Why and how are nonprofits diversifying their donors?
Farra Trompeter, co-director, and Funmilayo Brown, founder and CEO of Layo Philanthropic Partners chat about redefining philanthropy for people of color and how nonprofits can effectively use communications to attract and engage their donors.
Farra Trompeter: Welcome to the Smart Communications Podcast. This is Farra Trompeter, co-director and worker-owner at Big Duck. Today we’re going to ask the question, why and how are nonprofits diversifying their donors? A question I know I often see, or at least a goal I often see on many a strategic plan. We’re going to get into this question today with Funmilayo Brown.
Farra Trompeter: Funmilayo uses she/her and is the founder and CEO of Layo Philanthropic Partners, trusted advisory group, redefining philanthropy for people of color. After a powerful career as a senior executive working for nonprofit organizations, building their board and executive leadership, secure individual institutional and corporate giving streams to meet fundraising goals, Funmilayo saw an opportunity as a change maker and connector to bridge the gap between donors and the institutions they support. Through her work at Layo Philanthropic Partners, Funmilayo reconnects people of color to their philanthropic roots and guides them in building giving strategies aligned with their purpose and overall financial goals to create great impact while building a long-lasting legacy. We had the pleasure of meeting initially back in 2019. I was realizing pre-Covid days, which feels like it could have been a decade ago, but just four years or so ago through a workshop I was doing at Robin Hood where she was at the time managing director of development at the Student Leadership Network. And we currently work together as members of a planning committee for the AFP New York City Fundraising Day Conference. So delighted to be in community with Funmilayo in many places. And today on the podcast, welcome to the show.
Funmilayo Brown: Thank you so much. Thank you for having me.
Farra Trompeter: It is a pleasure. Well, so I want to just start off with our listeners learning a little bit more about you. One of the things that I appreciate about you and your work is your commitment to joy and intention. And I’m just wondering, I know on your website you talk a lot about joy-based philosophy and how you cultivate joy-based philanthropists. Can you talk a little bit about that joy and how it shows up in your work?
Funmilayo Brown: Sure. I think the first place I’ll start is that my name Funmilayo in Yoruba means “give me joy.” And so I try to live up to my name, but it is one of the core contexts that I live from. I believe that we should experience joy in our life. It is our birthright to have that and to do that. And I think for communities of color living through oppression in different parts of the world, joy is one of the first things that gets taken away from us. And so I believe in bringing joy into everything as an intention, as a way of being, as a way of living. So it’s no different in my work and in fact, in my work for Layo Partners, you know, Ayo in Yoruba means joy. And so I just kind of took part of my name and naming the company. But we really aim to restore joy and love in philanthropy, as you know, philanthropy is just the love of humanity. So let’s bring the two together, why not? But if we really look at joy, joy is defined as immense pleasure and happiness extending to a limitless, transformative reservoir that needs surrender, and a conscious choice and joy in that is much like love. You can be loved, but you have to be willing to be loved. You can experience joy, but it is a choice to have joy in your life. And so I believe that we all possess the transformative reservoir of joy that is waiting to be activated. So when you make that choice, you can have that in your life. And I think acknowledging this love and joy within all of us is the first step. Activating it in our lives and then releasing that into the world follows after that step.
Funmilayo Brown: So in being in partnership with Layo Philanthropic Partners, we really aid in navigating the how, the when, the where, and with whom you express and experience that joy. And that’s our take on philanthropy. So we are about bringing joy into philanthropy, which is about linking our authentic selves with others and creating a space for that mutual giving and receiving. And this connection allows that current of joy and love to flow from all of our shared reservoirs. And so that’s what I see as the basis of joy-based philanthropy. You could do philanthropy anywhere, but I really work to find out what’s in your reservoir and how do we connect that with organizations who are doing amazing work in the world.
Farra Trompeter: I love that your name means joy. It is so evident in who you are, and I know in our conversations, but also in as you were describing your approach, I love that you live into that namesake and use that namesake to guide how you work. It’s amazing. And I know that you also describe your mission as redefining philanthropy for people of color. And I just want to unravel that a little bit. How has modern philanthropy failed people of color and made it harder for them to participate? I know you’ve got a lot to say about this, I imagine. And how are those current practices exclusive? You know, we’ve had other conversations with folks connected to the Community-Centric Fundraising movement on the podcast. We’ll link to some of those episodes in the show notes. And I know I’ve heard other people speak about this. I’d love to hear you speak about it.
Funmilayo Brown: Sure. So one of my favorite things to ask people is “What is a philanthropist?” And who do they see as key philanthropists, people who stand out as role models of philanthropy for them? And without fail, you know, the list is ultra-wealthy white folks in this country and occasionally Oprah. That’s what the list is. And now recently there’s a lot of Mackenzie Scott floating through that, right? So we have kind of like the Rockefeller, Carnegie crew, Oprah and Mackenzie Scott. So when I think about how has modern philanthropy failed people of color, none of those examples seem attainable. None of those examples seem like, that I could be, that ever. Philanthropy becomes this like pie in the sky big, you know, cloud thing, that’s never going to be who I am personally.
Funmilayo Brown: I could be cooking meals and bringing them to the sick and shut-in folks in my church and I will never be seen as a philanthropist, and what this modern version of philanthropy is. I don’t need anybody to acknowledge me for those meals that I bring. I don’t need extra thank yous or accolades. It gives me deep love and joy to be able to give that and do that for someone in need. That is philanthropy. And I think what people of color really need to be reminded of is that our very survival in this country has been based on the conscious philanthropy we exercise internally within our communities. In taking care of one another, in being there and supporting one another, of creating economies of support for one another. And nobody gets to define that in modern-day philanthropy as philanthropy. What that is goes unnamed and unnoticed. And when things are unnamed, we can’t quite pin down what it is or look at it as, how do we measure the impact of it? Or how do we even know that it’s there? It’s like the invisible thing. And so I want to bring the invisible and make it visible.
Funmilayo Brown: I tell folks all the time, there are many philanthropic advisory services you can go to if you want to figure out how to give, where to give, and how to create impact with that. But at Layo Philanthropic Partners, we’re unique in this redefinition of philanthropy that philanthropy becomes accessible, identifiable, and named, claimed, and owned for people of color. And that creates access for all people to see themselves as philanthropists. And so first and foremost, I think that’s really, really important. And we have to shift this belief and assumption that philanthropy is only for the ultra-wealthy and transform the belief to people who can self-identify as philanthropists based on how and where they show up for communities in issues, in organizations that matter to them. And I think that is really, really, really important. Giving your time, talent, and treasure are really, really important as you know, just people operating in the fabric of community with one another. And all of that is a part of philanthropy, and I don’t want to discredit that from anyone.
Farra Trompeter: Yeah. And I’m hearing in that again, philanthropy is more than just making big donations. It’s giving of your time, it’s giving your ideas, again, in that time, talent, and treasure phrasing that is often used by organizations. So I appreciate you lifting that up and starting there. I know you also work with nonprofits and the other side of that, and especially some smaller grassroots organizations that struggle with getting big donations or getting help with internal operations. And many organizations, as I was saying in the beginning of the conversation, often have a goal around diversifying their donor base or diversifying the funding sources they have. Specifically, how do you help organizations diversify their donor base and particularly attract donors of color?
Funmilayo Brown: I always tell organizations to, I say things that are provocative just to, you know, get folks attention. But start by looking in the mirror, let’s just say, look at your own life. Look at your networks and the communities that you engage with. If you don’t engage with people of color, they don’t magically show up like unicorns as your donors. Like that doesn’t make any sense. And the thing about humans in general, and I don’t really care what you’re looking to diversify any group with. Diversity is not this thing that shows up ’cause you snapped your fingers and said we need three people in orange shirts to be here. I just get very confused by how people want diversity but not engagement. And I really think if you want to have donors of color, there has to be a reason for that. There needs to be a foundation for that. Why is this an issue area they care about? Is what you’re seeing for your fundraising efforts, is it essential? Does it make sense that donors of color are here? So just like start there. Look at your own life. If you’re not associating with other humans of color, then they’re not going to show up anywhere else in your life. The way you do everything is the way you do anything. So you’re not hanging out with them. If you live in a major metropolitan area, everybody’s there. Everybody’s available. If you don’t know one person with a disability, something is up in your world. So just start to look at that, look in the mirror. That’s where I’d start.
Funmilayo Brown: Secondly, as a fundraiser, I really believe that fundraising was all about creating a connection. I always saw myself as the channel. There are resources on one side of the equation, there’s a need on the other. I’m just here to move things from one side to the other. And again, there’s a giving and a receiving. You receive the donations, you receive that engagement with the donor. And how do you relay that engagement, that gratitude, that feeling back to the donor, right? There’s just this flow that needs to happen on both sides. And I love being a part of that flow. But it’s really about looking at the organic way things happen. And sometimes we have to make things happen, they’re not happening organically. But if you think about where those resources are and where they need to go, you need to just start connecting who has the resources. Why do they have them, how do they have them, and how do you want to work with moving them, and you be the channel for that? So, where are the donors of color showing up and how do you diversify your donor base with them? A), do they care? B), where are they? And if they care, do they know about you? Because maybe they just need to know that’s like, that’s an easy thing to solve. So are you there making relationships where they already show up? If not start doing that. Fundraising is just about relationships. It’s just about connections with people. Don’t be the used car salesman. Don’t show up and start asking for stuff. Nobody wants to talk to you. I’m not interested, right? And so you have to think, am I looking for major donors, you know, five and six-figure donations, or am I looking for coalitions of grassroots folks to get together and support a cause? Show up where those people are. And if you don’t know where they are, it’s also because they’re not in your world. So it goes back to looking in the mirror, ask your friends, ask your other, you know, networks of folks where you realize they are and you say, “You know what, I have this hunch, I’m not a hundred percent sure, but I really think that there’d be a strong coalition of Latinos who would be really interested in this cause based on X, Y, and Z, do you know that 80% of the people we serve happen to be Latino? And I’d love to make this connection here and I’d love for them to know more about this. Where do you think I should go to really be able to talk about this and to connect those dots?” People will tell you, they will tell you, they will share with you, right? But you have to be authentic in why you’re asking. It needs to be an organic transmission through the channel. And if it’s not, you’re the used car salesman, we’re all going to avoid you. Nobody wants to be the pawn put on the chess board on the table.
Funmilayo Brown: Another trick I would say you can do, I think mining LinkedIn for folks who are interested in your cause, what your work is about is a great way to also find other people. I think LinkedIn is just a place where actually professionals do respond to each other. And if you have something compelling or interesting that you want to share with someone, I think that’s another place to do it. Especially if you can be referred by somebody else. The other side of what I want to say here is that diversification of your donor base is not one-sided work. And I think this is where it’s really important that people of color are also self-identifying as philanthropists. It’s one thing that you’re looking for them, but they also need to be looking for you. We’re all on match.com, we know that we’re looking for each other, like that’s what it is. I think that they need to know that communities and organizations need them. They need your commitment, they need your caring, they need your time, talent, and of course your treasures. But you want to be found also, and that’s just part of knowing that you have something amazing to offer. And that piece of knowing that and owning that makes you ready when somebody comes and says, “Do you know that these kids in this neighborhood that you live in all have these amazing musical talents that they’re learning at X, Y, Z organization? Do you want to come out and learn more about that?” And you happen to be a musician or love music, like this is a beautiful match. Of course, you want to go, you want to go and participate. You naturally become who they are looking for, but you need to know that people are looking for you. And that self-identification I think is a really important piece.
Farra Trompeter: Love it. I appreciate so much about what you’re lifting up and especially that focus on strong relationship building, which we believe is the heart of good communication, so we’re in sync here. Not surprised to find that. And you know the other thing that I’d love to get your hot take on is donor retention. You know, it comes up as a problem, we see year-over-year rates going lower. It is harder for organizations to hold on to the donors they have. And I’m curious what advice you might have about how organizations can hold on and build the relationships with supporters. It’s not just about attracting them the first time, but kind of keeping them engaged, holding them. What are some ways you’ve been successful in your own work, either directly when you’ve been in-house, in nonprofits, or with the organizations and really figuring out who donors are, what they care about, and how to keep them engaged?
Funmilayo Brown: Yeah, so I think, you know, there are always different levels of donors. So if you have, I don’t know, 10,000 hundred dollars donors, you can’t call each one and talk to everybody like they’re your cousin. But I do believe in treating donors like they’re your family. And so if you haven’t seen folks since last Thanksgiving, do you call them and ask them to bring a side dish and show up for Thanksgiving? Is that the first piece of communication you have with them? Like how do you want to talk to your cousin who you haven’t spoken to since last Thanksgiving? Where do you even begin? Do you want to know how they’re doing? Do you want to find out what’s going on in their world? Do you want to share something important that might be happening before you get to Thanksgiving? In organizations, we get really attached to the numbers. We get really attached to the outcomes. And fundraisers really want to do a good job and they have immense pressure on them to do that job that they have signed up to do. They also don’t want to let the organization down. So scarcity mindset really comes into play and you start like scratching at the ground and it’s like, I got to ask everybody and then we play the game of big numbers. If I need this much, I got to ask 10 people because out of the 10 people, you know, four people are going to say something to me and then maybe two of them will give. They are humans. They are not little check marks on a board.
Funmilayo Brown: I think for year-end giving, this is really important. Whoever gives to you, start thinking about them as the whole year. How do you want to engage with them? How do you want to talk to them? How do you want to share with them? So there’s a way you share with all your hundred dollars donors. There are things you tell them, there are things you do, there are things you invite them to, there are things you send and maybe they care and maybe they don’t. If you have five-figure donors, I think those are people that you end up having a different level of conversation with and you probably don’t have as many of them, right? By the law of numbers, you usually have a lot of the smaller donors, and then starts to narrow down. And so you might want to think of a different strategy for them that uses your time and their time effectively. And up the ladder you go, because retention is important, but you do not want to show up for people hungry. It is just like one of the biggest turnoffs. If you haven’t spoken to them in a year, don’t start by asking them for money. You know what I mean? Just start by checking in and talking to them. One of the most incredible things we can do right now is make a phone call and say hello to somebody. We email obnoxiously, we send text messages, we do things on social media and nobody talks to each other anymore. When you call someone and just say, “I was thinking about you, I remember you were interested in last time we spoke to you, you know your daughter was off to college, how’s she doing? Just things I was thinking about. Hope you’re doing well.” Handwritten note goes really far in the same way. And if you do three of them a week, you set aside two nights that you make phone calls and you have a couple of conversations, I guarantee you’re going to feel good and they’re going to feel good. And by the time you get around to the solicitation phase again, you have been doing relationship building, that cultivation, that stewardship the whole way. And it’s a more normal thing to ask and to know if they’re going to say yes or not. You probably already know if they’re not going to because you’ve been talking to them. So I think donor retention is really based on relationships and I think everything is based on relationships, but I’d say that.
Farra Trompeter: I agree, and in your example too, as you were talking about the “feel good” you would have in having those conversations and the donors are likely having and hearing those conversations, it sounds like it’s coming back to bring joy.
Funmilayo Brown: There you go.
Farra Trompeter: See, I’m ready to go. I’m ready to be your ambassador. Well before we wrap up, you were just really actually talking about donor communication strategy, which is something we think a lot about. And I’m just wondering there anything off the top of your head, you know, just some guiding wisdom you have when you think about how organizations can effectively use communications to engage their donors.
Funmilayo Brown: Okay, at the risk of being provocative, again, I’m just going to let you know that nobody cares. And it’s not so much that they don’t care, but they don’t have time to care about everything. I want every person who’s planning a series of emails, communications, going out to people. How many emails do you get a day? Do you get a week? How many emails do you get before noon? How many emails do you get after five? How long do you spend reading any particular message? How many times like sitting in your phone once you’ve opened the email, do you scroll up on the screen like three scrolls, do you keep going? No, nobody keeps going. So in that first screen, say what you got to say, be great about it. Be just great with people, but say it quickly because nobody cares and nobody’s reading all of that. So we spend all this time writing five paragraph emails that say everything under the sun. That is just everything, we pour our hearts and souls into it and then we want to know what happened. Nobody clicked. Make the click high up. If you want them to do something, whatever your call to action is, get to the point. Say something great, be great with people, and get to the point. Because unfortunately there are too many distractions, there’s too much competition for our time and attention, and although you’re lovely, put all the lovely stuff down below like that goes, you know, further and deeper into what you have to say and tell me what you want at the top.
Farra Trompeter: Love it.
Funmilayo Brown: It’s unfortunate, but that’s my tip.
Farra Trompeter: I like your hot take. I like being provocative. I appreciate it. If you’re out there listening, you want to learn more about Funmilayo’s work, sign up for her workshops, and all sorts of other goodness, check out Layo Philanthropic Partners. Visit layopartners “L A Y O” partners dot com. You can also follow them on LinkedIn and Instagram. We’ll be sure to link to their pages on our blog at bigduck.com/insights where you can always find notes from our podcast. Before we go, you know, I’m just holding a lot of what you’re saying. Talking about bringing joy, following the flow. Be authentic and human. Saying things quickly and simply and being great. Is there anything else you’d like to share with our listeners?
Funmilayo Brown: We are expanding our database of organizations to refer philanthropists to. And so starting in January, I will be doing what we call “match-ready audits”. So just an assessment of an organization to see how ready you are to match with a potential philanthropist. If you are interested in having a “match-ready audit” done and being part of our database at layopartners.com, you can just fill out an inquiry form and we’ll get back to you. Starting to schedule those assessments for early in the new year.
Farra Trompeter: That’s amazing. I love it. Well, check that out. And Funmi, thank you so much for being here today.
Funmilayo Brown: Thank you.