Fundraising’s primary goal is not to raise money but to assist in bringing about equity and justice. If something brings in large amounts of money but fails to increase equity and justice in the short or long term, then fundraising is not doing its job, no matter how many other KPIs may have been met.
Far too often, people worry about how much revenue is raised or the amount spent on administration when the main thing that counts is what difference the money has made. A program with 5% administration costs that benefits 5 people is not necessarily better than (and may not be as good as) a program with 25% administration costs that benefits 50 people. While efficiency must never be ignored, impact trumps efficiency in virtually all circumstances.
And the impact must be the benefits prioritised by the communities we serve and not benefits from the not-for-profit’s perspective.
The privileged in Australia (and there are many of us) need to acknowledge our nation’s history of colonisation, racism and exploitation with power concentrated in a few hands, the worship of wealthy white people, mostly male (in politics, media and philanthropy) and power imbalances and inequity entrenched in the system.
As fundraisers, we need to be wary of being a tool of the existing system where some of the most powerful hold power from unjustified privilege and ill-gotten gains and distribute a fraction of their wealth to make marginal corrections to the inequality the system they are part of has caused.
We risk becoming a tool of the system if we over-emphasise donor-centred fundraising where we focus on delivering donors’ needs and making them feel good about their giving. (The justification being that, by doing so, they will give more over a longer period of time.) For example, acknowledging and recognising donors quickly, communicating frequently, and building relationships, rather than considering the root causes of the issue we are addressing and how we might remove some of the barriers to equity that many in our community are facing. Are we running the risk of being part of a fundraising model that might perpetuate the racial and economic injustice we’re raising money to fight?
If we can combine good stewardship of donors with a high level of engagement in the social impact being achieved, then donors will gain more from their interaction with us. Enlightened donors will appreciate the depth of engagement, and less enlightened donors will become aware of the connection between giving and impact.
We need to consider moving towards a more community-centred fundraising model that is grounded in equity and social justice. A model in which we respect donors and build strong relationships with them, but one that they are not the centre of. The community we serve and benefit from must be centred.
What can we as fundraisers do?
Be knowledgeable about “wicked” issues:
We don’t have to be an expert, but we need to delve into the complexity and messiness of social issues and acknowledge how many issues are interrelated. By doing so, we can better inform donors of the complex issues in our communities and provide a more compelling case for a donor’s involvement and support. We can also provide better input into project design and plans. We need to be considering the intersectionality of many sticky issues and constantly be prepared to learn more about them.
Challenge and educate donors and not-for-profits:
In trying constantly to make donors feel comfortable, we forget that we should treat donors as partners. We shouldn’t avoid conversations about challenging social issues, even when some of the issues and logical conclusions might make our donors feel uncomfortable. Our community cannot grow stronger if some of the most influential members do not get their views challenged from time to time. We need to avoid underestimating donors and their ability to engage in meaningful dialogue. We must also look for ways for donors to engage with the communities they are supporting, leading to greater trust that the communities know best what is required to overcome the barriers they face, and not the donors or even the not-for-profits working with the community.
This also means that we must sometimes be brave and sensitively challenge not-for-profits as to what they are doing and how they are doing it, especially as to how it fits into a broader context.
Encourage collaboration between not-for-profits:
The sector, and thus the community, will be strengthened if not-for-profits are more supportive of and generous with one another.
Change the “you” to the “we.”
No, not the “we” referring to your organization— “This year, we served 300 families”— but the “We” that includes BOTH the donor and your organization working together, and the “We” that signifies all of us belonging to the same community. This one is tricky, because fundraising has either focused on the organization’s impact, or the donor’s contributions that made the impact possible: “Because of you, we were able to serve 300 families this year.” That still separates the not-for-profit and donor into two separate categories and does not effectively build community.
And, we must also consider how we can take it further so that the We includes the beneficiaries and the community we are in!
Foster a sense of belonging, not othering:
Language is important so we need to always be wary of “othering” and avoid reinforcing the saviour complex as well as the existing archetypes and stereotypes which may have short-term benefits from a fundraising perspective but negatively affects the entire sector and thus, the collective community. Just because putting a picture of a starving kid of colour into an appeal letter “works,” is that what we should be doing? Strengths-based language (and not deficit-based language) should be the norm.
But what else do we need to consider?
Do we know enough about power, racism, systemic oppression, equity, wealth disparity, intersectionality, and other areas important to social justice to have discussions, some of which may be courageous or difficult?
How do we create opportunities for donors to further their understanding of the complexity of this work and to respectfully and firmly push back when donors do or say things that may be detrimental to our work or to the community we are serving?
How do we promote the understanding that everyone (donors, staff, funders, board members, volunteers) personally benefits from engaging in the work of social justice – it’s not about creating a sense of charity or pity among donors toward other community members. How do we get donors to see they and their families personally benefit from their donations leading to stronger investment in their community, which will strengthen the community?
How do we get donors to see and appreciate that many elements are needed to make things run? How do we get funders to understand and support core mission support, also known as “overhead” or “indirect” expenses?
How do we get everyone to recognize that healing and liberation requires a commitment to economic justice? This involves fundraisers and donors grappling with and addressing the root causes of inequity, including the destructive effects of capitalism and how we may be complicit in furthering them through our practices.
No easy answers, but surely worth considering?