Why are we making donors the hero of the story?
In a panel at this year’s National Small Nonprofit Summit (NSNS), Marisa Stubbs, Director of Development and Communications at Critical Exposure, and Loree Lipstein, Founder and Principal Consultant of Thread Strategies, shared their journey in Community-Centric Fundraising (CCF), a growing movement to evolve the philosophies and practices of the nonprofit sector.
The Catalogue for Philanthropy is deeply appreciative of Marisa Stubbs and Loree Lipstein for introducing us and other Summit participants to the CCF movement, as well as to the movement itself for inspiring this session and providing some of the materials that were covered during this session. Further resources are linked at the bottom of this article.
Many of the current best practices we learn as new and seasoned development professionals uphold a donor-centric narrative that positions donors as the protagonists of the nonprofit stories we tell. Often, this looks like:
- Messaging that frames the donor as the person making an impact.
- Competing with other nonprofits for the attention of donors and funders.
- Privileging wealthy donors and their perspectives over those of staff, volunteers, and the people we serve.
This narrative directly harms under-resourced communities of color by perpetuating a model of charity, not solidarity, that is rooted in white saviorism and that replaces the agency of these communities with a need to be “rescued.” It also maintains a scarcity mindset that pits nonprofits against each other instead of uplifting all nonprofits as collaborators and co-conspirators within a larger ecosystem.
What could our fundraising practices look like if they center the communities we serve instead of our donors? How might nonprofits be in right relationship with our communities such that we can fundraise to build their power and voice?
Fundraising with New Principles
Central to the CCF movement are ten principles that we, as nonprofit professionals, can commit to advancing through our work.
Ground our fundraising in race, equity, and social justice: It is valuable for fundraisers to be trained in anti-racism, equity, and social justice issues. Increasingly, we should invite donors and funders into difficult conversations about money and power because they affect the whole nonprofit sector.
Prioritize the collective community over our individual organizational missions: Our nonprofit missions do not exist in a vacuum. Our communities are best served by collaborating with other local nonprofits. It’s time to move from a scarcity mindset to a mindset of abundance and trust that we’re there to support each other.
Be generous with and mutually supportive of other nonprofits: Examine how we can truly build community with other nonprofits, such as by sharing fundraising opportunities and finding ways to partner with each other.
Value everyone who strengthens the community equally: Volunteers, staff, donors, and board members all engage with and contribute to a nonprofit. While donors and board members play a part in making the work happen, they are by no means the only stakeholders who matter.
Value time as equally as money: Time, lived experience, and knowledge of a community are just as valuable as money. Instead of asking for donations from 100% of your board, what if you ask about the percentage of your board members who have experience with the community you serve? As another idea, could you make your board more accessible to new members by asking them to pledge a commitment to your nonprofit by percentage of their giving, rather than a fixed monetary amount?
Treat donors as partners: Strive to be transparent with donors in a way that’s rooted in your values. Don’t let a donor’s money outweigh the need to have a conversation with them about how your values align.
Foster a sense of belonging, not othering: Use language that centers “we” over “you” to show donors how they are part of the greater community. Share stories of the people you serve in ways that honor their dignity and make sure that you have consent to share people’s stories.
Promote the understanding that everyone benefits from engaging in the work of social justice: The work that we do is not about charity or compassion. Rather, everyone who is personally investing in the community, from donors and volunteers to staff and board members, benefits from this investment.
See the work of social justice as holistic and transformative, not transactional: As an example, nonprofits are often asked to differentiate their overhead costs from their program costs because donors and funders prefer to “directly support” programming. As nonprofit professionals, we know that funding salaries, administrative costs, and other general costs is necessary for us to make the programming happen. It is important to show donors that your nonprofit works in a holistic way.
Commit to economic justice for healing and liberation: We need to address the root causes of equity, including the destructive effects of capitalism. Many of the imbalances in power and wealth underlying the issues and challenges our nonprofits face stem from the way capitalism has been operating in our society. A commitment to equity must include a deep examination of the causes of economic injustice.
Leading with our Values
“It’s less about what your mission is and I think it’s more about the values of your organization,” Marisa Stubbs shared during the panel. “It’s about the values that you’re also then bringing to fundraising… It’s not about stated values. I think it’s more about how you’re actually living and breathing and acting.”
Stating your organizational values is easy. Applying these values in practice throughout the work that you do, especially in fundraising, is a much more challenging and ongoing journey.
But none of us are alone. A step you can take is to begin having conversations about CCF with your team. Pick one or two of these principles to explore more deeply and adapt for your organization.
For instance, you can start by shifting the language you use when you write to donors and funders. “What would I say if I had to say this and everybody was in the room?” From donors to staff to volunteers to the community, “What is the thing that I could say and say honestly and everybody would walk away feeling wonderful?” This is the question Marisa asks herself when she writes, even if she’s writing only to a funder. Across all your communications, make sure you honor the feelings and agency of the communities you serve.
You can also work towards approaching your donors as partners and asking them to have open conversations with you. “Part of doing the work of community-centric fundraising is actually about educating and being open to educating your funders,” Loree Lipstein said. “We’re not used to educating our funders about fundraising… but I do think it’s an important part of the movement, as a fundraiser, to be sharing this.” As you do this, consider the donors you’re stewarding and ensure that you build relationships with people who give $5 just as you do with people who give $500.
Watch “An Introduction to Community-Centric Fundraising” in full on the Summit website and dive into the existing resources available on the Community-Centric Fundraising website. Readings recommended during the session include: The Revolution Will Not Be Funded, Winners Take All by Anand Giridharadas, and Decolonizing Wealth by Edgar Villanueva.