Way, way back in May 2019 (which feels like a lifetime ago), I wrote about fundraisers having privileged solutions. At the time, it wasn’t a conversation I was having often with my colleagues.
Apparently, though, I am not the only white fundraiser who is unhappy with how fundraising is being done.
Community Centric Fundraising is a group of BIPOC fundraisers and nonprofit professionals based in Seattle that dream of a world beyond capitalism and the nonprofit industrial complex. CCF distributed a survey to gauge perceptions of nonprofit fundraising to 2,000 individuals way, way back in May 2019 just as I was sharing my own thoughts on the profession.
Those survey results are now being released, and one of the key takeaways is that the majority of fundraisers are unhappy with how our sector does its work. 63% of white fundraisers and 73% of BIPOC fundraisers are unhappy, to be exact.
Why are we unhappy? There are a lot of answers to that question, but here are some of the major themes:
Fundraising and philanthropy are built on racist systems and white supremacy. There are power dynamics at play when dealing with wealthy donors; they have the power to help or hurt your nonprofit, and as a result you want to keep them happy. Donors can also be paternalistic, in that they think they know more about a community’s needs than the members of that community. Keeping them happy while also serving your clients, especially when your donors are mostly white and your clients are not, helps to reinforce white supremacy. 90% of CCF’s survey respondents thought that current fundraising practices led to an increase in white saviorism (and for the record, so do I).
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There can also be generational wealth inequities between white and BIPOC folks. Because of that, there’s a misconception about the resources and capacity of BIPOC folks to make philanthropic gifts. Yes, BIPOC families have been put at a disadvantage for generations, but that doesn’t mean we should write them off completely. One of the best pieces of advice I’ve been given on fundraising is to not make decisions for your donors. Don’t make assumptions about their capacity to give. Provide information, build a strong relationship regardless of what you think their capacity to give is, and the donor will give – or not.
We capitalize on trauma in communicating our work to donors. Some fundraisers are taught that fundraising is transactional. You provide the sob story, the donor responds with a donation. You provide the ticket to the fancy event, the donor shows up to schmooze with their peers. We already feel competition with each other for what are perceived to be scarce resources. The more we compete, the more likely we are to participate in activities that we know aren’t in the best interest of those we serve.
So we end up sharing poverty porn, putting the trauma our clients have sustained out there for the world to read about. We encourage donors to feel bad for our clients in order to spur them to make a donation, because that’s what everyone else is doing. Daring to be different could mean losing donors, especially now when many are scared to lose donors by increasing their organization’s social justice activities.
We don’t have the built-in infrastructure that other professions do. There is no fundraising university. Most colleges and training programs do not offer fundraising as a major. We learn as we go, and we learn from what our peers are doing. Change is slow, and doing what we’ve always done before tends to be preferred over forging a new path.
On top of that, we have limited resources. Most organizations need at least one more fundraiser than they actually have on their team to keep up with everything their department is juggling. Funders have unrealistic expectations and stipulations in their grant processes. We’re juggling donor-driven projects with programs that meet the needs of our community, and terrified to lose the donors.
Our professionals don’t reflect the communities they serve. CCF’s survey of 2,000 fundraising professionals consisted of 84% white people and 16% BIPOC. That’s consistent with my experience of working with mostly white colleagues and interacting with mostly white fundraisers at other local organizations.
However, Philadelphia is not mostly white. We’re 44% Black, 14% Latino, and 7% Asian. White folks are in the minority, yet we’re a clear majority of fundraisers (and donors). What does that say about inclusivity in our sector? What does that say about BIPOC having access to a career in fundraising, or having a say in how their communities are served?
My main takeaway here: we can do better. More than half of us are unhappy with how fundraising is done. So why don’t we change it? We know all the reasons not to change: it’s hard, it takes time, it’s uncomfortable, everyone may not get on board. But imagine what our jobs would look like if we bucked the status quo and built a brand new profession that’s inclusive of all of us. What a world that would be.-30-
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