Category Archives: Community Engagement

9 Principles of Community-Centric Fundraising

[Image description: Some sort of duck, standing on what looks like a wooden post, overlooking a pond. The duck is looking to our right. It has light brown feathers on its head and back, white belly, and its wings are brown with orange-red feathers, with a little bit of neon green peeking through. Its tail feathers are black. The top of its head is gray, and there is a streak of white highlighted with black curving down from the back of its head to its neck. This is one cute little duck. In the background, out of focus, are two white ducks swimming. Image obtained from Pixabay.com]

Hi everyone. After last week’s post, I got a lot of comments, many in support, a few cautiously curious, and some strong disagreement. Which is all awesome, because we can disagree on many things, but I think the conversation around equity as it’s applied to fundraising is much needed. I also want to reiterate how much respect I have for the fundraisers in our field. I’ve said it before that I think you have to be pretty brilliant to be a successful fundraising professional, considering how complex this work is. I also want to reaffirm how much I appreciate donors, and that my critique of donor-centrism in no way precludes respect for donors, just like my critique of inequitable funding practices should not mean a disrespect for foundations or program officers, or my post on how data has been used to perpetuate inequity should not be seen as a dis on evaluators and researchers.

Today, I want to lay out a few preliminary thoughts on Community-Centric Fundraising. I was hoping to work on this further and present a tighter set of principles later, but because so many are curious, I thought I’d set down a few tentative points, based on the conversations and input I’ve had so far. Special thanks to AFP Calgary and Area and Banff Compass 2017, Amy Varga of Varga Consulting, Emily Anthony and Julie Edsforth of Clover Search Works, Erica Mills of Claxon Marketing, my friends in the Seattle chapter of EDHH, my staff, and other amazing colleagues, especially fundraisers of color, who provided thoughts, including disagreement. (It should be noted that the colleagues listed here helped me to think, but it does not necessarily mean they agree with everything presented here).

Again, these principles and sample actions below are tentative, and will change and evolve as we have more conversations, including likely some more healthy arguments: Continue reading

How donor-centrism perpetuates inequity, and why we must move toward community-centric fundraising

[Image description: Two fluffy brown and yellow ducklings with black beaks and eyes. They’re snuggled up against each other, One looking right, the other one looking left. Image obtained from pixabay.com]

Hi everyone, this is a lengthy and serious post that I wrote after a period of thinking, and I hope it will lead to some vigorous conversations. Two years ago, I wrote a post called “Winter is Coming and the Donor-Centered Fundraising Model Must Evolve.” Since then, I’ve had more conversations with colleagues and donors, attended more conferences and workshops on fundraising, and did some more reading. Also, I donate to several nonprofits, so I can also draw from my own experience as a donor.

From all this, I think we have a serious problem with the donor-centered approach. Namely that the pervasiveness of this model in our sector may be perpetuating the very inequity that we are seeking to address as a sector. Continue reading

Time inequity: What it is and why it’s no-good, very-bad

[Image description: A black-and-white photograph of two hourglasses standing side-by-side within a black box frame overlooking an indecipherable background (it might be a city, out of focus). The hourglass on the left has white sand, and the one on the right has black sand. Both seems almost full and are trickling sand, culminating in small sand piles in their respective bottom chambers. But the black-sand hourglass seems to have less sand in the top chamber.]

People have been asking me, “Vu, how do you manage to write a blog each week while running a nonprofit and parenting a toddler and a baby, and yet still retain your youthful good looks?” The secret is simple: I don’t sleep, and also, personal hygiene and nutrition standards have been lowered. Having a second kid, especially, has sapped our time so much that we tend to eat over the sink in five-minute increments; I don’t mind, because it allows me to rinse pureed peas and quinoa from out of my hair.

I can’t blame the baby for flinging food at us though. We haven’t been paying nearly as much attention to him as we did with his brother. He just turned one, and I think half the people we know aren’t even aware that we have a second baby, so little have we mentioned him. One person seemed irritated; he cornered me one day and said, “Hey, I heard you have a new baby? Why didn’t you tell me?” I felt terrible. All I could reply was, “Sorry, Dad…” Continue reading

Why we need to stop asking “What do you do?”

[Image description: A right hand is in focus, extended toward the viewer, as if this person is offering to shake hands. The person is out of focus, but appears to be wearing a grey button-down shirt with a black blazer. The composition is focused on the hand and torso, so we don’t see the person’s head.]

A while ago, while I was seeking input for a post on how we can all be more disability-inclusive, a colleague mentioned that we should drop the get-to-know-you question “What do you do?” because people with disabilities face significant employment discrimination, and this question is often a painful reminder of that. Another colleague of mine who is brilliant and talented and hilarious and wheelchair-enabled told me she spent seven years searching before someone hired her. I can imagine all the times during those seven years when people asked her “What do you do?” and how she must have felt. This has made me think of the “to-do” culture that we have and how it’s been affecting our work.

I learned a few years ago, through my participation in the German Marshall Memorial Fellowship, that the US has a default “To-Do” culture. The first thing we ask someone we meet is about what they do. Actions, in our culture, define us. For other cultures, though, are more of a “To-Be” culture, and you are defined less from what you do, and more from who you are:  Your relationships, your family history, your beliefs, your passions, your haircuts, etc. Continue reading

AmeriCorps is important. Thanks for helping to save it, you sexy unicorn, you

[Image description: A fluffy little white kitten. It’s sitting up and leaning over something, so you only see the upper half of its body. It’s looking up and off into the distance and it’s adorable.]

Hi everyone. I just learned that AmeriCorps and other national service programs are on the list of things that could get cut by the new administration. With all this chaos, who the heck knows, maybe by the time you read this, our new president will have changed his mind, and it’s not at risk at all. I doubt it though, so this blog post is to convince you to act now to protect funding for these programs. Since I’m asking you to not just read this post, but to actually call your legislators, I’m going to insert pictures of kittens throughout as a reward for your dedication.

For some of you who may not be familiar with the US’s national service programs, they are a set of federally-funded programs encouraging and allowing people to provide service to their community. AmeriCorps in particular has been an important element of the US’s

[Image description: A cute little black kitten strolling in the grass! It’s so tiny! It is mostly black with little white paws! Awwww!]

nonprofit sector, engaging over 80,000 volunteers each year across over 21,000 cities. Besides generating millions of hours of service to improve our community each year and—let’s face it—saving nonprofits a ton of money, AmeriCorps is also an important pipeline of talent, allowing many amazing leaders to jumpstart their careers.

I am one of these leaders. Back in yonder days, I entered the real world after getting my Continue reading