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Academic year: 2020

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Philanthropic Mirroring in Practice: Ethical

Considerations for Alumni Engagement in Higher

Education Fundraising

Elizabeth Poindexter

elizabeth_poindexter@med.unc.edu Thesis Project



Fundraising and charitable giving have long been important value-laden activities

for people who live in the United States; they are seen as supporting the public good

and are strongly embedded within United States culture (Rau, 2014). Private charitable

giving exceeded $290 billion between 2000 and 2010, and the number of public

charities and foundations grew (Khodakarami, Petersen, & Venkatesan, 2015). Perhaps

not surprisingly, issues related to fundraising and finances are among the most pressing

for institutions of higher education (Lucka, 2015). The world of higher education,

particularly public universities, greatly depends on its donors, especially in times of a

decrease in public funds from the state and federal level (Drezner, 2018; Khodakarami

et al., 2015; Lucka, 2015; Rau, 2014).

To increase financial support, many public universities employ fundraising staff

who use communications strategies to appeal to their prospect base, including to

alumni. These messages have been largely static and unchanged, despite the changing

makeup of the student body and alumni at public universities in the United States

(Lucka, 2015). Recent alumni (those ten or fewer years from graduation), for instance,

are demographically diverse audiences with growing purchasing power (Drezner, 2018;

Gasman & Bowman, 2013).

The need to re-examine fundraising practices to better equip fundraising staff to

effectively and ethically communicate with diverse, young audiences is crucial, as many

universities lack a true understanding of the diversity of their donor base and perceive a

lack of potential giving in alumni donors (Lucka, 2015). Scholars in psychology and


role of identity and alumni engagement with an alma mater, particularly through

philanthropic giving (Drezner, 2018). This presents an issue: diverse, young alumni are

graduating from institutions of high education but how they identify as prospective

donors is under-researched.

As the need for fundraising staff to communicate with diverse, young alumni has

grown, Noah Drezner (2018), a Columbia University scholar whose expertise is in the

psychology of fundraising in higher education, has developed a theoretical framework

he labels philanthropic mirroring. Philanthropic mirroring is an identity-based motivation

model that incorporates aspects of the concepts of empathy and social distance. This

framework posits that donors’ marginalized identities, including race and ethnicity, are a

major factor in their philanthropic behavior and in their determination of the importance

of the cause for which they are being solicited. His research indicates that alumni from

marginalized populations respond more favorably to philanthropic appeals that include

some reference to that same population or identity.

In addition to developing the most-effective ways for institutions of higher

education to fundraise, there is a need to consider the ethics of the philanthropic

mirroring approach. The concept of marketing to ethnically and racially diverse

populations is not new, but it is an under-researched area fraught with ethical

considerations and an exploitive history. Historically, some advertisements during the

Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s began to feature racially mixed groups of individuals

after studies found that minorities perceived these integrated campaigns to be ethical

(Chebat, 2015). This approach, however, sometimes resulted in the addition of a token


because such figures were often bereft of culturally relevant characteristics (Cui, 2001).

Specifically within the field of higher education marketing, ethical considerations also

include the perpetuation of cultural stereotypes and the misrepresentation of ethnicities

in marketing materials (Chebat, 2015; Cui, 2001). Marketing to minority populations can

benefit both fundraising staff in higher education and their increasingly diverse alumni

base; fundraising staff are able to raise capital, and minority populations can feel more

connected to the cause. However, it is imperative that these strategies are ethical and

do not manipulate or exploit people who come from underrepresented backgrounds.

Given the complicated and often exploitive history of race-based marketing

practices, what feedback are underrepresented young alumni able to provide regarding

the ethics of philanthropic mirroring as a communication tactic? In this mixed-methods

thesis project, I attempt to answer this question by creating two annual appeal

templates based on a philanthropic mirroring model exploring race. After reviewing

these materials, African American and Latinx alumni who have graduated from a public

university between 2009 and 2019 completed an initial quantitative survey indicating the

extent to which they deemed the content of appeal letters to be ethical. Following the

survey, the participants took part in an optional, semi-structured interview in order to

provide in-depth, qualitative feedback regarding the annual appeal templates they

reviewed. Based on the survey and follow-up interviews, my final deliverable includes a

write-up of the findings, a list of best practices, and two evidence-based annual appeal


Literature Review

The first half of this literature review will detail how fundraising staff operate in the

realm of higher education, discuss the state of fundraising in higher education, and

provide insight into fundraising among minorities. It will discuss ways that fundraising in

higher education has changed and why fundraising staff must continue to adapt. The

second half of this literature review will address aspects of social psychology that are

applicable to fundraising. It will also examine the ethics of fundraising and in particular,

marketing to underrepresented populations within the realm of higher education.

Methodology and deliverables follow the literature review.

Structure of fundraising staff within higher education

Universities have drawn from best practices from the corporate world, namely

integrating sales and marketing, to boost fundraising efforts. Specifically, they rely on

customer relationship management (CRM) tools to manage donor databases, which

help fundraising staff maintain relationships and anticipate donor needs, leverage

shared data, and provide a customer-centric approach to fundraising (Stevick, 2010).

To successfully follow the lead of the corporate world when executing a

university fundraising strategy, it is essential to have top-level support. The role of

fundraising staff, if supported by top university leadership, can succeed when paired

with interdisciplinary teams that collaborate to create content to fully execute

communication strategies (Gasman & Bowman, 2013). These teams, comprised of

front-line fundraising staff who interact with donors, often do not reflect the university’s

constituent base (Gasman & Bowman, 2013). Simply put, fundraising staff are often not


members in higher education were individuals of color. But minority donors look to

support institutes of higher education that are committed to diversity and inclusion

efforts as they hope to find a mirror of their own culture in fundraising staff and

university leadership (Lucka, 2015). Communications written by fundraising staff are

largely still tailored to a homogenous audience of white males, the longtime majority

demographic of alumni databases (Lucka, 2015). The one-size-fits-all fundraising

communication strategy hasn’t been effective for some time, and fundraising staff

should rely more on personalized communications, such as referencing the donor’s

name and interests in communications; they should also hire additional diverse staff

members who better understand the constituent base (Gasman & Bowman, 2013;

Lucka, 2015).

Relationship building in fundraising

Relationship building is essential to fundraising staff, particularly when they are

focused on acquiring major gifts and establishing quality contacts for their respective

universities (Stevick, 2010). The corporate sphere provides some guidance as to how

this might be done, although applying corporate tactics to philanthropy comes with

limitations. If institutions of higher education treat prospective donors as customers,

relationships between fundraising staff and donors can be strengthened over time

(Khodakarami et al., 2015). However, a fundraising approach rooted in a corporate

model must also consider donor motivations to give because those motivations can vary

drastically when compared to a customer’s motivation to purchase a product

(Khodakarami et al., 2015). A corporate model also lends itself to treating students and


transactional than relational. This type of relationship could prioritize the financial return

from that student or alumnus, thereby hindering fundraising staffs efforts by limiting an

opportunity to grow a trusted relationship (Lucka, 2015). Fundraising staff should focus

on the quality and authenticity of their relationships with donors; such an approach can

meets donors’ interests and is likely to enhance their generosity over time

(Khodakarami et al., 2015; Lucka, 2015).

Pathways to acquiring initial and subsequent gifts from alumni donors

Relationship building is a crucial first step to develop a robust donor database, as

it opens an avenue to future giving. The lack of effective relationship building in

fundraising communication is evident by the decrease in alumni giving nationwide,

despite an increase in the depth and breadth of alumni records in databases at

institutions of higher education (Lucka, 2015). To remedy low or no giving among both

non-donors and donors, fundraising staff often solicit funds for an annual gift (Rau,

2014). Annual funds are considered to be building blocks of support, often contributing

to a pot of unrestricted funds for use at the discretion of leadership (Drezner, 2018; Rau,

2014). These solicitations often target young alumni and are an initial tactic used by

fundraising staff to establish and foster long-term philanthropic giving. The fundraising

staff is tasked with building sustainable relationships to develop trust with constituents

over time, subsequently creating a donor base from which they can solicit future

donations. This can be done by an annual appeal solicitation, thereby initiating


The need to collect more diversity-related donor data for fundraising efforts

Often, due to insufficient data collection, fundraising staff at some universities in

the United States know little about alumni who comes from underrepresented

backgrounds (Gasman & Bowman, 2013). Fundraising staff typically gather

demographic data such as whether someone is a donor or non-donor, class year,

major, job title, and their address. However, demographic information such as race or

ethnicity is collected far less often (Drezner, 2018). Research suggests that, if allowed

by law and institution policies, universities should attempt to collect data on alumni race

and ethnicity (Gasman & Bowman, 2013). A failure to do so can hinder efforts of

fundraising staff, particularly in the case of reaching out to a first-time donor with a

solicitation to an annual fund (Drezner, 2018). This lack of information has resulted in a

lack of knowledge surrounding levels of cultural wealth for underrepresented minorities,

which is an indicator of future giving behavior (Gasman & Bowman, 2013; Lucka, 2015).

Cultural wealth is primarily concerned with how income is derived and refers to

intergenerational support such as gifts, informal loans, and inheritances. Members of

some minority groups often have less cultural wealth than their white counterparts, and

fundraising staffs’ lack of understanding of wealth for diverse, young alumni may hinder

their efforts (Drezner, 2018; Gasman & Bowman, 2013).

The influence of immigration and migration in higher education

Considering cultural wealth is of importance to fundraising staff, particularly as

demographics in the United States continue to change. Patterns of migration and

immigration play large roles in the demographics of students who head to university.


and adapt to these audience changes. For example, by 2050, the United States is

projected to be majority minority, with racial and ethnic minorities making up more than

half of the population. As of July 2018, African Americans comprise more than 13.4

percent of the U.S. population, according to U.S. Census updates. They have had an

increased presence on university campuses since the passage and implementation of

the 1964 Civil Rights Act (Gasman & Bowman, 2013). During the first two decades of

the 20th century, institutions of higher education were considered “separate but equal”

and segregated students by race and gender; in 1968, 80 percent of African American

students earned their degree from historically black colleges and universities, or HBCUs

(Karakouti, 2016). Between 1984 and 2009, non-HBCU college campuses saw a 240

percent increase in the number of African American students enrolled (Gasman &

Bowman, 2013). Following integration, between 1986-1996, the enrollment rate of

African American students increased by 74 percent at non-HBCUs (Karakouti, 2016).

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that by 2050, Latinx individuals will comprise 29.5

percent of the total population, while African Americans will represent 18.6 percent of

the population (Gasman & Bowman, 2013).

Universities will continue to see tremendous growth in these two historically

underrepresented populations, changing the makeup of alumni databases

(Khodakarami et al., 2015). According to the National Center for Education Statistics,

during the 2016-2017 academic year in the United States, there were 2.2 million African

American students and 3.2 million Latinx students enrolled in college.

Nearly one in four schoolchildren in the United States is Latinx, which


of this paper. This group has experienced one of the largest surges in population growth

when compared to other underrepresented groups. Latinx students are projected to be

one-quarter of enrolled schoolchildren by 2025 (Gasman & Bowman, 2013; Zarate &

Burciaga, 2010). In terms of pursuing higher education, from 1984-2009, universities

saw a 546-percent increase in Latinx student enrollment, a trend that was expected to

continue (Gasman & Bowman, 2013). Interestingly, Latinx students made up nearly half

of all community college students in 2010, a pathway often used to eventually obtain a

bachelor’s degree (Zarate & Burciaga, 2010). Lastly, an emerging issue is the number

of undocumented Latinx students in the United States. Data from the 2010 U.S. Census

estimated there were close to one million undocumented students kindergarten through

twelfth grade enrolled in schools, resulting in approximately 65,000 Latinx high school

undocumented graduates per year (Zarate & Burciaga, 2010).

Financial clout of Latinx and African American alumni and implications for fundraising staffs

Among underrepresented minority groups in the United States, it is clear that

Latinx and African Americans populations are poised to become a stronghold in alumni

groups nationwide. As these groups continue to grow in number, they are becoming

betterpositioned to financially support institutions of higher education than in previous

years (Gasman & Bowman, 2013).

Historically, African Americans have long faced a disparity in both wealth and

income when compared to whites. This is, in part, a result of historical cultural

oppression, including slavery and Jim Crow legislation. This entrenched oppression is


of this deep-seated discrimination, in 2007, the median white family had wealth assets

worth more than 15 times that of their African American counterparts (Gasman &

Bowman, 2013). Income gaps, when compared to wealth gaps between these two

groups, however, are beginning to shrink. The buying power of African Americans is at

an all-time high of $1.3 trillion, and they are just as likely as whites to make charitable

contributions. In fact, they give more of their money to charity than their white

counterparts (Buying Power of African Americans, 2017). Other key indicators of

financial prosperity include stock market participation and homeownership rates, both of

which have increased steadily in recent years among some African Americans (Gasman

& Bowman, 2013).

A similar story emerges when looking at the Latinx population. They have also

faced cultural repression and have been historically ignored by mainstream

philanthropic efforts (Gasman & Bowman, 2013). However, Latinx individuals have

nearly $1.4 trillion in buying power, a figure that continues to grow (Longo, 2018).

Sixty-three percent of Latinx households make charitable contributions, and the number of

Latinx households with incomes over $100,000 rose 126 percent since the 1990s,

according to the U.S. Census (Gasman & Bowman, 2013). This rise in income is, in

part, attributed to the fact that 80 percent of Latinx individuals were in the workforce in

2013, compared to 67 percent of the nation’s population overall. Finally, Latinx

individuals give hundreds of millions of dollars to charitable causes each year, including


Motivating factors to give among Latinx individuals and African Americans

As these underrepresented groups gain in buying power and in cultural wealth,

their propensity to support nonprofits, including higher education, has grown. According

to 2013 survey research (Gasman & Bowman, 2013), there are cultural differences to

consider when attempting to understand motivating factors that propel Latinx individuals

and African Americans to make charitable contributions. Each group relies on its unique

cultural and historic considerations when they have an opportunity to support an

organization financially. Because of past historical injustices, African Americans often

seek trusting relationships with organizations before making an initial donation. To this

end, they typically give smaller gifts and increase their giving over time (Gasman &

Bowman, 2013). Gasman and Bowman’s research also found that African Americans

give because they feel a sense of racial commitment and obligation to racial uplift. This

research indicated that new African American donors tend to give more to causes, such

as education or health care, and they are also motivated by their peers and family as

part of a desire to foster racial uplift. With regard to education, philanthropically minded

African Americans tend to donate directly to scholarships because they represent an

immediate step they can take to see more immediate benefits.

When considering Latinx communities, Gasman and Bowman (2013) found that

giving is motivated primarily by personal relationships and face-to-face engagement. It

is most helpful when the fundraising staff or person making the ask comes from within

their own community. This is important for fundraising staff to consider, particularly

since there is more variability among Latinx giving because of cultural differences


to support community-based initiatives, while Puerto Ricans often place more of an

emphasis on volunteerism. Cuban Americans are likely to approach philanthropy from a

more-conservative worldview and want to be seen as a group that contributes to

society’s greater good. Lastly, Latin Americans tend to give to families and communities

outside the United States who match their personal ethnic identity. However, education

is an issue important to the greater Latinx community, regardless of their specific

cultural background, according to Gasman and Bowman’s study. To this end, Latinx

individuals tend to give one-third of their support to educational scholarships as they

can transform lives and impact future generations of students.

The next section of this literature review will examine research relevant to

fundraising staff to underrepresented populations, specifically the benefits of university

branding systems, the role of social identity, and the ethics of targeting messages to

underrepresented minorities.

University branding and engagement with students, donors, and alumni

Branding communication efforts by an institution of higher education can be

regarded as nearly as important as the message itself. This type of communication may

not reap immediate benefits for the communicator in terms of donations, but its power

lies in whether self-identification or how much it resonates with prospects. While there is

scant research in terms of university branding and soliciting donations, particularly in a

digital sphere, people whose self-identity rests in that of the university and its larger

brand feel a sense of belonging and self or group identification (Stephenson & Bell,


Specifically, fundraising branding guides can provide a backbone for

communication initiatives that tap into institutional branding (Whitt, 2015). Institutional

branding, initially drawn from best practices found in the corporate environment,

influences giving by establishing prestige and legitimacy, communicating values,

differentiating the university from other institutions, and facilitating a sense of belonging

(Stephenson & Bell, 2014). By understanding branding psychology, it is clear why this is

a tactic that often works. For example, self-congruity theory, which posits that people

often compare a mental image of themselves to an entity, explains the importance of

branding initiatives in relation to fundraising. This can bolster university fundraising

efforts. If an individual’s self-concept matches that of others they see attending a

particular university, the individual will develop a stronger preference for that university.

The opposite effect is also true; if one’s self-concept no longer matches others they see

supporting an organization, that person will have a lower preference for that

organization, such as a university. Opportunities for students and alumni to engage and

identify with a university brand allows for recognition of a personal identity within a

group identity. Even the act of attending a university or joining a club or organization

allows someone to define themselves in relation to that organization; joining a club can

foster loyalty to a group, cooperation, and sharing of personal interests. Students, for

example, who define themselves in relationship to a university moniker or mascot, such

as “Tar Heel” or “Wolfpack,” have extended their identities to include those who also

consider themselves part of the larger affiliated group.

A university’s branding strategy and methods of engagement with students on


back to the university after they graduate (Rau, 2014). There are several determinants

of giving behavior on which scholars agree. Age, income, satisfaction, and perceived

prestige of the institution all influence charitable giving directly (Stephenson & Bell,

2014). Participation in clubs and organizations, in addition to overall satisfaction with the

university experience, is also positively correlated with willingness to donate (Lucka,

2015; Stephenson & Bell, 2014). In fact, a 2011 Converge Consulting survey of

university alumni revealed that 36 percent of alumni saw it as their duty to support their

alma mater (Lucka, 2015).In sum, having a university or campaign branding guide can

be essential in reaching audiences, crafting messages, and engaging donors; even a

university’s beauty and grounds can influence potential donors (Stephenson & Bell,

2014; Whitt, 2015).

Understanding the concept of identity

The desire to give a financial gift to an institution of higher education is heavily

influenced by one’s understanding the fundamentals of social, or group, identity. Social

identification is “a perception of oneness with a group of persons” and stems from

categorization of individuals, distinctiveness and prestige of groups people hope to

associate with (Ashforth, 1989, p. 20). At its core, social identity theory “conceives that

people classify themselves and others into various categories as a cognitive tool to

provide order in a social environment” (Stephenson & Bell, 2014, p. 181). Further,

individuals create their identities based on groups, which can drive behavior such as

making a donation. When a category of identity is activated, people tend to treat others

who share that identity better than those who have a different identity (Drezner, 2018).


interests (Stephenson & Bell, 2014). Social identity also leads to reflection; a

self-image is shaped from the social categories to which people perceive they belong. Put

more simply, people are more likely to support people who are similar to themselves.

Social identity theory, then, can be effectively used in marketing and

communication endeavors and can play a pivotal role in fundraising efforts, particularly

at institutions of higher education. For instance, this theory would suggest that people

tend to identify with a university mascot or moniker because they see it as a symbol for

the larger community, university, city, or state (Wear et al., 2018). People also identify

strongly with groups they are part of, such as a religious group or a student professional

organization. Conversely, those who have a weak identity with an institution are less

likely to give (Stephenson & Bell, 2014). Creating opportunities to engage with identity

translates well in communicating with alumni from a university; alumni are more

motivated to give money, even to those they have never met, if they see a reflection of

their identity in communication efforts.

Thus, cultivating donors could begin as early as a student’s first day on campus,

and that building, maintaining, or repairing a student’s relationship with their university

can ultimately lead to a financial gift. A student’s experience on campus can directly

influence their own sense of group identity on campus; therefore, universities that create

consistent messaging and campus experiences that align with such identification are

more likely to create lifelong relationships that lend themselves to effective fundraising


Internal and external factors and the desire to give

Philanthropy research indicates there are multiple factors that determine donors’

decisions to give money to an institution of higher education. Both external and internal

motivators can influence one’s desire to make a gift. External motivators come from an

outside source and include marketing communications between a nonprofit organization

or foundation and donor; these often take the form of email newsletters, direct mailings,

phonathons, events, and direct-mail solicitations (Khodakarami et al., 2015; Rau, 2014).

Internal motivators, on the other hand, create inherent satisfaction and psychological

enjoyment in the mind of the donor; often, the donor begins to reflect on their personal

experience and life story and is driven to make a gift based on personal motivations

(Khodakarami et al., 2015). Donors’ sense of their own identification is considered to be

an internally motivating factor and can provide clues to fundraising staff who want to

know how donors form connections to various philanthropic causes. This can be

powerful; positive shared experiences with a university can be highly motivating for

donors who rely most on their internal thoughts and feelings before making a donation.

These internal motivators foster feelings that are in alignment with “internal fit,” or how

close the issue or the organization is to their heart—often, donors who have a specific

life experience related to a particular cause are likely to donate to multiple causes

without additional solicitation (Khodakarami et al., 2015). These personal experiences

with a charity, including whether the donor has directly benefited from the charity in the

past or believes he or she will benefit from it in the future, motivates giving


When employed together by fundraising staffs, both internal and external

motivating factors foster trust and long-term relationships with donors. Often, this is

accomplished by solicitation, face-to-face interactions, and storytelling efforts, which

include call to actions in messaging (Gasman & Bowman, 2013; Whitt, 2017b). Internal

and external motivators play distinctive roles in terms of donor acquisition and engaging

with that donor over time. These motivators are important triggers specifically for

diverse, young alumni who may consider making a gift as they reflect on their

experiences at the university (Khodakarami et al., 2015).

Fundraising staff need to understand that internal and external motivating factors

should play distinctive roles in messaging strategy. While they can use messaging that

focuses on internal fit and internal motivators, external motivators ultimately trigger

prospective donors to make a gift. Thus, once fundraising staff establishes an initial

donor relationship, continuing to build on that using strategies centered around external

motivating factors is most beneficial (Khodakarami et al., 2015). Equipping fundraising

staff to use external motivating factors, such as a marketing campaign that aligns with

donors’ internal compass, is a proven strategy to create and to maintain lifelong ties

with donors in the sphere of higher education.

Empathy, prosocial behavior, and the role of social distance

Research indicates that people are more willing to donate money after they are

personally engaged, such as by donating their time volunteering (Olivola & Liu, 2009).

Further, people are more likely to give and to give more money when an emotional

connection between donors and beneficiaries is initiated by an organization—this is


affected (Park & Lee, 2015; Stephenson & Bell, 2014; Whitt, 2017a). For example,

alumni may already have an emotional connection with their university, and universities

have the opportunity to cultivate empathy to enhance those emotional ties. Empathy is

the experience of understanding someone else’s situation or condition from their point

of view, and feelings of empathy are linked to prosocial behaviors, such as philanthropy.

A sense of attachment to others through identity is essential to creating empathy, which

can often spur people to donate. This is because a shared identity creates a sense of

connection, and people are more empathetic to those with whom they can relate

(Drezner, 2018). Additionally, interdependence among social identities can drive

prosocial behaviors (Drezner, 2018; Peñaloza, 2018): “Those who experience the same

misfortunes as beneficiaries tend to feel more empathetic leading to greater donations”

(Park & Lee, 2015, p. 1119). Individuals with marginalized identities are generally

under-asked in university fundraising efforts, yet many of these alumni possess

untapped wealth and a strong desire to donate to and have an impact at their alma

maters—possibly even a stronger desire than their white counterparts (Drezner, 2018).

Understanding social distance and the identifiable victim

Research indicates fundraising staff would also benefit from understanding the

concept of social distance when developing strategies to cultivate relationships with

underrepresented groups. In a seminal work, Bogardus (1925) described social

distance as the gap between different groups in society, where those who are “socially

close are those to whom we feel most close to, and therefore, we feel less kinship

toward those with whom we have more distance” (p. 106). Feelings of empathy can


empathy for potential beneficiaries of their generosity whom they perceive not to be

responsible for their misfortunes (Drezner, 2018). Donors who empathize with recipients

of their financial contributions are also more likely to donate more frequently.

Once feelings of empathy and social identity are established, Drezner (2018)

postulates that social distance between a prospective donor and profiled beneficiary

who will benefit from the donation in a solicitation can be reduced through mirroring a

prospective donor’s social identity with that of a profiled student beneficiary. Feelings of

empathy can be induced people by marketing content through use of what Drezner

terms an “identifiable victim” model, establishing the role of the prospective donor as

helping the so-called victims, or those who directly benefit from philanthropy (p. 266).

Drezner’s research has found that the prospective donor will act in an identity-congruent

fashion and will attach more importance and give more money when social distance is

smaller. This theoretical framework champions reducing social distance between

prospective donors and a profiled student beneficiary through storytelling and student

feature stories. Traditional philanthropic solicitations, Drezner posits, have a greater

amount of social distance between prospective donors and profiled student beneficiary.

By mirroring a prospective donor’s reflection of self in a solicitation, the social distance

between the donor and the profiled scholarship recipient is reduced, thereby spurring

feelings of empathy for the student. As such, the prospective donor will act in an

identity-congruent fashion and deem the solicitation to be of greater importance which

should result in a higher level of philanthropic giving. Scholars have found that giving


underrepresented identity are engaged by university fundraisers. Drezner’s theoretical

framework of philanthropic mirroring stems from these findings.

The identity-based motivation model and philanthropic mirroring

Given the implications of social identity theory and the concepts of empathy and

social distance, Drezner (2018) sought tested his philanthropic mirroring framework by

conducting a quantitative research project. He recruited survey respondents from

Amazon’s Mechanical Turk (MTurk), a participant crowdsourcing website for behavioral

scientists. Relying on his previous philanthropy-related research findings, he developed

mock solicitation letters featuring a student profile from one or more underrepresented

backgrounds. Prospective donors were asked to read and respond to these mock

solicitation letters in order to gauge their perception of the cause at hand, willingness to

donate to that cause, and potential giving levels. These solicitation letters went to study

participants who were representative of demographics of the population in the United


Drezner’s (2018) fictitious solicitation letters profiled a student who represented

one of four solicitation frames, varying the level of academic achievement and financial

need. All four frames randomly varied the gender and race/ethnicity of the student to

incorporate a marginalized identity. After reading each fictitious letter, study participants

indicated the degree to which they deemed the cause to be important and the degree to

which they would provide philanthropic support to the featured student. In the letter with

which the respondent shared no shared marginalized identity, only 25 percent of

respondents said they would donate to the cause at hand. However, when a fictitious


number of people committed to donating to the cause jumped to 32 percent—a growth

of eight percentage points simply by inserting a vignette that leverages a marginalized

identity story structure. Respondents who shared more than one marginalized identity

with a student featured in an appeals letter, such as being a gay black man, expressed

higher levels of financial commitment as reflected in self-reported forecasted giving

levels. In terms of recruiting first-time donors, Drezner found that 25 percent of alumni

with marginalized identities who had never given to a college or university said they

would give for the first time. Even if the prospective donor who identified with a

marginalized identity had limited resources, they still ascribe more importance to the

cause than those who do not share that identity. Critically, people who shared at least

one marginalized identity with the student featured were 25 percent more likely to

increase their gift and to become first-time donors.

Moreover, philanthropic mirroring within marginalized populations results in a

greater propensity for donors to support others with marginalized identities, in addition

to supporting those with similar identities. For example, in past research, African

American donors not only supported giving to benefit African American students, but

also to other marginalized populations such as LGBT students (Drezner, 2018).

Furthermore, Drezner’s research indicates that alumni giving increases if aspects of the

graduate’s marginalized identity appear in some form in a communication solicitation,

particularly within the framework of supporting student scholarships.

A perspective that adds weight to Drezner’s (2018) research is that of standpoint

theory, which acknowledges that individuals’ views of the world and lived experiences


1997; Kinefuchi & Orbe, 2008). Individuals have vantage points from which they see the

world, and these vantage points are the result of that person’s experience as defined by

membership in social groups (Kinefuchi & Orbe, 2008). These group experiences

maintain more permanence over time than individualized experiences (Collins, 1997).

This theory helps professionals understand their own world view and how the world can

look different to individuals depending on their social standing and that this standing

(which is determined in large part by gender identity, race, and class) shapes people’s

lives (Collins, 1997). Interestingly, people can develop multiple standpoints shaped by

memberships in traditionally marginalized groups (Kinefuchi & Orbe, 2008). For

example, a white man who may not see the world from the standpoint of a racial or

ethnic minority may have cultivated another standpoint based on his sexual orientation

or gender identity. Standpoint theory also could help fundraising staffs understand

power structures and that all people are placed into racial or ethnic groups based on

human-constructed classification systems (Kinefuchi & Orbe, 2008).

Race is regarded as one of the most-powerful lenses through which individuals

see the world, and it permeates peoples’ lives at both a structural and personal level

(Kinefuchi & Orbe, 2008). Standpoint theory is a lens through which we can better

understand race and ethnicity and race-ethnic relations; everyone has a racial location

or “racialized perspective” to which they belong” (p. 86). When applied to race and

ethnicity, standpoint theory helps us understand that racial standpoints “refer to more

than social location, experience, or perspective; it encompasses a critical, oppositional

understanding of how one’s life is shaped by larger social and political forces” (p. 74).


counterparts. By contrast, white people tend to emphasize the universality of human

experience and believe racism to be a largely historic issue.

Given that standpoint theory is an “interpretive framework dedicated to

explicating how knowledge remains central to maintaining and changing unjust systems

of power” the commonality of experience and perspectives can be varied (Collins, 1997,

p. 375). Individuals within the same group identity may interpret an experience in a

different way, and because of this, researchers caution against using the individual

experience as a proxy for a group experience. This stereotyping is a limitation of

standpoint theory. Yet, if the individual experience reflects that of a common human

experience as an example for how group consciousness and decision making occur,

then the individual experience can become a model for comprehending group

processes. This process can lead to reduced conflict within groups when generating

group narratives. Social identity, standpoint theory, and philanthropic mirroring all have

notable implications for fundraising communications. This next section will provide an

overview of ethical considerations that are vital to consider when communicating with

alumni of institutions of higher education who are underrepresented minorities.

The ethics of marketing to underrepresented minority consumers

When crafting messages for underrepresented groups, is important to consider

the ethics of marketing to these populations to avoid inappropriate and ineffective

practices. For example, some companies that sell unwholesome products such as

cigarettes, processed foods, and sugary sodas have marketed those items specifically

to African American, Latinx, and LGBTQIA+ consumers without concern for the


A heightened racial/ethnic consciousness has made underrepresented groups

more attractive marketing prospects; however, it is essential that marketers use relevant

and ethical messages, symbolism, and imagery in communicating with these

customers/donors (Chebet, 2015; Cui, 2001). More than half of Fortune 1000

companies established marketing programs geared toward underrepresented minorities

by the turn of the 21st century (Cui, 2001). Literature indicates that such targeted

programs are considered appropriate because underrepresented minorities, like other

groups, have their own behaviors and media habits, which warrants differentiation in

communication strategy.

Research shows that underrepresented groups are particularly sensitive to

portrayals of their race/ethnicity and seek to understand motivation behind marketing

practices more than their white counterparts (Chebat, 2015). They are responsive to

messages that focus on uplifting and positive aspects of their culture. Marketing and

communications strategies that misfire often do not take into account considerations of

ethnic segmentation; unethical marketing tactics can have long-lasting psychological

effects, such as cultivating feelings of alienation or powerlessness among these

individuals (Chebat, 2015; Cui, 2001). Because segmenting in this way relies upon

unique and salient group characteristics, it is vital that communicators abide by racial

and ethical considerations, including fully understanding and avoiding cultural

stereotypes. The following section will examine key ethical considerations of fundraising

and fundraising communications in general and, more specifically, the ethics of racial


Ethics in fundraising

Fundraising staffs have a responsibility to meet the needs of two stakeholders:

their institution and their donors (Caboni, 2012). Various councils and governing bodies

have crafted fundraising codes of ethics and promote their standards and norms among

fundraising professionals (MacQuillan, 2016). In the United States, for instance, codes

of ethics are set by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education and by the

Association of Fundraising Professionals (Caboni, 2012). While the codes provide

guidance to fundraising staff, they lack examples of practical application of these ethical

standards (MacQuillin, 2016). By comparison, similar organizations in the United

Kingdom lack a code of ethics but instead use a Code of Practice, an initiative of British

organization Fundraising Regulator. This Code of Practice is more proscriptive in nature

and includes directives regarding communications that occur between fundraisers and

donors, such as direct mail, telephone calls, and events. Despite these codes,

fundraising organizations around the world still face ethical grey areas and must rely on

professional judgments, codes, and/or norms to guide decision-making processes as

they aim to meet fundraising targets (Dean & Wood, 2017; MacQuillin, 2016).

The definition of ethics is two-fold. First, it is the “philosophical study of the moral

value of human conduct and of the rules and principles that ought to govern it”

(MacQuillin, 2016, p. 6). Ethics also manifest as “social, religious, or civil” codes of

behavior considered to be correct, with particular regard to group, profession, or

individual (p. 6). Normative ethics, or that which is concerned with the “content of moral


application of normative theory to specific issues, such as racial equality. With regard to

communication, scholars of applied ethics in fundraising generally agree that all

solicitation and communication materials should be accurate and reflect the

organization’s mission and use of solicited funds. Organizations are expected to

ethically protect the public trust, manage relationships, serve donors and their needs,

and provide an avenue for philanthropy. Of these, relationship management is the only

one that has been formally articulated as part of a normative theory of fundraising.

Drawing on the work of public relations scholar James Grunig (1992), fundraising expert

Kathleen S. Kelly concludes that the purpose of fundraising is managing relationships

and that raising money for a cause is a byproduct of having successfully managed

those relationships (Kelly, 1998; MacQuillin, 2016).

In public relations, a “two-way symmetrical approach” is focused on making sure

that an organization’s decisions are mutually beneficial for both itself and its audiences;

public relations practitioners should serve as a liaison between the organization and key

publics, rather than merely a persuader (Gruning, 1992). Specifically, Kelly (1998)

posits that the two-way symmetrical approach is the only ethical approach because it

allows for relationship building with donors that are genuine (p. 167). A two-way

symmetrical approach to fundraising cautions against persuasion and manipulation of

people. Instead, it promotes public relations as a mediator to resolve conflict and

promotes mutual understanding among stakeholders (MacQuillin, 2016). This is in

comparison to a “two-way asymmetrical approach” which uses research to drive donor

behavior; Kelly (1998) posits that this approach is unbalanced because it does not help


behave as the organization wished (i.e., persuade them to give)” (p. 165). Kelly deems

this to be a less-ethical tactic if it does not produce genuine relationships between the

donor and the organization.

The ethics of fundraising communications

Fundraising communications often rely on eliciting emotions, such as hope, guilt,

and fear, all of which are powerful tools that can be deployed strategically to elicit

donations from prospects. Fundraising for a cause is inherently emotional work, and

professionals rely on two primary tactics to solicit donations: the use of positive imagery

and descriptions of impact versus negative imagery and descriptions of need. Often,

fundraising staffs find themselves with a need to balance these two tactics. For

instance, people experiencing homelessness felt misrepresented by stereotypical

images of homelessness, yet they were more accepting of these portrayals if donations

to a cause supporting their situation were maximized as a result. For fundraising staffs,

such a tactic is seen as a “risky short-cut” because it does not engage in a two-way

dialogue with the goal of relationship building (Dean & Wood, 2017, p. 2). However,

these negative communications have traditionally been more successful than positive

communications in terms of meeting fundraising goals. For fundraising staff who must

use their own trained and professional judgment to meet fundraising goals, eliciting

feelings of negative emotions (such as guilt) can be a successful, yet ethically murky,

tactic to apply in communications. Further, eliciting either positive or negative emotions

is subjective to one’s experience and interpretation of the communication; one’s


behaviorally to the appeal. Codes suggest relying on the context of individual situations

to balance these ethical considerations.

The ethics of marketing to underrepresented minority groups in higher education There are several ethical considerations in higher education marketing that can

be applied to the sphere of fundraising. If an institution’s goal is to develop strong

emotional ties with prospective donors, often storytelling is a tactic employed by

communicators (VanDeCarr, 2014). Use of stories to engender emotion comes with

ethical questions the communicator must consider, particularly in the realm of

fundraising. For instance, getting the person’s permission first is recommended before

sharing personal stories for fundraising purposes (VanDeCarr, 2014). Further, if there is

a greater need for privacy, perhaps a story could be re-focused, or a composite

character (with key identifiers changed) could be developed. It is also essential to

consider who is telling the story and if it is an accurate representation of what


In higher education, visual rhetoric and imagery are tools often used to create a

positive impression among prospective students, as the photographic portrayal of racial

diversity can influence campus perception (Pippert et al., 2013). These pressures to

appear diverse have led some universities to unethically edit photographs to appear to

have a more-diverse student body than they actually do. In other cases, some

universities have unethically incorporated the number of non-white international

students among diversity enrollment statistics to appear more racially and ethnically

diverse. Most often, this is seen in recruitment materials; having ethnically diverse


American Council on Education (DelVecchio, 2017). Misleading imagery of racial/ethnic

diversity can lead to a visual overrepresentation of minorities when compared to

demographics of student bodies. Other non-ethical practices including using imagery of

racial minorities in deferential or passive positions, such as taking direction from a white

person or with the minority not being the main person in the featured image. Use of

racially ambiguous figures is another strategy used in visual marketing in higher

education; one’s own predispositions can influence conclusions drawn as to what race

is depicted if the image is ambiguous. Use of authentic photos instead of staged or

stock images, regardless of race or ethnicity, can foster feelings of trust and

genuineness (DelVecchio, 2017). There are multiple ethical considerations that are

most important for this project, including storytelling appropriation and ensuring ethical

use of a story in a fundraising communication, which directly speak to the identity of the

featured student. Other ethical concerns, including visual rhetoric and imagery, are of

secondary concern for purposes of this paper. Accurate and truthful visual

representation, storytelling, and securing permission as to how a story may be used are

steps fundraising staff can take to ensure communications are ethical and to adhere to

industry standards and norms to protect both the donor and the institution (Caboni,


It is clear from the literature reviewed thus far on fundraising and identity,

including Drezner’s (2018) theoretical framework, that there are myriad implications for

philanthropic communication. Drezner’s quantitative research has identified a pathway

through which social identity theories and concepts can be applied when addressing


philanthropic mirroring framework, fundraising staffs can develop strategies for new

donor recruitment in an effort to engage with an emerging diverse alumni base through

appeals letters to successfully fundraise. While Drezner has created sample solicitation

letters and provided quantitative research showing the letters’ effectiveness, there is a

lack of understanding as to how communicators can best implement this in practice

from an ethical standpoint. This exploratory project was designed to help fill that gap.

The following research questions guided this study:

 What are ethical concerns of applying philanthropic mirroring in practice?

 What feedback are young Latinx and African American alumni able to provide about the effectiveness and ethical viability of philanthropic



For this project, I used a mixed-methods approach to investigate my proposed

research questions and to expand upon current research. To do this, I conducted

quantitative and qualitative research through an online survey tool and through

interviews over the phone. This approach allowed me to explore and evaluate

perceptions of both the effectiveness and ethics of fundraising appeals that use

philanthropic mirroring within the context of higher education. This project received IRB

approval from the Office of Human Research Ethics from the University of North

Carolina at Chapel Hill.


The deliverable for this project is two-fold. First, it includes a thesis project report

(introduction, literature review, method, and results). Second, it includes a list of best

practices for higher education fundraising staffs regarding the ethical deployment of

philanthropic mirroring and two examples of an annual appeal letter template based in

best practices developed from research findings. Fundraising staffs at public institutions

of higher education will be able to use this information to develop ethically sound

solicitation strategies that speak to and engage with Latinx and African American


Project Participants and Recruitment

I recruited survey participants from African American and Latinx alumni affiliation

groups from the largest public university in North Carolina: the University of North

Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-CH). Desired survey participants included alumni who


alumni according to the UNC-CH alumni association. At UNC-CH, I worked with the

General Alumni Association’s diversity fundraising team to glean names and email

addresses for African American and Latinx UNC-CH alumni. Lastly, I worked with the

UNC-CH diversity and inclusion fundraising team to glean names and email addresses

from the Carolina Latinx Center and the Black Student Movement. These are both

campus organizations at UNC-CH designed to raise awareness of issues facing Latinx

and African American individuals and to provide resources to students, alumni, faculty,

and staff. Additionally, I used snowball sampling to ask that each affiliation group share

survey recruitment materials on their respective social media channels.

Research setting, data collection, and analysis

To execute this project, I created two versions of annual appeal letters that are

based on templates used in Drezner’s (2018) research. These annual appeal letters

featured recently graduated former students (Items 1 and 2). A single-factor

quasi-experimental design delivered through a survey questionnaire resulted in the following

two conditions for templates that incorporate the concept of philanthropic mirroring:

UNC-CH African American female and UNC-CH Latina. All potential respondents were

sent a survey link. Gender was held constant as a marker of identity. In order to best

examine the ethical implications of Drezner’s philanthropic mirroring approach, the

content of the appeal letter was identical for each condition except for the student’s

name, the photograph used, and the race/ethnicity specified. For these templates, the

body copy used Drezner’s (2018) generation frame, which highlights

first-generation students, with a call to action focusing on supporting student scholarships.


designed by Drezner to establish the concept of marginalized identity (p. 270).

Participants were assigned an annual appeal letter template based on the race/ethnicity

that corresponded to the affiliation group from which they were recruited. For example,

those who were selected to participate from the Carolina Latinx Center received the

Latinx UNC-CH template, and those who were selected to participate from the Black

Student Movement received the African American UNC-CH template. The exploratory

survey results, reported simply as frequencies, are not meant to be generalizable but

instead guided the conversation in follow-up interviews with survey respondents.


Survey participants were asked to complete a quantitative online survey through

Qualtrics, a cloud-based survey software (appendix A). Ninety-four participants

completed the survey and met survey criteria, rendering their responses valid. By racial/

ethnic designation, there were 62 African American and 32 Latinx respondents who met

these criteria.

Before beginning the questionnaire, participants learned about the purpose of the

survey, eligibility requirements, and their ability to opt out at any point. After giving

consent, participants were first asked to view their assigned annual appeal letter on a

digitally. Participants used a check box to indicate that they understood information on

the research consent form. They then answered a group of closed-ended questions.

The first questions asked for demographic information. Next, using a Likert scale, a

series of questions asked participants to indicate their opinions about the effectiveness

of the letter’s content with regard to fundraising. Lastly, a series of questions relating to


degree to which they felt the letter used emotional manipulation, such as eliciting

feelings of guilt. These final questions corresponded to specific areas of ethical concern

identified by scholars who have examined messages targeted to racial minorities (Dean

& Wood, 2017; Tindall & Waters, 2010).

The survey included an option for participants to indicate their willingness to

complete a follow-up, semi-structured interview designed to solicit qualitative feedback

on the ethics and effectiveness of the annual appeal letter they viewed. These recorded

interviews helped me to better understand the data from the surveys about the

effectiveness and ethical suitability of the philanthropic mirroring approach. Each

participant who agreed to an interview was sent the same appeal letter template link in

advance of the interview and was allowed to reference it during the interview process.

For the second part of this project, I conducted semi-structured interviews with

members of each racial/ethnic group (appendix B). I interviewed six African American

alumni and five Latinx alumni by phone, which I recorded on audio. To analyze the

findings from these in-depth interviews, I identified primary themes relating to the

effectiveness and ethics of the appeal letter (McCracken, 1988). After identifying

patterns and commonalities among the themes and determining their interrelationship, I

developed central themes and sub-themes. From there, I made recommendations for



All ninety-four survey participants indicated they were a graduate of UNC-CH. All

survey participants’ graduation years ranged from 2009 to 2019. Table 1 shows the

demographics of survey participants, including their age range and race/ethnicity.

Table 1

Demographics of Survey Participants

African American Latinx

n 62 32

Age (years)

18-24 11 12

25-34 50 19

35-44 1 1

More survey respondents indicated they had received a scholarship while a

student at UNC-CH; fewer indicated they had donated to the institution. For African

American respondents, 43 percent of survey respondents indicated they had donated

versus 56 percent of Latinx respondents. On the other hand, more than half of survey

respondents indicated they had received a scholarship during their time as a student at

UNC-CH. For African American respondents, 69 percent indicated they had received a

scholarship compared to 65 percent of Latinx respondents. The mean for this question

for African American and Latinx respondents was 3.01 and 3.28 respectively, with

African Americans slightly more inclined to donate. By responding to five-point Likert

scale-style questions indicating likelihood (extremely unlikely-1, moderately unlikely-2,

neither unlikely nor likely-3, moderately likely-4, extremely likely-5), survey participants


university and to support Latinx or African American students based on the content of

the fundraising appeal letter they read. Not surprisingly, using the same scale

measuring feelings of connectedness, both racial/ethnic groups felt connected to the

university after having seen a Latinx or African American student feature, depending on

the template they viewed. The mean for this question reveals for African American

respondents an average response of 3.74 and for Latinx an average of 3.71; a nearly

identical measure of feelings of connectedness. On a similar five-point scale in which

survey participants rated the effectiveness of the use of race and/or ethnicity to tailor

fundraising letters, they indicated it was a moderately effective approach for fundraising

staff to implement; the mean for African Americans for this question was 3.48; for Latinx

it was 3.06. In this case, African Americans felt that the letters were overall more

effective than their Latinx counterparts.

The only question in which Likert-style responses differed based on race/ethnicity

asked survey participants the extent to which they believed it was ethical to use an

underrepresented minority student to persuade minority alumni to donate. Latinx

respondents reported they thought it was neither ethical nor ethical—slightly less ethical

than African American respondents who rated it moderately ethical. In this case, the

means also reflected these results: 3.46 for African American respondents and 3.21 for

Latinx respondents. Survey participants could select from the following scale: extremely

un1, moderately un2, neither unethical nor 3, moderately

ethical-4, extremely ethical-5.

In terms of the letter’s positive and negative attributes, survey participants


reasonable. They felt less strongly that it was insulting, emotionally manipulative,

guilt-based, and exploitive (results can be seen in Table 2). For each of these positive and

negative identifiers, the mode was the same; therefore, only means are reported.

Generally, survey participants believed the templates to be both ethical and effective.

Table 2

Survey Participant Agreement or Disagreement as to Whether Approach of Showcasing Underrepresented Minority Student to Persuade Minority

Alumni to Donate to University is Among the Following:

African American Latinx

n 62 32


Mean 3.46 3.78


Mean 3.38 3.93


Mean 3.19 3.75


Mean 3.3 3.81


Mean 2.48 2.18


Mean 2.82 3.03

Emotionally Manipulative

Mean 3.14 2.93


Mean 2.79 2.71


Themes emerging from the in-depth interviews

Overall, during the optional interview portion of my research, most of the

interviewees indicated they felt the student feature vignettes were effective. All 11

interview participants (five Latinx and six African Americans) indicated that philanthropic

mirroring using racial/ethnic designations as conveyed in the student feature vignette

was ethical. Participants also provided feedback about how to best structure this type of

fundraising appeal, which I have condensed into four emerging themes. A theme

emerged if four or more interview participants provided insight into a single topic and

stressed the issue during the follow-up interview. The first two in the bulleted list below

relate to the fundraising letter effectiveness; the last two relate to ethical considerations.

A need for tailored and strategic storytelling: Almost every interview

participant wanted to see more tailored storytelling. They also recommended that

the body copy headline better reflect the story. In terms of more tailored

storytelling, participants recommended body copy more specifically relate to their

personal experience as a student (both racial/ethnic and non-racial/ethnic

activities), so as to elicit feelings more reminiscent of their time in college.

Respondents sought stories that placed them in the mindset of the featured

student, and they desired hearing stories of loyalty and dedication to campus



just racial/ethnic lines. These suggestions fell into four categories of identity:

student voice, scholarships status, racial/ethnic-related campus activities, and

non-racial/ethnic-related activities. Four participants mentioned the value of these

thematic categories as a way to better understand the identity of an

underrepresented student and to establish empathy.

Student voice

Three participants recommended the use of the student voice through quotations

within body copy. They said hearing from a first-person perspective would strengthen

feelings of empathy and the ability to relate to the featured student.

Scholarship status

Participants indicated that fact that the student vignette addressed scholarship

status made them reflect on their own scholarship status or that of others they knew

who had received and benefitted from a scholarship. This is useful information for

fundraisers because it provides a moment of reflection for the potential donor.

Racial/ethnic-related activities

Participants recommended highlighting a student’s involvement in

racial/ethnic-related activities to mirror that of the letter recipient’s participation. For Latinx students

at UNC-CH, for example, they recommended featuring students who were involved in a

sorority or fraternity, were interested in bilingual opportunities for students, or were

involved with the Carolina Latinx Center. For African American students, there are

similar opportunities to highlight campus involvement such as the Black Student

Movement, sororities or fraternities, Summer Bridge and involvement with the Carolina


Non-racial/ethnic related markers of identity

Interview participants recommended telling stories of students who may have had

similar internships or first jobs. They also recommended telling stories about students

who came from a variety of backgrounds, including rural locations and socio-economic

statuses such as middle class, in order to provide a wider representation of identity.

They also recommended widening the breadth of the student experience to include

activities that represent both inclusion and diversity. For example, most first-year

students at UNC-CH live on the south side of campus and are involved in clubs that are

not racial/ethnic based, such as film club.

Race and ethnicity-based based photos are valuable Six interview

participants indicated that the student photo appeared to be authentic because it

fostered feelings of empathy toward the students’ success. The photo also

provided immediate visual clarity about whom the funds would support. Three

participants mentioned the student’s positive smile, which brought about feelings

of pride. Interestingly, two participants said if the feature photo was that of a

white student, they would have had no interest in donating.

Be aware of the dangers of stereotyping: More than half of interview participants indicated the template copy felt inauthentic and institutionalized.

Five interview participants cautioned against generalizations and stereotyping of

a racial/ethnic experience. For instance, a total of five Latinx and African

American respondents noted that not every student from their racial/ethnic group


fundraising letters that highlight the first-generation experience be tailored to

students who were, in fact, first-generation students. Four interview participants

also noted that caution should be used when showcasing underrepresented

minority students who need money to attend school, as it implies high levels of

poverty—another stereotype of underrepresented minority students. Similarly,

four participants suggested that the scholarship experience is not universal to

underrepresented minority students. This is useful knowledge for a fundraiser

because it is another way to strategically speak to donors who either received or


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