Unconscious Bias in Fundraising

Making the Unconscious Conscious:

Unconscious bias refers to a bias that we are unaware of, and which happens outside of our control. It is a bias that happens automatically and is triggered by our brain making quick judgments and assessments of people and situations, influenced by our background, cultural environment, and personal experiences

Unconscious bias is far more prevalent than conscious bias and is often incompatible with conscious values.

Unconscious biases:

  • Develop at an early age.
  •  Do have real effects on our behavior.
  • Are malleable. One can take steps to minimize the impact of unconscious bias
  •  Unconscious bias impacts our actions both as institutions and individuals

Recall a time when your implicit bias kicked in automatically.

  • Where were you?
  • Identify the biases that were in play?
  • What was useful about the biases in your automatic reaction?
  • What was not useful about them?
  • Did you notice them in the moment?
  • How did you respond?
  • Were your UU Values reflected in your actions?

This is a Spiritual Practice

Recent studies within cognitive science point us to the conclusion that biased decisions are not made by bad people with bad attitudes, but rather by well-intentioned people who are unaware of the internal unconscious processes that may be affecting their decision-making every day. So, how do you stop yourself from falling prey to the dangers of unconscious bias? The simple answer is to make the unconscious, conscious. Increase your awareness of your unconscious biases. By acknowledging the different types of unconscious bias we can start to address them. Affinity comes across in all kinds of different ways… what would it look like if we were intentional about who we reached out to?

Ingroup and Out Group Biases

Unconscious Bias is part of our wiring- so of course all our efforts can be impacted by expressions of ingroup out group bias. Who do we perceive as part of OUR group and how do we set our expectations & what relational actions we take.

  • In-group/out-group bias can hamper our fundraising efforts without us realizing it is happening.

When Planning Ask:

  • Who do we include in planning teams? Who is included in marketing?
    • Fundraising is a vulnerable process- we tend to reach out to our trusted circles- the people we perceive as most like ourselves.
    • Are we replicating ourselves or creating homogeneous perspectives and ideas by limiting who is included on leadership teams?
  • Who is included in our donor pool?
    • A $1 gift ought to get the same fanfare/ recognition as a $1,000- that’s what our first principle says.
    • What decisions about “poor people” are made in fundraising- about their participation, how they “should” use their money, their leadership, etc. Examine where bias is at work here.

Essential Actions to make the Unconscious Conscious:

  •  Slow down decision making.
  •  Reconsider reasons for decisions.
  • Question cultural stereotypes.
  • Monitor each other for unconscious bias.

These are principles to address white supremacy culture. They are rooted in community, transparency, and curiosity.  These steps will help shift the way we fundraise. Attend to process over deliverables. People over profit. Remember- fundraising is about relationships!

Have a diverse fundraising plan:

  • Grants, Crowdfunding, Legacy Gifts, Annual Fund, Offering Plate, etc. Make it SUSTAINABLE!


When Giving Examine:

  •  What are “our” causes? Who shares “our” values?
  •  What sorts of projects do you fund.
    • What motivates you?
    • Do you fund institutions? Individuals? Both?
    • How is your giving to institutions impacted by actions by individual staff/representatives?
    • How is your philanthropy an act of decolonization?


This probably feels big, and overwhelming- it should! Culture change does not happen quickly and requires practice, grace, and teamwork,  

Resources from the workshop, “Unconscious Bias: A Roadblock to Fundraising Success” given at UUA General Assembly 2019 in Spokane, WA

Slides: Unconscious Bias A Roadblock to Fundraising Success Key Points Above (one sheet printable)