By Ally Orlando, Communications & Marketing at DonorPerfect

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

To be inclusive of all your donors, your event goals should directly align with your goals as an organization, including DEI work. Givecloud fundraising experts recommend identifying the reason why you are hosting an event before you begin planning it – for example, sharing your story with more people or strengthening board involvement in DEI.


5 Ways to Make Your Fundraising Events More Inclusive


1. 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 their organizations accountable, Rooted in Rights recommends that fundraisers: 1) Include disabled people in leadership, scheduled speakers, panelists, imagery, and documentation; and 2) Include disability in anti-harassment, anti-discrimination, and diversity policies, recognizing disability as a social and political category.


2. 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. “Keep in mind that the latter group often includes older donors who may leave your organization a significant bequest,” she says.

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.


3. Consider accommodations for safety & comfort

Asking about accommodations sends a clear signal that people with disabilities are welcome at your event – virtual or not – and that inclusion is a priority. To start out, 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 the COVID virus 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.

Rooted in Rights recommends:

  • Include a disability orientation for all volunteers and staff
  • Include a space on your registration form for people to express access need.
  • Document your accessibility policy and efforts and make them public.


4. Budget for the time it takes to plan inclusively

“Many nonprofit leaders want to improve accessibility at their events 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 sometimes it’s simply a matter of turning these features on with little-to-no additional cost. For in-person events, choosing a location that enables everyone to attend 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 commit 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 nonprofit board and 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, rather than as a ‘nice extra’ for people who aren’t yet part of your audience.”


5. Include the disability community in the conversation

It’s important to build relationships and give people with disabilities a place in informing your efforts. 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. If you are hosting an event with speakers or presenters, include disabled people on your panels, or consult with them on discussion topics. “Be sure to compensate disabled people for their time and expertise if they helped you,” Tischer stresses, and include this cost in your overall event budget.

Include people with visible disabilities in your marketing materials,” 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 recommends:

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

Of course, inclusion work is never really done. According to the RespectAbility study, Disability in Philanthropy & Nonprofits, bias is still what’s keeping organizations from doing the bare minimum, cited by more than one-third of survey respondents. “Whether overt or implicit, prejudice against people with disabilities is a significant barrier to meaningful inclusion efforts,” the study reports. People with disabilities have considerable talent and help strengthen nonprofit organizations. Together, we can do much better.