My first job in the advancement arena was as a prospect researcher. The internet was still fairly young, and it was shocking how much information you could find about people if you were very clever with your search functions – back in the day of Dogpile, AskJeeves, and AltaVista! The internet was WIDE open with no blocks to information, and everything was still free!
Back then, we could afford to be choosy about deciding what to use in determining the viability of a donor prospect. And we practiced a lot of biases. Divorced? Not going to be a big giver, since there would be alimony and child support payments. Lived in a sketchy part of town? That person would be set aside as well.
I’m a little ashamed of some of the very conscious biases I practiced doing that work. It was my first job, so I’m going to give myself a break. After years of living out my career, I see the foolishness of making assumptions based on outward appearances. That is why our most successful work comes from building solid relationships over time. However, to say that today we (I) don’t make quick decisions on the viability of a potential donor is not true either. Unconscious bias still exists and is ingrained to the point that we (I) would never recognize it without a little help.
Here is a fantastic little test to take, just to open your eyes a little. It’s found on AFP Global’s website and is a resource for any nonprofits and fundraisers who just want to check. It’s Harvard University’s Project Implicit Test at https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/takeatest.html. Once you take the test, if you need more resources that help you navigate through the honest biases that exist, and to help you be more genuinely anti-racist, check out AFP Global’s web page for resources at https://afpidea.org/antiracisminitiative/resources.
Let’s face it – I’m a white female Boomer – I have biases that I’ve lived with for years. The first step to getting rid of them is honestly owning up to them. I admit, I feel waves of panic as my sense of “right and wrong” is dismantled, even if I consciously would say I knew better. Living it is very different. But! I love this challenge and embrace it. I hope you do too!
Debbie Swanson, CFRE
AFP SOCO IDEA Committee Member