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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It’s time we fundraise in a way that doesn’t uphold white moderation and white supremacy

[Image description: A person holding out their hands on which are several coins and a piece of paper that says “Make a change.” Image by Kay Yukawa on Unsplash.com]

The past few months have been challenging, testing all of us our limits. At the same time, it has also been amazing to see more and more folks owning their complicity and power, being bolder, and challenging established norms. Our communities cannot afford for us to doubt ourselves, be too deferential, or always default to philosophies and processes that we were trained in. 

This includes the way we do fundraising. The fundraisers in our sector, of whom I am proud to be one, are dedicated, hardworking, and endlessly creative. We have to be. We know that if we stop, if funding stops flowing, real people’s lives are affected. Thank you to the amazing development professionals in the field, without whom our programs and services would not be possible. 

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Have nonprofit and philanthropy become the “white moderate” that Dr. King warned us about?

[Image description: A black-and-white photo of a group of protesters on a city street, wearing masks that cover their noses and mouths, holding signs that say “Black lives matter” and “people over property.” Image by Mike Von on unsplash.com]

Over the past few days, I have been thinking of George Floyd’s brutal murder by the police and of the protests happening in Minneapolis, nationwide, and globally, as I know many of you are. I am at a loss on what to do and how to support our Black friends and colleagues and family members who have constantly suffered under the pervasive violence of white supremacy and racism. I don’t know what to say. I don’t have any encouraging words for you at this moment. I am just angry and sad.

And to be honest, I am also frustrated by our sector. I love our field and the people in it. There is so much good that comes from our work. In the most challenging of times, we have often been a beacon of light. There are many amazing organizations and leaders organizing protests, working tirelessly to change unjust laws, lifting up people in need, providing food and shelter and hope. Thank you for all that you do, and for doing it in a time when there is so much community need even as your resources drastically dwindle.

But as I watch the news and hear of police running over protesters, white nationalists creating chaos and confusion so they can blame peaceful demonstrators, and our racist president stoking the fires of hatred and violence again and again—it makes we wonder if our sector is equipped to help bend the arc toward justice, or if we have collectively become the “white moderate” that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. calls the biggest barrier for equity and justice for Black people and thus for us all.

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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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What are we willing to give up to end the Nonprofit Hunger Games?

[Image description: A squirrel, staring at the camera in surprise, their paws touching. So cute, with their little whiskers. Also, their ears are touching. Is that normal? I have no idea. Pixabay.com]

Hi everyone, a couple of notes. The Nonprofit AF Facebook page is still locked due to FB refusing to confirm my location (this happened, coincidentally, the week where I wrote a post talking about how our sector needs to be more political). I’m working on it, but sorry about that. I’m active on twitter (@nonprofitAF) in the meanwhile. And if you’re free tomorrow, 4/28, at 1pm PST, I’m on this live podcast recording with brilliant leaders Mary Morten, Jane Kimondo, and Michelle Morales to talk about philanthropy.

Also, I want to thank everyone who has been supporting NAF through Patreon. I left my job a few months ago, so this pooled source of income has been very helpful. However, my partner is securely employed and we have savings (in great part thanks to you) so we are in a much more stable financial situation than many families out there. Please don’t hesitate to lower your Patreon support, stop being a supporter, or shift your support to others. We’ll be fine, I promise. Thank you so much.

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I know the past few weeks I’ve been pushing hard and being very critical of our sector, especially of foundations. And also, not being very funny. The urgency of this moment means we and the people we serve can no longer afford for us to put up with ineffective or destructive philosophies and practices. Besides deaths from the virus itself, there will be significant increase in global poverty. Starvation threaten to kill millions more in the years ahead. Our sector must dispense with all the BS that has been keeping us down.

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