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  • Ally Orlando

How to Host Inclusive Fundraising Events

Despite a steady incline in Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion work in the nonprofit sector, experts say most still aren’t doing enough to ensure events are inclusive and accessible to everyone. To be inclusive of all your donors, your event goals should directly align with your goals as an organization, including DEI.

“Organizations that don’t prioritize accommodations like these at their events convey the message that donors who have a disability don’t matter.”
- Ingrid Tischer, Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund

Ask experts & hold your organization accountable

Nonprofits should “assume disabled people are in the room, even if they aren’t evident, and that they are stakeholders in your event,” recommends Rooted in Rights, an organization that uses accessible digital media to advance the dignity, equality, and self-determination of people with disabilities.

To hold nonprofits accountable, Rooted in Rights recommends:

  1. Include disabled people in leadership, scheduled speakers and panelists, imagery, and documentation.

  2. Include disability in anti-harassment, anti-discrimination, and diversity policies, recognizing disability as a social and political category.

Lean on digital tools that make DIY easy

RespectAbility Founder Jennifer Mizrahi recommends that smaller nonprofits who are just starting out with DEI work can use built-in captions offered by Zoom and other virtual event platforms. This benefits those who identify as deaf or hard of hearing, nonnative English speakers, and those with cognitive disabilities.

Digital elements include open captioning, audio descriptions of video content, recordings of live events, American Sign Language interpretation,

Spanish audio translation, an accessible web portal for the event, and compatibility with assistive technologies like screen readers. Your organization can look to Web Content Accessibility Guidelines for help.

Consider accommodations for safety & comfort

While 59 percent of nonprofits say their events are always held in physically accessible spaces, only 30 percent say their organization enables people with disabilities to request accommodations on event registration forms.

Asking about accommodations sends a clear signal that

people with disabilities and health challenges are welcome at your event - virtual or not - and that inclusion is a priority. You can ask donors on your online registration form if they will need accommodations. And after the event, you can send out a survey to see how well you did with accommodating their needs.

Draw inspiration from accommodations made during the pandemic

People with disabilities face a higher risk of getting COVID-19 and experiencing serious symptoms. To host a dignified event for children during a pandemic, DonorPerfect client Children’s Scholarship Fund of Omaha focused on making the

families of scholarship nominees as comfortable as possible. They included a note with the invitation stating the event safety protocol, and that, if guests were uncomfortable with any aspect of it, organizers would accommodate them however possible. The safety protocol was shared with board members before the event, as well, to keep everyone aligned.

CSFO sent each person who registered for the luncheon a pre-event email. They let them know they were looking forward to their attendance and shared their safety protocol. When people contacted the organization with safety concerns, they could then

point back to that memo, send an additional copy, or work with them directly to meet their needs.

By creating a dynamic list of your event registrants, you can send a mass email to outline your accessibility protocol and ask for feedback. Integrated fundraising solutions like DonorPerfect and Constant Contact help you manage an inclusive event from start to finish - invites, invoices, reports, and receipts.

Budget for the time it takes to plan inclusively

Many nonprofit leaders want to improve accessibility at their ev

ents but don’t know how, explains Bridget Hayman, Communications Director at Access Living. “Usually what I tell them is to factor accessibility into your planning from the very start. That means thinking about how to ensure that as many people as possible can join, not necessarily considering only those with disabilities,” she says.

Time is a bigger factor than budget

For virtual events, Hayman recommends taking advantage of features your online event tools already offer, such as video captions, explaining that som

etimes it’s simply a matter of turning these features on, with little-to-no additional cost. For in-person events, choose a location that enables everyone to attend. This doesn’t necessarily require a bigger budget, as many public spaces like libraries and hotels are already accessible.

Start early to account for any learning curves

Tischer recommends budgeting for accessibility before you even commi

t to a venue or online platform. “Simply thinking about it and setting a little money aside, just like you would for anything else, is a good start,” she says.

“Approach it like an expense budget with line items for specific tasks and the amount of time each requires. Consider the potential learning curve you’ll face, especially if focusing on accessibility for the first time, including learning how to make documents accessible and sharing this knowledge with your team.”

Make sure your board is on board

You’ll also want to plan how to build support among your staff for accessibility efforts. “Do this early because it often takes longer than you expect, but it is crucial. If people you count on don’t really understand how integral access is, it’s unlikely you can pull it off on your own,” she says. To win leaders’ support, frame access as an equity issue, Tischer recommends, rather than as

a “nice extra.”

Include the disability community in the conversation

It’s important to build relationships with people with disabilities in your community who can inform your efforts. “Include people with visible disabilities in your marketing m

aterials,” Mizrahi says. “Don’t portray those individuals only as recipients of your services, but as contributing members of your community, as leaders, and as caregivers.”

Rooted in Rights recommendations:

  • Have a framework in place for responding to criticism and feedback from the disability community.

  • Be mindful of your language: Avoid words that use disability as an i

nsult, like “crazy” or “hysterical.” Avoid phrases such as “wheelchair-bound” or “suffers from.”

At the end of the day, the best way to make someone feel included is to actually include them in your process from start to finish. People with disabilities can inform your event planning, speak at your event, or suggest discussion topics. Be sure to compensate for their time and expertise as an ongoing investment.

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