Hi everyone, this post will likely generate some vigorous discussions, but before we launch into it, I have an exciting announcement. Community-Centric Fundraising (CCF) is seeking to form a Global Council to lead the movement. I and other founding council members will step aside and play a supporting role, because it’s important for the movement to have leadership that is diverse in geography and lived experience. Details and application here. Don’t worry, the founding council members are not going anywhere; we will each get a cloak to mark us as elders, and we’ll be around, providing moral support and, when appropriate, snacks.
As today is Valentine’s Day, a lot of us will be pondering the age-old question famously asked by philosopher Haddaway: “What is love?” to which he added as a corollary, “Baby don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me, no more.”
I bring this up because we have a concept in our sector called “#DonorLove.” Going down the hashtag rabbit hole, I encountered many articles about showing donors “love.” Treat them like literal heroes. Cater to their emotional needs. Have an “attitude of gratitude.” Write thank-you notes within 48 hours, and not within weeks as if your donors were common peasants. And stop talking about your organization’s accomplishments, but about what your donors accomplished through your organization, for remember, you and your org are vessels whose only point for existence is carry your donors’ hopes and wishes and well-informed strategies for a better world.
Every year at about this time, as people become more inclined to donate to charity for the holidays, memes start floating around regarding nonprofit overhead rates. “Don’t give to these orgs! Only 4 cents of every dollar you donate go to helping people! The other 96 cents go to mansions and truffles for their well-paid executives!” Which is quite ridiculous; most nonprofit executives only have at most two mansions, and consume no more than 100 grams of Périgord black truffles each week. Sadly, the public is pretty clueless regarding our work and are quick to latch on to nonsense regarding overhead. I wrote about it here in How to deal with uninformed nonprofit-watchdogs around the holidays.
Unfortunately, one of the biggest drivers of the narrative around overhead being no-good-very-bad are nonprofits themselves. Specifically, large international organizations with significant brand recognition. They usually do vital, life-saving and life-changing work, so I am not here to question their programs and services. However, in their quest to raise funds, they continue to use archaic messaging around overhead that are toxic for the entire sector. Here are a few examples:
Hi everyone. Happy November. Quick reminder to vote in your local elections. And to get your flu shot if you can and haven’t.
Last week, I talked with a fundraising colleague from a large, well-established organization that has grown significantly over the past several years. He had some questions and concerns about the Community-Centric Fundraising (CCF) movement. “I’m afraid that if we do CCF, we’ll have less revenues and people may lose their jobs.” As the movement grows, this is a dilemma that’s on a lot of people’s minds. And this is a constant argument against CCF, that it doesn’t “work” to bring in funding the way traditional fundraising practices have been proven to. Although I can point to evidence that CCF-aligned practices do bring in funding, I think it is crucial that all of us in this sector, but especially fundraisers, reexamine our fundamental belief that fundraising is primarily about raising money.
Last week, I was on Clubhouse in a conversation called “If Nonprofits Were Brutally Honest with Funders” (with colleagues Dr. Rahsaan Harris, Kris Putnam-Walkerly, and Julie Morris). After my remarks about power dynamics, the injustices upon which much of philanthropy is based, and how so little funding goes to organizations led by marginalized communities, listeners were invited to join in. The first person said something about how people of color should learn to “pitch” better so that funders and donors could understand their ideas. (Another person said being nice and getting people to empathize and bringing them ice cream to eat and puppies to snuggle with would work better in soliciting funding than my “angry complaints,” but that’s for another post).
The idea of “pitching” is not new. We have been trained to do “elevator pitches” that are supposed to be pithy yet moving, sincere yet polished, inspiring yet grounded, all in 20 seconds. We pitch to donors, funders, politicians, partner orgs, volunteers. Grants, meanwhile, are basically just long pitches. We do a lot of pitching.
The most extreme manifestation of this idea of “pitching” are the “Shark Tank”-style funding opportunities where leaders go on stage to give short presentations about their organizations’ work to a live audience, after which, depending on how they do and how the “judges” and people watching their presentations react, they could walk away with one of several small grant prizes.
Hi everyone. Quick reminder: Please get flu shots for you and your family, if you are able to. Hospitals and healthcare workers are overwhelmed by COVID, so in addition to getting your COVID shots, get your flu shot. And then buy yourself a new house plant or some chocolate as a reward.
Every time I criticize foundations, someone steps in with “well, 80% of philanthropic dollars come from individual donors.” Usually it is a well-meaning statement, designed to give hope to those of us who are frustrated with foundations and their various archaic and ridiculous practices. And taken as a whole, it may be true. This report, for example, shows that in 2019, 69% of giving comes from individuals, 10% from bequests, 17% from foundations, and 5% from corporations.
If 17% of our revenues come from foundations and 5% from corporations, why should we spend so much time and energy bashing our heads against the walls, screaming in anguish at the foundations and corporations that require quarterly reports, make us use their own budget templates, or, worst of all, force us to remove Oxford Commas to stay within character limits? If they account for only a fraction of total philanthropic dollars, maybe we’re wasting time trying to get foundations and corporations to change and should focus more time rallying individual donors?