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Smart, quirky and forthright AF: Vu Le will be dropping some truth in Philly soon

December 3, 2020 Category: FeaturedMediumPeople


Generocity is a media partner for the SPARX Conference. This article was not reviewed before publication.
“Your solidarity statements are meaningless unless you back them up with substantive actions.

You might not expect those words to come from a nonprofit fundraising professional, but Vu Le — former executive director of RVC Seattle and the author of the fiercely clearsighted and often hilariously irreverent blog, Nonprofit AF — has made his name by challenging nonprofit conventions and the status quo.

His official photo is quirky (see above). He is fond of adding cute animal photos to his blog posts. His tweets are unusually forthright.

And then there are the blog posts themselves … smart, funny, and uncomfortably blunt:

Most recently, Le has been involved in the creation of Community Centric Fundraising (CCF), a fundraising model and platform that centers equity and justice — certainly a countercultural endeavor in a profession that has been resolutely donor-centric, and was built on economic inequity.

From our Partners

Le and CCF are indicators of where the sector is heading, albeit slowly, and where it must go.

No surprise, then, that Le will be one of the keynote speakers at Philanthropy Network Greater Philadelphia’s SPARX Conference, which takes place from December 8-11, and which this year has as its theme Justice: From Moment to Movement.

Sidney Hargro, the president of Philanthropy Network, is — like Le — one of those within the sector who is moving it forward, toward a new endgame (read about his call for liberation philanthropy here), and so each day of the SPARX conference centers on one aspect of advancing justice:

  • JUST Communities: Deliberate Systems Change
  • What is Your Role in Building JUST Communities?
  • Planning for Action
  • Committing to Action

Fittingly, Le will keynote the final day of the event.

“I love Philadelphia,” he said during his wide-ranging conversation with Generocity. Le, who came to the U.S. from Vietnam with his family when he was 8 years old, said that although he only lived in Philadelphia for six months, it was a place that he associates with feeling welcomed.

That feeling can be a rare one for fundraisers of color.

“The way we’ve being fundraising has been causing harm,” Le said. He added that many of the practices of fundraising reinforce inequities rather than challenge them.

In a recent survey conducted by CCF, 42% of Black, Indigenous and POC fundraisers believe that current fundraising practices and philosophies are somewhat harmful, and another 30% believe they are very harmful. Of that same cohort, some 90% and 88%  believe that current practices and philosophies lead to an increase in white saviorism and poverty tourism, respectively.

“We train people to otherize the people we serve,” he said.

According to Le, many of the practices fundraisers learn as “best practices” are really culturally incompetent practices — not understanding that Latinx and immigrant giving is often tied to faith-based organizations, for example, or devaluing non-monetary contributions from individuals and communities of color.

The model Le and others — many of them BIPOC women — have brought to the table at CCF is one that says “we have to do what is best for our communities, not best for our donors.”

Le sees this as an opportunity to engage in “authentic relationship-building” with donors, whose wealth and philanthropy may be unexamined.

“That wealth was built on a system of slavery and colonization,” he said, “and has contributed to systemic injustice, rather than focusing on the people most affected by injustice.” Those donors may also have to be nudged to examine whether their giving has been more extractive than reparative.

Le points nonprofits to a list of actions CCF has compiled that can help organizations ground their fundraising in race, equity, and social justice, which includes multiple ways of:

  • investing in BIPOC staff (as well as staff from other marginalized communities)
  • supporting other nonprofits
  • recognizing donors of time and talent, not just donors of cash
  • auditing for poverty tourism
  • ensuring that communications and events are accessible
  • having challenging conversations with donors
  • ending transactional practices
  • supporting transformative work

Le will give his SPARX keynote, “Transforming the Social Sector: A Call to Action for 2021,” from 11:45 a.m. to 12:55 p.m. on December 11.

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