Why we need to move away from empathy in our fundraising approach

[Image description: Black-and-white image of two people, likely children, walking down a dirt path, facing away from the camera, the taller person having their arm across the shoulders of the shorter person. Image by Annie Spratt of Unsplash.]

Happy Monday, everyone. I hope to see you at the Community Centric Fundraising’s launch event today at 11a PDT (you can still register to join). If you can’t be there, please sign up to get more information on future events. Our next one, on 7/24, will be about the data we collected from the Fundraising Perception Survey. (Spoiler: A majority of the 2300 people who responded to the survey, both BIPOC and white, are not happy with the way our sector has been doing fundraising.) 

I am also thrilled to announce that the Community-Centric Fundraising Website is up! Check out communitycentricfundraising.org! The CCF Hub will serve as a central area for reflection and learning. Already there are several pieces on there, including 

There is also a list of some CCF-aligned actions you can take at your organization. Please keep in mind that these actions, crowdsourced over the years, are not comprehensive, and this list will change and evolve. The exciting and necessary work of this movement is for all of us to reexamine the philosophies that ground so many of our practices in the sector.

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The general public is completely clueless about nonprofit and philanthropy, and that’s a problem

[Image description: Two meerkat, standing upright outside in the sun. They are facing the camera but seem to be looking at something beyond the camera. Image by peterstuartmill on Pixabay and has nothing to do with this post.]

Hi everyone. Quick announcement: Edgar Villanueva—the author of Decolonizing Wealth—and I are having an Instagram Live chat today, 6/22, at 4pm EST where we talk spontaneously about whatever is on our minds. Follow @nonprofitaf and @villanuevaedgar. See you soon; ignore my stress-related acne.

A few months ago, I had just left my position as an executive director and was starting to work on a cool project: A sketch comedy show about nonprofit work! It would be so sweet; each episode would feature several short and hilarious skits that bring to life the complexity of our work, sometimes involving hummus (which is present in 80% of nonprofit meetings and events). No one outside the sector really understands what we do, and I thought it would be fun to let people get a glimpse. I was starting to write scripts when the pandemic hit and everything had to be put on hold and who the hell knows if I’ll ever get to it at this point.

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Is there such a thing as too much gratitude? Yes, and it’s been harmful to our work

[Image description: A closeup of a koala’s face. They look calm, with a serene half-smile, staring off to the right. Pixabay.com]

An executive director colleague told me he received $1,000 from a corporation for his organization’s emergency funds to help people pay for food and rent. Of course, he thanked the representative on the phone and sent a letter. A few days later, he got an email asking whether the nonprofit would mind publicly acknowledging the corporation and its $1K gift on some combination of social media, website, and newsletter. I could hear the weariness in his voice. He and his team had been working nonstop on the front line and barely had time to breathe. “I kind of wanted to be petty and just return the money. But I can’t, because people are starving.”

If there’s one thing that’s been beaten into all of us in the sector, it is the concept of gratitude. Donors and funders should definitely be thanked, preferably throughout the year and in multiple forms: Handwritten note, phone calls, recognition events, maybe a swag mug. It should be as personal as possible so as to not seem routine. “You can never thank someone too much,” a development director colleague told me.

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An argument for nonprofit events to be vegan

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Hi everyone. This coming Saturday, the RVC team will be hosting a fundraising dinner. It will be a roast. Of me. They’ve invited people to come up on stage and deliver scathing insults, some of which, I can only imagine, will involve digs at my hair, general clothing choices, and rabid devotion to the Oxford Comma. Several foundation staff have signed up to do the roasting; it was actually a little surprising how fast they all said yes. “Vu, I heard you’re getting roasted. Sign me up, I’m in! The foundation will have 2 tables. Do you need other roasters? I know at least 39.”

Bring it on! But if you’re going to aim your arrows at me and my perfectly rational hatred of infinity scarves and fear of opening lethal cans of bake-at-home biscuit dough, you better remember these two things: First, I get to counter-roast. Second, the entire event will be vegan. And that is why it is called The Vegan Roast.

Which brings us to today’s topic. A few months ago I wrote “Meat Me Halfway: Veganism and the Nonprofit Sector (aka, Worst. NAF Post. Ever).” This was my most controversial blog post yet. However, it sparked great conversations, with thoughtful arguments and counter-arguments, and we need to have more of that. So this post is a follow up, nudged by my colleague Tomomi Summers. Please take several deep breaths.

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A sample annual appeal letter, if nonprofits were brutally honest with donors

[ Hi everyone, this is the last post of this calendar year. NAF will take a short break and will return with a feisty article on January 6th, 2020. Happy holidays! ]

[Image description: A blank white sheet of paper on some untreated wood planks, with various round gold ornaments and green pine branches surrounding it. The top right corner of the paper is covered with a smiling cartoony angel ornament, while the bottom left corner has a gold bow and a red bow, the kind one puts on presents. Pixabay.com]

Dear John,

As the year winds down, I know you are getting inundated with appeal letters from dozens of nonprofits. This letter is one of them. Just like other missions, we are writing to ask you to give money so we can keep vital programs and services running. And don’t worry, despite all those memes floating around about nonprofits spending 94 cents of every dollar on luxury cars and unicorn steaks or whatever, the money you donate is being put to good use. By being spent on staff, who do all of the work, along with critical things like office rent, utilities, etc. Your support makes it all possible.

Let me insert a story designed to affect you emotionally. Our program director Katie had terrible dental pains caused by her wisdom teeth, but we could not afford to give staff health insurance AND dental insurance. For months, she just carried on, but it really affected the program. The kids we serve could not understand what she was saying due to all the agonized mumbling. It made consoling them when ICE raided their parents’ workplaces a little more challenging. But thanks to donors like you last year, we were able to upgrade our healthcare from Copper to Copper Plus, which includes dental! Katie was finally able to get her wisdom teeth removed (with a $1200 deductible that she can pay off gradually with interest)! The afterschool program is stronger than ever!

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