Jun. 21, 2021 2:30 pm

From top to bottom, the way we do what we do in fundraising is designed to uphold the status quo. How do you change that?

Columnist Valerie Johnson wonders how to apply Community Centric Fundraising principles to large institutions that are deeply invested in traditional philanthropy.

At the end of the day we need to center our services around our communities and not our donors, says columnist Valerie Johnson.

(Photo by Hannah Busing on Unsplash)

Hello and welcome to a brand new segment for this column, in which I admit that I do not know everything. That’s right, you heard it first here: just an average, imperfect human over here who is trying to figure out community centric fundraising and how to apply it to my work.

If you’re not familiar with the Community Centric Fundraising (CCF) movement, then here’s a really quick explanation straight from their website:

“Community-Centric Fundraising is a movement to evolve how fundraising is done in the nonprofit sector. Its goal is to support fundraisers and other nonprofit professionals to re-examine every fundraising philosophy and practice they have been taught, engage in vigorous ongoing conversations, and explore doing fundraising in ways that reduce harm and further social justice.”

Sounds AWESOME, right?! Looking at philanthropy as an industry, understanding the white supremacy baked into the very fibers of what we do, and then undoing all of that to better support our communities. That’s exactly what I want to do.

So… how do I do that?

Well, that’s the question that I get a whole lot. I’m all for CCF and talk about it often, which inevitably leads to discussing how to actually do it. And that’s where I’m stuck, to be perfectly honest.

In chatting with a friend recently during a podcast interview, I was asked how I’d change philanthropy if I could. And my response was that I’d burn it all down and start over. Because we’re super entrenched here. We’re part of an industry that’s over 100 years old and steeped in white saviorism. From top to bottom, the way we do what we do is designed to uphold the status quo. How do you change that?

I’m just a peon, in the grand scheme of things. Me writing columns and chatting on podcasts about how great it would be if we didn’t do things like this is not going to make the big, industry-wide change we need in order to actually embrace CCF principles.

Am I making the changes that are within my scope of power? Absolutely. A thousand percent, yes. But that change is also relative. My organization’s budget is large, but the percentage coming from fundraising is not so large. We’re not dealing with many six figure gifts, and we’re certainly not landing the seven-plus figure gifts.

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I’ve seen articles on the CCF blog by folks who are applying CCF principles to their work and provide some concrete action items that others can implement. But most of those folks are in my camp – they’re smaller budget orgs, they raise smaller amounts of money annually than the orgs that employ multiple fundraisers. Their CCF related actions are great, and really will make a change to how their organizations function, and I applaud them for their efforts.

However, those efforts do not easily translate to the larger orgs that deal with the long-standing, big-pocketed donors who expect a different experience when donating.

Yes, in theory, I could see how we could apply the CCF actions working for the smaller organizations could apply to their larger counterparts. In practice, though, there is no playbook for this. There is no easy to-do list that explains exactly how you can apply CCF principles to a large institution that is deeply entrenched in traditional philanthropy.

Could someone bite the bullet and make those big changes? Sure! But there’s a LOT of fear involved with that. What happens if you make the changes and you don’t hit your fundraising goals? What happens if you alienate your largest donor and your organization crumbles? What if you completely reconfigure your signature event to utilize CCF principles and then none of your donors show up?

I completely get that taking the plunge is tough and scary. Being the first is never an easy thing, especially when you’re disposable to your organization. There are plenty of good fundraisers out there, so if you fail to hit your goals because you’re trying out CCF principles, it’s easy for your employer to fire you and go find someone else who will do things the way they’ve always been done.

That’s why it’s going to take more than just fundraisers to get this change implemented industry-wide. We need CEOs and executive directors to understand the harm that traditional philanthropy perpetuates to those we serve and want to find a better way.

We need our foundation partners to understand their role in this and how we can work together to find a more community-centered solution.

We need corporate partners to understand we’re not here to enable them to show their goodwill; we’re here to meet our community needs and provide ways for them to provide that support.

We need our donors to understand that they’re not the most important piece of the puzzle —our community is the heart of our work, and at the end of the day we need to center our services around them and not our donors.

So no, I can’t actually burn it all down and start over.

But I can help to educate others about what CCF is and how, in the long run, it will benefit us all. I can continue to embrace CCF principles in my own work and brainstorm with others how they can do so as well.

Someday, with enough folks on board, we’ll reach a tipping point where more of us are doing it than not doing it, and that’s when we’ll start to see the real change.


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