote semi-annual policy reviews to ensure your organization continues to respond to social change.

3. Look for examples from other organizations on how to address racial equality in your policies and public statements.

PHOTO BY: Jack Skinner


Copley Raff’s mission: Every interaction is to help nonprofit organizations fulfill their missions by meeting ambitious goals, aligning their leadership, elevating fundraising, and activating the brilliance of their teams. It’s a bold promise but one that we know will serve you and your organization’s mission in a way that will deliver tangible and meaningful results – the kind of results that make a real difference!


  1. Rocky

    Mr. Gross,

    I am glad to see a well crafted and meaningful article on this material.
    Fighting for social and racial equality is important work.


    Dr. Robert Lipkowitz

  2. Cynthia Walsh

    Thank you for this simple but powerful article. It is becoming more and more common (and this is a good thing!) for serious grant makers and other funders/donors to inquire of organizations’ social policies and procedures. This is a topic that merits much consideration at the board and executive staff level as nonprofit leaders convene throughout 2021 and into the future.

  3. Marjorie Jean-Paul

    Thank you for this article! As leaders in the sector who focus on alleviating social inequities and needs in community that often are predominantly BIPOC it is a business imperative to know your customer base. This is not just a “good/nice” thing to do, it is your business/mission. Often times leaders do not reflect their customer base and that can be the disconnect. Funders need to take a hard look at how they can support this change. And fundraisers and nonprofit leaders need to communicate this message internally and to stakeholders.

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