Fundraising is Activism. Are you speaking up?

More often than not, nonprofit fundraising professionals act as a bridge between communities with vast wealth, and those who have been historically under-resourced. And while this means that we may have exciting opportunities to make mutually-beneficial, life-changing connections, it also means that Fundraisers have a profound responsibility to advocate with dignity and respect for all of our organization’s stakeholders, particularly for those who are rarely at the table when money is the topic at hand.

We get to choose how we conduct and share our work, and it’s our responsibility to ensure  that our actions are aligned with our values. It’s our job to make sure we’re not crossing the line from impassioned explanation to exploitation.

This SNL sketch hits the nail of exploitative cringeworthy-ness right on the head. 

Our advocacy plays out in a big way through our Communications both written, oral, external and internal. It’s more than just making sure we’re not putting out insensitive social media videos; it’s how we establish and communicate our organizational culture, and how we reflect our values explicitly and implicitly, setting the tone for all we do.

Hannah reflects from her experience:

Thirteen months into my last Chief Development Officer role, George Floyd’s murder sent shock waves through our communities. As was the case with most organizations, our leadership team felt compelled to make a public statement about our condemnation of police violence. Our CEO was a beloved leader who had been at the helm of the organization for more than a decade. He was deeply trusted and admired and very outspoken. It was not unusual for him to draft statements for public release or to write a letter on behalf of the organization to the community, but when he emailed me a statement about this particular moment and asked that it be released immediately, I pushed back. If there was ever a moment for our organization – an agency that served primarily Brown and Black youth – to declare our values and stance as a collective, it was now.

Fortunately, our CEO was responsive and agreed to share the statement with the full management team, for everyone’s unique perspective and desired language. Ultimately it took 5 days to draft a new statement that truly honored the community we served, gave a voice to the pain we were all feeling, and properly stated the resolve with which we would move forward. During those 5 days, we navigated contrasting opinions (and some problematic ones from volunteer leaders), apprehensions about taking such a “bold” stance – yes, we thought it was very important to state unequivocally that Black lives matter -, and saw sides of people we hadn’t before. One difficult conversation led to another, and another until we had started to create what we would later realize was the beginning of a shift in our organization culture.

Was it time consuming? Yes. Was the experience emotionally charged? Absolutely. But, this experience fundamentally changed the way we communicated within the organization and with our external stakeholders. To put it bluntly, gone were the days of centering the donor’s feelings at the expense of the people we served and the change our mission intended to create in Los Angeles.

We understand that we may not feel empowered to push back or say “no” to a CEO or board member. But the challenge is to speak up anyway. As social sector leaders, we are here to serve communities that are often overlooked and systematically oppressed. While it is indeed important that we raise money to support our work, the voices and needs of our communities should always be front and center in our Marketing materials, messaging and in our Board rooms. If we’re not actually addressing systemic injustices through our work, in favor of appeasing the folks with the most money to spend, then we need to ask ourselves “what are we really doing here?”.

Yes, it’s scary, but this is the time to have the audacity. It’s the time to speak up and maybe even cut ties with people who really aren’t aligned with your organization’s values. (This doesn’t mean they won’t be able to come back in the future once they’ve got their s*** together, but for now…

If your first thought after reading that was “but what will we do without this board member’s give/get or that major donor’s annual gift?!”, we hear you. But remember: it’s an abundant world out there. For every one person that doesn’t check your values boxes, there are ten more that do. So be BRAVE and have those tough conversations. We promise, it will pay off in the end when you’ve built a community of people who really get it and are committed to creating real change.

We’re all on our own journeys, starting from different places and perspectives, with different lived experiences. But, regardless of where you are on your journey, we do have a little homework for you (don’t worry, there won’t be a test):

Take a few moments to reflect and ask yourself:

 Are my organization’s stated values and mission truly reflected in our organizational structure, culture and outreach to the community we serve?- How can my organization continue to build our community and bring more values-aligned folks into the fold? Who are they and how do we reach them?
– Are you actively amplifying the voices of community members and groups who have traditionally been marginalized? How?

Taking the time to be honest with ourselves about our personal power and responsibility is a big step forward in aligning mission with action. Remember, one challenging conversation can change an entire culture. Imagine if every Fundraiser had the audacity to speak up, and empowered their teams to do the same. We could change our organizations, the profession, and possibly the world.

As always, we’re rooting for your success!

– The Philanthropy Coach LLC Team

P.S. If you cringed at the sentence about the thin line between impassioned explanation and exploitation, check out Ethical Storytelling, their site offers some healthy reality checks, plus they offer workshops and other awesome materials to get you started.


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