Survey: Race and Gender in Fundraising

Are donors more inclined to consider a fundraising appeal featuring someone who looks like them—sharing their race, ethnicity, and/or gender? Grey Matter and Infinity Concepts dug into this issue in the newly released report Race & Gender in Fundraising: Exploring Potential Bias Among Evangelicals.

Researchers tested ad layouts showing children of different racial/ethnic backgrounds and both genders, using a technique known as monadic testing. Respondents were divided into four equal segments; each segment saw one ad, and their responses were compared with other segments.  In this way, people are not directly asked to choose between supporting a boy or supporting a girl, for instance.

Race and Ethnicity

The national sample of 1,010 evangelical Protestants was shown the same ad, but the child pictured was either Asian, Black, Latino, or White.

“It is common in advertising to believe people want to see others like themselves portrayed, and that may be true in a pure consumer context,” said Ron Sellers, president of Grey Matter Research. “We simply do not find that dynamic when people are asked to help hungry children in the U.S.”

“In a fundraising context, evangelicals do not find pictures of children of their own race or ethnicity more compelling than pictures of other races,” says Mark Dreistadt, president and CEO of Infinity Concepts. “Nor do they find pictures of their own race less compelling. Race simply does not make a difference.” 

While there was no preference for images based on the race or ethnicity of the child, the race or the ethnicity of the adult viewing the image did make a difference.

“Black evangelicals found the ads substantially more compelling than others—no matter which child they saw,” Dreistadt says. “Black evangelicals were less likely than others to call all the ads discouraging or easy to ignore, and more likely to find them hopeful, realistic, believable, and relatable.”

Boys and Girls

When asked to help children, race/ethnicity does not impact how compelling an ad is. But does gender make a difference? In a word: Yes.

“Men are slightly more likely to rate the ads with the boy as extremely compelling than they are to say this about the ads with the girl,” Sellers says. “Was this just a case of men favoring their own gender? No—women are even more likely than men to feel the ads with the boy are compelling.”

Those differences held true no matter whether the child was pictured smiling or despondent. This finding could have a significant impact on a fundraising campaign. 


Regarding race and ethnicity, the report encourages fundraisers not to get caught up in stereotypes. “What evangelical Protestants really want is to help people, not to help people of their own race or of any specific ethnic background,” Dreistadt says.

But what about gender?

“We would need considerable further testing to know whether the gender bias we saw would exist with images of different age groups, races, and types of organizations,” he says. “At the moment, however, organizations should not consider de-emphasizing images of females but putting forth images, stories, and information that make it clear their work is critical to males and females.” 

Or, as Sellers puts it, “When an apparent bias exists, ethically, fundraisers should do what they can to help correct that bias through education and communication, not pander to it in hopes of better results.”

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